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Honeywell takes a LEAP forward

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It is common for large automation projects in the mining, gas and petrochemical industries to overrun budgets. Matt McDonald reports on a new methodology that aims to address this situation.

Large automation projects traditionally follow a sequential order. By necessity, projects are carried out one step at a time, with each step dependent on the completion of the previous one.

For the thirty years now, automation projects have been carried out sequentially – from definition to design, manufacture, configuration, testing and installation.

But, while that traditional project approach has stayed the same, other processes have evolved.

“In a world where project costs are going up, it is normal for most large projects to overrun their budgets. No one wants it but it happens. Schedules are being exceeded all the time,” Tony Hains, Operations Manager at Honeywell Process Solutions told Manufacturers’ Monthly at The Asia Pacific Honeywell Users Group.

In a competitive world, customers are now demanding a way to deal with these cost overruns. New technology has now made it possible meet those demands.

Honeywell, for example, has responded by developing a methodology it calls ‘Lean Execution of Automation Projects’ (LEAP).

“The idea of LEAP is really to make sure that the process control portion of the project is helping the customer to start up faster and safer and in a logical manner,” Honeywell Process Solutions director sales – Pacific, Neil Wold explained to Manufacturers’ Monthly.

LEAP represents a paradigm shift. It decouples the software from the hardware and allows them to be produced in parallel rather than in the traditional sequential order.

According to Hains, for years the company has been changing the way it delivers projects. Honeywell has the tools, the standard build templates and the project management processes. Now they also have the enabling technology to make something like LEAP work.

What technology?

Universal I/O – In 2012, Honeywell introduced Universal I/O modules which allow operators to quickly and remotely configure channels as analogue or digital I/O using the company’s proprietary Universal Channel Technology.

And earlier this year, the company released Universal Cabinets, which incorporate the Universal I/O modules and can be viewed as a standard part.

These cabinets are standardised parts that are ready to buy. Pre-configured and pre-tested, they don’t require any further engineering.

As Andrew Hird, Honeywell Global Vice President of Sales told Manufacturers’ Monthly, “When we get to the end of the project, if you want 100 cabinets – 30 of this combination, 20 of that combination – we can ship them basically out of stock, rather than have to design all this for the customer.”

Virtualisation – Virtualisation is a technique whereby operating systems and applications are separated from physical hardware. It means that, rather than using many servers to run many tasks, you can use a single server to run multiple operating systems and applications.

It means that plant hardware is greatly reduced and process control systems can be made more reliable.

Cloud Engineering – The Cloud has received some bad press lately. Honeywell is at pains to point out that LEAP uses its own Honeywell Cloud, not the Cloud from which data seems to sometimes fall into the wrong hands.

Cloud Engineering frees up projects geographically. It means that engineers can work on projects from anywhere in the world. They don’t have to be in the same room, the same building, or the same city.

In addition, it means that customers use the supplier’s physical infrastructure during the project engineering process.

There is no need for them to purchase hardware until the project is near completion. When they do purchase that equipment it is the latest equipment available, not what was the latest when the project began two or three years before.

Potential benefits

By separating physical from functional design, the LEAP methodology breaks the traditional sequential order of projects. It allows parallel workflows, applies standardised designs, and enables engineering to be done from anywhere in the world.

It can save money. According to a hypothetical study by Honeywell, it can cut automation CAPEX costs by up to 30 per cent and increase schedule flexibility by up to 25 per cent.

According to Honeywell, the important thing is that LEAP can help projects start on time. The potential costs of late start up are hard to calculate but are very significant.

The automation component in major budgets now account for just

1 to 3 per cent of the total budget.

“So cost itself is not the major risk. Starting your plant up six months late, losing six months of production is an enormous risk. That’s what all of our customers are trying to eliminate,” he said.

While LEAP came about as a result of customer demand, it isn’t for everyone. As Hird explained, there are lot of conservative companies who like to tread cautiously.

However, Honeywell has been using all the elements of LEAP for some time already. The only difference is that they now offer it as a package. Customers can still stick to the traditional method or pick elements of LEAP that suit them.

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