15 May

The Value of Key Performance Indicators in the Process Industry

Control Room


The term Key Performance Indicator, or KPI, is all over the internet. A simple Google search will bring up a ton of blogs about KPIs for various industries. While the term is rather general, it’s meant to serve a specific purpose. That is the great triumph and great downfall of KPI. There are many to choose from for every business, but the KPIs chosen must be specific to business needs and goals to work.

When it comes to integration and automation, KPIs service a vital purpose. They represent the responsibility of technology to examine all data and present it to a plant operator as information. Data is nothing but numbers, ones and zeros representing all the inner workings of a machine. Sifting through all that would take a human far longer than necessary and can delay crucial action. That’s why we have automation. Intelligent technology can be assigned KPIs and programmed to deliver specific information interpreted from the mass of data.

Consider all you can measure on a human body. There are basic numbers, such as weight and calorie intake as well as performance numbers such as how much weight the body can lift, squat, bench or push. This is like the body of a plant or control system. All that data is important to someone, be they a nutritionist, doctor or trainer. Each person has certain KPIs they’re looking for just like each engineer may be assigned a specific section of the plant.

In optimized systems, KPIs can serve an even greater purpose. Through the interpretation of a few data points, a plant manager can be given the pulse of their system. One glance is all that’s needed for an engineer to diagnose whether their system is healthy or not when using optimized control systems with strategic KPIs.

What KPIs do you consider most important to your business?

Are your control systems optimized to quickly diagnose the pulse of your plant?



09 May

The Importance of Employees in Predictive Management

Employees in Predictive Management

In a perfect world, no plants would have to experience downtime for repairs and maintenance. While technology may never achieve that level of perfection, advanced technologies have grown better at preventing the need to halt operations for repairs. It all boils down to predictive maintenance and support.

Predictive maintenance is twofold, involving both site assets and employees. Dollars spent on equipment should focus on optimized measurement. Systems and alarms can be put in place so that all vital elements are continuously monitored. In this way, all information that can possibly be aimed at reducing downtime. Whether or not these assets effectively reduce the need for downtime is all up to the plant engineers.
We always stress the value and importance of client engineers throughout a project. Everything we put into an optimized control system is tailored toward the needs of client employees. They’re action is key to predictive maintenance and the reduction of down time.

Good control logic is to prioritize alarms so that the most urgent matters are attended to first. That doesn’t make any alarm less important. They have been programmed into the system for a purpose. Small alarms can alert plant engineers of minor problems which can usually be fixed without any downtime.

These are the kinds of alarms that reduce downtime. When left alone, small problems can snowball into huge events that require downtime and expensive repairs.  Attention to minor alarms can save a business huge amounts of money. With advanced, optimized control systems, plant employees can come that much closer to perfect predictive management.

02 May

The Importance of Expert Project Managers

The Importance of Expert Project Managers

Here at Synergy, we often boast about our ability to handle project management tasks. From the goal setting kickoff to the startup completion of a project, we are there taking full responsibility. This is a significant advantage to our clients. Technical skills are uniquely different from management skills, which is why we make a point provide expert engineers with both.

Technically minded people are focused on the control systems, HMIs and computer jargon that go into the creation of a product. Their skill set is essential, as their work creates the vital components clients use to run their processes. Making sure those components match client goals is the responsibility of the project manager.

In addition to technical expertise, a project manager must have the proper skills to evaluate risk and goals, create a schedule and foster communication between all parties. When handled by a system integrator, clients rest assured they are getting quality solutions without having to spend time managing these aspects of a project.

Having an integrator who takes full responsibility and also makes a point to keep clients in the loop as projects progress is invaluable. It releases client manpower that can then be funneled into more important tasks in addition to ensuring a solution that hits all the desired goals and outcomes.

19 Mar

Top Three Ways Automation can Reduce Raw Material and Fuel Usage

Energy PatriotThe ability to procure sustainable value within a process system, boiler room or plant provides a huge advantage to business. By their very nature, these industries use up fuel and raw materials to create products and energy. The less material you need for any given process, the less you have to pay for. When it comes to the production of consumer goods, such as food products, using less material to create the same result means you can create more product.

The secret to sustainability in the process industry is reliability. Instruments should be calibrated for optimized performance and communicate all valuable information to plant engineers. This is where automation’s abilities thrive. Harnessing automation technology in the following ways will generate reliable and sustainable plant instruments.

