May/June 2013
Executive Corner

New ways to make the most of your human capital investment

By Kevin Kosisko
 new1

The struggle to retain process expertise has become a competitive issue throughout our industry. This has become a challenge due to a maturing workforce, retirements - combined with job hopping as young engineers advance their careers, and an overall lack of qualified new applicants.

Advances in process automation also have made it possible to do much more with fewer people. But the remaining personnel need to be highly skilled. They must have the knowledge to keep processes running at optimal performance levels. At the same time, technology is advancing so quickly that even the best find it challenging to keep current. These highly skilled people are in demand in every industry sector - how can we retain these workers and give them the tools they need to be successful?

We can improve their work conditions and retain them with the delivery of advanced services to support their work and free them to focus on other tasks. A primary way to provide that support is to use technology to capture, then share, process automation knowledge and experience. This focuses collective experience of engineers around the world to help improve the efficiency of existing facilities or to establish a good operating foundation for new sites before they are launched.

These technologies reduce the time and expenses needed to address most everyday service requirements. They improve operations and lead to optimized process automation. As a bonus, they improve working conditions and help retain vital human resources by reducing workloads and stress related to production disruptions.

The best of these services combine the portability of laptop computers and smart, handheld devices with the accessibility of the Internet. As maintenance practices are improved, these tools capture best practices constantly, and then ensure they are shared so they are available at industrial sites.

They help to shift the delivery of everyday maintenance to repeatable activities that are planned, recorded, and monitored (proactive service delivery), and away from variable services (reactive maintenance).

Moving these services to proactive delivery from reactive delivery helps to drive higher competitive returns from industrial systems, as maintenance activities are scheduled to take place during planned downtimes.

Adding monitoring for process automation equipment and software then allows potential problems to be identified and addressed early. The combination of scheduled service activities and constant monitoring help to minimize disruptions and ensure ongoing, optimized production.

Another challenge is that services must match the advanced engineering that providers of process automation continue to add to their systems.

Services more and more have to include automation analysis, packaging of repeatable processes, secure, remote-enabled interaction between the tools, the processes, and in-house experts, and a growing list of other responsibilities.

The better process automation systems become in automating production processes, the higher the demand for value-added services and the experts that provide them will become. This is especially true because of the smaller staffs at many production facilities, where, in addition to workforce reductions due to retirement, process engineering positions were reduced or even eliminated. However, when something goes wrong, process experts are still required to troubleshoot the problem. Technology again is the answer to provide the expert support that is being required for process automation.

Instead of adding a limited number of experts who could work on a limited number of sites and processes, automated service tools now can capture and analyze data so effectively that they can be used by less experienced engineers and for multiple customer processes.

These tools are based on remote-enabled platforms at production sites. The platforms reduce the effort needed to capture data from process automation systems, then make that data available to automated analysis tools and experts who review it. The analysis tools find abnormalities and underlying problems quickly so that they can be remedied before they can affect production.

These new tools provide the ability to monitor operations 24/7 and deliver repeatable, expert service for a wide range of process automation.

The deliverables from these tools ultimately are time, money, and more satisfying work for our process experts. Local engineers are freed from concerns about process maintenance services and uptime and are able to spend time on what they are best at: improving production processes.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kevin Kosisko (kevin.c.kosisko@us.abb.com) is vice president of service for the North American region of ABB, Inc., a supplier of automation and power solutions to industrial, power, and manufacturing sectors.