By Matt Migliore

During his general session presentation on the opening day of this week’s Emerson Global Users Exchange, Jim Nyquist, president of Emerson’s Systems & Solutions business unit, cited some rather alarming statistics. “Sixty-five percent of [the process] industry’s projects over $1 billion are failing, and that means 25 percent over budget or 50 percent late,” said Nyquist. “And it’s not just the large projects; you see smaller projects under a half of a billion dollars, too — a third of those are also failing.”

But Nyquist followed the bad news with an attempt to comfort the thousands of engineering business leaders in the audience. “My team’s mission is to ensure that your projects run on time, on budget, and with the least amount of risk.”

At the root of this mission is a new initiative Emerson announced during the Exchange called Project Certainty.

Metrics Highlighting Need for Project Certainty

Highlighting statistics from Project Manager magazine, Nyquist noted that 65 percent of projects over $1 billion are more than 25 percent over budget or more than 50 percent late.

Addressing what Emerson describes as a growing industry demand for transformational improvements in capital project execution, Project Certainty is being positioned as a technology and engineering-based approach for improved capital efficiency and more reliable project schedules.

Due to project excesses, Emerson estimates that billions of dollars are lost annually in oil and gas exploration and production, hydrocarbon and gas processing, chemical, pharmaceutical, and other process industries. Once launched, Emerson says projects also frequently face operational problems continuing through the second year of operations.

“We believe the industry has a unique opportunity to set a new path for improved project performance – in fact, top quartile performance,” said Steve Sonnenberg, Emerson Process Management’s president, during is general session address.

Reliability with a Big “R”

According to Sonnenberg, the industrial executives he’s spoken with are feeling more pressure than ever to make dramatic, profit-driving improvements to their businesses. And he said many of them are tasked with doing so in the face of a difficult economic environment, as the low price of oil & gas is forcing the delay and cancellation of major projects in the energy sector. “What do you do when all of the usual approaches no longer move the needle?” said Sonnenberg.

Emerson is banking on reliability as a proverbial switch that industrial executives can flip to make a dramatic impact on their processes in the near term. Not reliability in the traditional sense, but rather “reliability with a big ‘R’,” as Sonnenberg described it.

“Too often reliability is viewed as a maintenance expense,” said Sonnenberg. “Reliability is a great example of a lever that you can use to transform your operational performance.”

According to statistics Sonnenberg cited during his presentation, bottom-quartile performing companies have less than 84 percent plant availability, while top-quartile performing companies have 97-plus percent plant availability. By making just a 1 percent improvement in reliability, Sonnenberg said the process industry could improve profits by an estimated $8 billion. Moreover, Nyquist said first-quartile performers spend half of what fourth-quartile performers spend to get new projects up and running.

Emerson’s Project Certainty initiative revolves around reliability and streamlining the project launch process. A central theme to this initiative is standardization. “Customization is what really kills us,” said Sandy Vasser, who leads Facilities Engineering for ExxonMobil. “We’ve got to rely more on standardized designs so we can design once, and build many.”

ExxonMobil, Fluor, and Sasol are among the early adopters of Emerson’s Project Certainty concept, and each presented at the Exchange. For ExxonMobil, Project Certainty has enabled it to develop new, more capital-efficient processes that take advantage of new technology, such as wireless field devices and smart configurable field-mounted junction boxes. For Fluor, the Project Certainty approach has enabled it to leverage standardization to reduce the number of steps in the typical automation engineering method from 15 to just six. And Sasol has employed Project Certainty tactics to minimize rework, improve spares inventory and working capital, and reduce training cost.

Emerson and Sasol also announced this week that Emerson will be leading the automation of Sasol’s $8.9 billion petrochemical complex in Lake Charles, La., designed to take advantage of abundant, low-cost natural gas. The automation project is one of the largest in history awarded to Emerson. Read more here.

Enabling Technology

While Project Certainty is more of a philosophical strategy than a technology-based program, Emerson did make several technology announcements at the Exchange that align with its Project Certainty initiative.

Project Data Link is a project-engineering environment that is designed to help reduce complexity and accommodate changes in capital projects. As projects become more complex with multiple contractors and stakeholders, Project Data Link helps keep projects off the critical path by translating project information, including tag databases and instrument indices, from multiple sources into project deliverables. It normalizes specifications into a single data source with traceability and an integrated change-management system.

Project Data Link can give multiple suppliers, engineering firms, and other stakeholders access to project information including specifications related to field devices and the distributed control system (including control logic and configuration). In addition, data provided in various formats are normalized so that all information is available in a single, consolidated standard view.

According to Emerson, the integrity of project information is especially important during late project changes. The data link is always up to date, so when a change is initiated, Project Data Link automatically reconciles it against what is in the system, identifies what needs to be changed, automatically sends updates to the DeltaV distributed control system, and provides an audit trail of what has changed. This saves time and eliminates errors during the critical late stages of the project.

Emerson also announced Smart Commissioning, a technology-enabled process that is designed to drastically reduce automation commissioning time and effort. The system builds on advances made possible by the combination of Emerson’s DeltaV distributed control system (DCS), its Electronic Marshalling with CHARMs, and its AMS Device Manager software to remove automation from the critical path of projects.

With the release of version 13 software for the DeltaV DCS and AMS Suite, Smart Commissioning is intended to streamline automation project implementation. With the system, pre-tagged smart devices can be connected immediately to any channel in a nearby junction box – without having to wait for wiring designs to be complete. Smart Commissioning also eliminates potential errors by automatically finding and identifying all smart devices, then binding them to the configuration. To further accelerate implementation, the device configuration is pushed to all devices based on pre-configured templates. Testing is easily and safely done from the control room by using digital communication, requiring no personnel in the field for confirmation.

So as another Emerson Exchange nears its conclusion, the key takeaway this year is Emerson’s focus on helping its customer more efficiently launch new projects. There are likely to be more announcements to come from the Red Rock, Texas-based automation powerhouse regarding its Project Certainty in the months to come, so stay tuned.

Watch the opening General Session from the Emerson Global Users Exchange 2015 …

Matt Migliore is director of content for Flow Control magazine and FlowControlNetwork.com. He has covered technology and industry for 15 years. He can be reached at 610 828-1711 or Matt@GrandViewMedia.com.