  1. Preventative and Predictive Maintenance
    This sustainability issue doubles as a safety issue. The worst kind of safety maintenance a plant can have is reactive. Control systems should be optimized in such a way that plant engineers are made aware of potential errors before they have a chance to wreak havoc. This kind of automation, however, is only preventative. If you want to take your reliability and sustainability a step further, you will calibrate for predictive maintenance as well. An intelligent control system can record and remember the continuous activities of a plant and learn the signs of a potential problem before an error ever occurs. When preventative and predictive maintenance work in tandem, they create an optimized environment with few, if any, major malfunctions.
  2. Alarm Management and Reduction of Nuisance Trips
    Last week, we discussed the importance of alarm prioritization as a method of measurement within the process industry. Alarm management is equally important for sustainability. Every nuisance trip wastes energy and employee time.  At the same time, an overabundance of alarms can confuse plant workers and create misunderstandings of which alarm is the most crucial. Control systems can be automated in such a way that all this is resolved. The system will run smoothly and communicate all information in an actionable manner to the plant engineers. This avoids wasted time, materials and cost.
  3. Instrument Reliability Experts
    All the above will be for naught if the system isn’t put in place with the kind of care instrument reliability experts provide. Make sure you find an engineering consultant with an in-depth knowledge of what reliability and sustainability mean for your business.
11 Dec

Common Mistakes With Process Control Upgrades

This article was originally posted on Manufacturing Business Technology.


Significant improvements can be demonstrated in updating automation in either independent machine controls or an entire facility. More and more manufacturers are upgrading control systems primarily to fight the battle of equipment obsolescence, rather than taking the opportunity to invest in upgrades, in order to gain more productive years out of major capital assets.

There has been a noticeable trend in projects that are successful in achieving just hardware replacement, and those projects that leave the manufacturing process with more intelligence, flexibility, and improvements in production goals.

The most common mistake made in automation projects is one we all make in our personal lives or in business decisions — we spend too much time dealing with the issues that are counter-productive to our goals and strategic objectives. The Boston Matrix model (BCG Matrix) demonstrates how we categorize everything we do — including the projects we fund — into one of four groups. We typically spend time and money in capital improvement projects, specifically automation enhancements that are:

  1. Important and urgent (cash cows)
  2. Important but not urgent  (rising stars)
  3. Not important and urgent (question marks)
  4. Not important and not urgent (dogs)

It goes without saying that we shouldn’t be spending much of our limited resources on the things that are neither important nor urgent, but it may be counter intuitive to say that only 20 percent of our resources should be spent with issues that are important with critical timing constants as that is reactive only, and 80 percent of our resources on areas of importance without critical time constraints as these are the areas that drive strategic plans. All too often automation systems are upgraded only when the need to replace them forces the issue into immediate replacement, or because the decision to replace with project scope of “functional equivalent replacement” was made in haste. If an organization is spending 80 percent of resources on item 1 above (cash cows), which is the world most of us live in today, we are significantly limiting our ability to grow the organization in terms of productivity and quality. We all should be spending the vast majority of efforts in “rising star” aspects of the production environment.

Many organizations put initiatives in place to optimize manufacturing operations in order to gain efficiency or reduce costs. One popular area has been in efficiency gains that reduce energy due to the environmental focus of our cultural initiatives. More importantly for those of us in manufacturing, upgrades in this area can qualify for rebates provided by efficiency programs from utility companies to offset capital expenditures.

Rather than upgrading automation systems with “like in kind” replacement strategy funded by maintenance or capital appropriations, a case can be made to fund automation upgrades through a number of other benefits that can yield dividends to an organization, such as:

  • Examining automation strategies to take advantage of current technology building greater intelligence within automatic controls
  • Implementing new modern technologies to include improvements in record keeping and preventative maintenance programs
  • Taking advantage of automation objectives in both internal and external organization promotions

Historically, capital expenditures have always had one key metric for the invest-or-save decision — return on investment calculation. Years ago, automation projects could yield under a one year ROI, primarily due to the level, or lack thereof, in automation deployed. Returns were computed based upon increased production. Today, this method can prove to be difficult to gain funding of capital expenditures on production increases, quality improvements, or scrap rates alone due to the accounting constraints on expected return on investment. We can argue that today’s modern automation hardware/software, when properly maintained, can sustain for a significantly longer period of time than the return on cost target that our financial professionals set forth.

We have been involved with updating automation systems that were first installed in the 1980s and earlier. Some organizations have seen the benefits of implementing proper automation for more than 30 years. A new automation strategy will yield benefits continually for years to come long after the investment has paid for itself — especially in today’s energy conservation climate — and organizations will see energy dollars saved on overhead cost for years to come. Energy savings projects are driving automation improvements down to the smallest potential project.

Unfortunately, we have seen this error occur all too often. Manufacturing organizations have made the choice to use a consulting engineering firm or system integrator to spearhead the effort for upgrading their automation system.

