Make the Most of Automation Upgrades

Avoid common mistakes that undermine projects.

By John Dolenc, Emerson Process Management

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In some cases, especially for older facilities, a measurement may only be available through local instrumentation. Establish the status of the measurement device for performance. Note any instrumentation-specific problems that may limit controllability.

Determine any constraints and major disturbance variables that affect the crucial performance measurements and key control variables, and then evaluate their specific impacts.

Also identify manual operations that are part of the normal operating procedure. Note those that are capable of being automated and the benefit that automation would bring.

Enough information now should be available to attack the difficult task of developing the financial benefit estimates. The financial benefits will come from raising the performance of KPIs. So, evaluate which ones the updating can improve. Establish the current baseline performance using recorded historical data. The more difficult exercise is estimating performance with automation. The prospective improvement hopefully will justify to management the value of investing capital in the modernization.

The right approach

Only after you’ve established where the plant may obtain potential benefits from updating should you begin developing the modernization plan. Again, it’s important to take a very broad view of automation. Make sure to include new or more accurate instrumentation where it affects process performance. New control valves and automated sequences may add consistency and reduce process variability. Use new or more-complex control strategies when necessary — today’s automation systems have made implementation of advanced control easier. And don’t forget the ability to easily integrate and communicate process and equipment health information to other areas of the plant to assist the overall operation of the facility.

John Dolenc is principal consulting engineer, Advanced Applied Technologies, for Emerson Process Management, Eden Prairie, Minn. E-mail him at

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