8 Essential Elements for De-Risking an Automation Project

Risks can enter an automation project at just about any stage. Those risks can result in serious consequences from budget and schedule overruns to unplanned downtime, disrupted supply chains, and more.

Therefore, it’s important to de-risk your automation project at every possible stage. This ensures errors are reduced to a minimum as well as ensuring the project delivers on expectations.

De-Risking Your Automation Project

At SL Controls, our project delivery processes focus on de-risking at every stage, from the pre-automation phase through to final commissioning and testing.

Central to this are eight essential elements to de-risking all automation projects.

1. Proof of Principle

Proof of Principle (POP) involves proving the feasibility of a proposed solution achieving the desired outcomes for the project. It does this by demonstrating design robustness, performance, and quality characteristics offline so when the design is integrated into the project, confidence of success is higher.

By going through the POP process, we can avoid pursuing goals or targets that are not feasible or achievable and, instead, allow project teams to make changes to achieve the desired outcome. This prevents wasted expenditure.

2. Design for Manufacturing

Design for manufacturing (DFM) is most commonly used when designing new products or major iterations to existing products. It involves ensuring the product’s design makes the product easy to manufacture within cost targets (i.e. targets assigned by leveraging the experience of Subject Matter Experts).

In relation to an automation project, we adapt DFM principles to ensure we don’t just create a fancy automation solution. Instead, our goal is to develop an automation solution that fits user requirements as well as the resources and skillsets available to run and maintain it. It’s also essential the solution we develop matches the budget available, plus we ensure it improves several key metrics, i.e. OEE, safety, quality, etc.

3. User Requirements Definition

A User Requirements Definition is a document we create that specifies what you, as our client, expect the automation project to deliver. It’s not a technical document but should include, among other things:

  • Required functions and features of the solution
  • Workflow of the solution
  • Integration requirements
  • Data requirements
  • Regulatory requirements
  • Life cycle requirements

In terms of the de-risking process, creating and agreeing a User Requirements Definition is part of the project’s feasibility analysis. It also ensures everyone is on the same page.

4. Design Review Management

The design review is an essential part of de-risking automation projects. In regulated sectors, it’s also a compulsory part of the process and must be properly documented.

A design review tests and evaluates the design of the automation solution against the User Requirements Definition. At SL Controls, we insist on peer reviews by multiple Subject Matter Experts to ensure we get a broad spectrum of opinion and can maximise on the experience that exists within the company.

5. Factory Acceptance Testing

The goal of Factory Acceptance Testing (FAT) is to ensure the equipment, platforms, and components of the automation solution deliver on requirements before it leaves the vendor site. It is an essential process that highlights issues and errors, so it plays a key role in de-risking automation projects.

6. Logistics Management

Logistics management is often taken for granted in automation projects, despite the fact there are so many things that can go wrong, many of which can have significant consequences. A good example is a piece of equipment getting dropped, damaged, or delayed. Any of these things could set a project back for weeks or months.

To mitigate these risks, we insist on using qualified and approved freight forwarders who take essential steps to ensure the teardown, crating, and transportation of equipment and machinery goes smoothly. This includes:

  • Mapping every aspect of the route
  • Planning the equipment required
  • Deciding on the crate specification
  • Selecting appropriate bracing to secure equipment
  • And more

7. Site Acceptance Testing

While the aim of a de-risking strategy is to eliminate risks at the earliest possible stages of an automation project, the Site Acceptance Testing stage is still important. It’s also an essential GMP requirement.

8. Final Commissioning

This includes IQ (installation qualification), OQ (operational qualification), and PQ (performance qualification).

De-Risking Strategy

By emphasizing de-risking in the earliest stages and then focusing on the elimination or mitigation of risks through each subsequent stage, we ensure the successful and smooth delivery of automation projects, maximising the realisation of benefits with respect to safety, yield, OEE, and ROI.

Charlie Murphy

Charlie is SL Control’s Factory Automation Manager. He has over 24 years' industrial experience including in the Consumer (Electronics) and Medical Device industries. He has extensive experience partnering with R&D organisations in the design, development and procurement of high-volume automation requirements to support manufacturing capacity and NPIs. Charlie’s team specialises in Industry 4.0 Digital Maturity Assessments and developing technical roadmaps and value propositions.

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