Selection of the right consulting engineering/project management firm is more important than choosing what hardware to use or what software to deploy. We wouldn’t recommend that someone in our family be seen by the least expensive doctor if it meant sacrificing quality and we wouldn’t visit a doctor who doesn’t have extensive experience in a required specialty. Find the right partner by using the same criteria as you would when choosing a doctor.

Select a partner that puts your needs first, focusing on your problems. This partner should be someone that your organization feels comfortable with, discussing needs and concerns unfiltered. Your partner should be able to find the root causes of issues, provide the necessary technical knowledge, and have a spirit that enables your organization as a “client” and not a “customer.”

As you evaluate your potential automation provider partner, investigate their published experience and inquire with their existing clientele. Ask for resumes of key personnel that will be working on your project and ensure that you are comfortable with entrusting the safety and reliability of your organization.

It’s obvious that you want to do business with a firm that is going to stand behind their work in addition to conducting their business in an ethical manner. Look for an organization that offers warranty not for just hardware and software (supplied by vendors), but also offers warranty for intellectual property that is the running automation created by your partner. A hallmark for finding a partner that demonstrates this is someone willing to provide 24/7 emergency response to issues and extended maintenance support contracts. Top tier organizations exhibit these characteristics and demonstrate this by participating in groups focused in their area of expertise, or a professional organization such as the Control System Integrators Association (CSIA).

Synergy Systems, Inc. of Lisle, Ill., is a control system integration company specializing in automation design with a focus on throughput increases, cost reduction, and process optimization for  the steel production, power generation, chemical and food processing industries. For more, visit www.synsysinc.com.

Synergy Systems is a member of the Control System Integrators Association (CSIA), a global non-profit professional association that seeks to advance the industry of control system integration for the success of members and their clients. For more information, visit www.controlsys.org.

11 Sep

Synergy’s Full Accountability Commitment to Clients

Business managers want the best solution to optimize their plants delivered on time and on budget. While multiple parties are often more than happy to accept a portion of accountability for the project, the process is most smoothly run when all responsibility is in one entity.

The majority of any automation or process control project is completed before deliverables ever make it to a plant. The software and intellectual property a business pays for needs to be built according to the specific desires and goals of the client before it can be sent on its way. Once delivered, there is often a need for assembly and final testing.
Smooth is the process where the person who orders material, creates the software, assembles the unit, performs necessary tests and trains plant employees is the same. Even experts who are thrown into the middle of an ongoing project will need time to at least familiarize themselves with what has already been done and what is left to do.

At Synergy, we offer to carry all accountability on our projects. We feel that our valued commitments to safety, reliability and optimization are best carried out with full responsibility. Clients are provided full disclosure on all projects, with frequent meetings and updates. In every moment, Synergy is open to the ideas, suggestions and changes a client may request on their project.

We are all driven by the goals and aspirations of clients. Through our solutions and services, we aim to achieve the goals of our clients with increased optimization and superb return on investment. This is easily accomplished on time and on budget with Synergy carrying full accountability.





28 Aug

Businesses Seek Automation to Stay Competitive

Automation expenditures in the process industry are expected to soar to $7 billion by 2016 in the food and beverage industry alone, according to an article published in Process Magazine. As business do all they can to be more competitive and profitable, optimization of the process – including product creation and packaging – is ever more essential. Lag in the plant is unacceptable.

Specifically, the industry is turning for automation to assist in cost containment, time profitability and even sustainability and waste reduction. These last couple are sure to carry a lot of weight as the price of producing and using energy rises. In addition, people have become increasingly aware of the sustainability, or lack thereof, that a business’s uses throughout its processes. All these and more contribute to a growing need for superior automation.

There is another side to this story that is not being told. As technology moves forward at an ever increasing pace, companies are doing all they can to acquire the latest and greatest in order to stay competitive. Time spent adjusting and tweaking the process of a system is time that is not being spent on other areas of the business, such as innovation. America has always been a land that produces some of the greatest inventors and Synergy aims to keep it that way.

We specialize in the process optimization, in addition to providing repairs and replacements for the boilers that are so often responsible for plant energy generation. Our goals are yours. While we always strive to assist our clients in creating the most using the least amount of energy, are biggest concern is that our solutions and services help you achieve your goals. Not only do we create solutions customized to your needs, we do so in such a way that the majority of our solutions produce a return on investment in under a year. After construction and installation, we continue to stand by our clients through safety and business focused services.

Automation is a significant investment that shouldn’t be taken lightly. Companies need to consider all that goes into upgrades and new systems. Moreover, they should partner with someone who has their best interest in line. Contact one of our process and combustion experts today to see if Synergy can help you meet your goals and remain ever competitive in business.