Friday, June 5, 2015

9 challenges in industrial operations and how they may impact the bottom line

The End Result – Less than Optimal Performance

If your company is like most companies, maintaining the performance of your production operation often seems like a losing battle. Whether your goal is to increase productivity, or just do more with less, you might consider yourself lucky if you can sustain the same performance levels as last year, let alone achieve any kind of improvement.

The reasons vary from company to company and industry to industry, but most organizations share some common challenges:

  • Automation systems are more complex and require extensive integration
  • Systems are tightly linked to both software and hardware components
  • Ever-changing business needs demand production flexibility and fast response
  • Competitive pressures demand smaller margin for error, good consistency and quality
  • Operational processes seem out of date and conflict with goals
  • Degradation in performance and efficiency of aging systems and infrastructure
  • Retiring and smaller workforce results in loss of experience, skills and productivity
  • Pressure to reduce costs – do more with less
  • Pressure to meet Safety, Regulatory and Environmental standards
These pressures all combine to lower the performance of your operation, and impact the bottom line:
  • Operational – sustaining solution performance with changing business objectives and conditions, and everyday operational challenges
  • Infrastructure – maintaining adequate training and staffing, alignment with other complementary infrastructure and solutions/tools
  • Evolution – new business and technology initiatives resulting in obsolescence of existing solutions, keeping abreast of technology advancements
  • Commitment – Inconsistent sponsorship by management resulting in insufficient budget to maintain or lack of monitoring to drive performance
Most organizations suffer as a result of dealing with these issues in a piecemeal fashion, reacting to problems or when time and budgets allow. Changing anything in isolation can upset the balance between operational elements – the best results come from an integrated approach. Sustaining operational performance involves getting the most out of your technology people and processes, considering the interaction and integration of all factors. 


Analysts and operations executives agree that if you don’t at least sustain your current level of performance, you’re bound to fall back, losing your competitive edge and risking your business. In today’s fast-paced, technology-driven world, it’s even harder to stay competitive while making sure that performance doesn’t degrade. Operations must strive to sustain and improve operational performance on an ongoing basis.
From an operational perspective, sustaining performance means creating an environment that at least keeps you where you are, with efforts focused on two aspects:
  • Support: The ability to apply resources to prevent and resolve issues, keeping the facility in an operational state
  • Maintenance: An ongoing effort to ensure assets perform at intended targets at the lowest operating cost
Improving performance can involve a range of solutions from adding more resources to expanding the plant. People often think of adding new technology as a first step in improving performance but, without a clear understanding of the impact on your overall resources, including people and processes, technology alone is not a solution.

Services are a critical element in operational performance improvement, whether they are performed by your staff, or external resources. Some examples of performance improvement services include:
  • Assessments and “Health Checks” to prioritize efforts for the biggest impact
  • Planning and analysis to develop a longer-term path consistent with business goals
  • Asset-specific tuning efforts such as Loop Tuning, Alarm Management, Boiler and Control System optimization
  • Process optimization, including your manufacturing processes as well as workflow processes
  • Resource augmentation with functional expertise, or extra hands for a specific period
  • Training and Operator effectiveness efforts to improve productivity and expertise
Sustain & Improve Operational Performance
These all seem like good ideas, but where do you start? How can you move forward when it seems to take all you’ve got sometimes to stay where you are? Check back to find out how. Source: Wonderware.com, White paper: Support – A Competitive Weapon (Brian Courchesne)

Special thanks to Brian Courchesne for the White paper: Support – A Competitive Weapon and the contributions to this post.