Knowledge Transfer and Application Engineering Standards

PUBLISHED ON Oct 03, 2011

Well designed and consistently executed Applications Standards can be of great value in addressing the knowledge transfer challenges of an aging workforce and obsolete system components. NovaTech Automation has worked with numerous customers to develop and implement consistent application standards across their global enterprises, and we continue to invest in our own engineers’ abilities to develop and adhere to customer standards and industry best practices.

The Aging Application

The design of a successful application and its operator interfaces must provide predictable control under all process conditions. The interface must be intuitive and provide necessary data in a clear and concise manner.  In the context of the global enterprise, this requires standard application designs and practices. NovaTech Automation works with customers to design and implement best practices result in a robust and maintainable D/3 application.

There is significant interest in using such standards at plants that were originally automated without standards, and those where the original design engineers are retiring. The lack of design consistency and documentation make it very difficult to maintain the old application.  Engineers should also consider the effectiveness of their current applications software in light of improved hardware performance, new software features, or advanced visualization techniques.

The Role of Standards

The Sequence Control/Sequence Administration (SC/SA) standard was developed in the early 1990’s to provide state-based control. It has proven to be a very robust standard that can be applied to a wide variety of processes. The newer Flex standard was developed to address the unique requirements of ISA-88 based controls – where process units must be able to execute multiple simultaneous phase programs.

These standards only work if they are indeed standard and employed consistently. Every contribution to the application needs to follow the same architecture, and everyone who works on the application must all do things in the same way, every time. This discipline does not happen by accident. It requires training and constant review to ensure that each component of an application adheres to the standard methods for that site.  NovaTech Automation meets this challenge with our Application Engineering Certification Training program.

NovaTech Automation AE CertificationTraining

In addition to the D/3 Users, SABL and TotalVision training offered by Educational Services, new Applications Engineers (AEs) are required to complete the Application Engineering Certification Program. This program consists of a comprehensive training course followed by an AE Training Project and multiple code reviews.

The classroom instruction reviews Continuous Database and Sequence Database architecture with an emphasis on unit relativity and cross PCM communications. The structures and techniques used in the SC/SA standard and in the Flex standard are discussed in great detail. The curriculum stresses various techniques for writing process control logic including how to maintain constant control of the process equipment, proper error handling and error recovery techniques, and High Performance HMI design. The class also includes instruction for writing process simulations and how to thoroughly test process control logic.

The AE Training Project is conducted just like a real project, with the trainer in the role of customer. The AE is given a process narrative, a process flow diagram and an I/O list from which to create the D/3 application. The AE must execute every part of the project – from database additions all the way through simulation and Factory Acceptance Testing. The most important part of this training is the code reviews conducted at key milestones in the project. During a code review all project team members gather to critique the same application. The code is reviewed for proper formatting and correct use of standard subroutines. The code review is essential to the learning process and absolutely necessary to ensure uniform adherence to the application standard.

Certification continues once an AE is assigned to a project. The lead engineer on any project reviews all application software prior to the Internal FAT.

Success Stories

NovaTech Automation increased its Applications Engineering staff in the 2008 – 2009 time frame with nine new AEs, all of whom completed the AE Certification Program. These new Applications Engineers have since completed dozens of projects for various customers, every one of which was completed on time and exceeded customer expectations.

Many NovaTech Automation Field Engineers also perform significant amounts of applications work. Since the goal is for all NovaTech Automation designed applications to follow the same set of best practices and adhere to one of two applications standards – the SC/SA standard or the Flex standard – the AE Certification program was expanded to that segment of our workforce as well. The results has been phenomenal.

The Denham Springs office used the SC/SA standard to automate a unit-relative dryer application for one of its customers. The project was a great success and we received positive feedback from the customer – with potential for additional work. The Denham Springs office is currently working with several other customers to implement new SC/SA controls to migrate some existing applications.

NovaTech Automation’s Investment

All of this training and certification does not come cheap, but it’s worth it. The additional weeks of classroom instruction and the AE Training Project have already shown several years’ worth of positive results to the D/3 community.

NovaTech Automation continues to invest in its Applications Engineering and Field Engineering staff, including two new Applications Engineers in the Owings Mills office and one new Field Engineer in Denham Springs in the past few months. These new engineers and several other Field Engineers are currently working toward their AE Certification.

More Educational Services instructors are now certified in these application techniques, and they have incorporated the NovaTech Automation Biofuels Training Simulator as an example of the SC/SA Flex standard. They are looking for ways to incorporate some of these design concepts into the SABL training class and they will offer a standards-based “Applications Techniques” course to our customers this Fall.