Jeff Allen, Glenmount Global Business Development Manager, explains what it means to provide a maintainable system to clients. Our goal is to not create a system that embeds our engineers in the customer’s facility for years, because essentially that means it is not a maintainable or useable solution.
So, what does it mean to have a maintainable system?
Writing good software. We provide a well-documented system with code that makes sense. For example, the client could have a shear subroutine within the program, there would be a label for that shear and all its code would reside within. So, if a change needs to be made, they can go right to that spot in the code without having to go in line by line to find where to make modifications. We could build a program that has cryptic names for all the components in the software and we would know how it works, but if we handed that to someone else in the plant who has never seen the software, they would have a hard time figuring it out. We must segregate those functions within the code to provide ease of access for those who did not write it. You cannot expect the customer to browse through thousands of lines of code and find what they are looking for while the plant is in the middle of a breakdown.
Good documentation, drawings, and functional descriptions. Most of the time, we are replacing obsolete systems with documentation that is not well-written or well commented. For someone who does not do what we do every day, it is a tremendous effort to figure out how those old systems work when there is a problem. There are times when we walk into a facility and they do not have a functional description or drawings for their process – so, we have no starting point. We must write our own documentation, stepping through how the line operates and collaborating with the personnel. At times it is even necessary to chase wires hand by hand to figure out how the existing control system works. Providing our customers with great documentation is one of the pillars of service our business depends upon.
Clean graphical user interfaces. If you do not put your interface together in a clear manner, it is tough for folks to understand. You must design an interface with the end user in mind. We must account for the operator on the floor, the engineer and management when we put these interface packages together, because it is important that all the stake holders can see and interact with the system. This principle should be applied for something as small as a narrowly focused piece of equipment as well as a complete process line with hundreds of motors. Our systems can get very complex and making sure the interfaces are intuitive at all levels is critical.
Engaging stakeholders during development. We encourage our clients to bring in their operators, engineering team, and managers and let them get their hands on our solution before it is installed on site. The feedback provided and buy-in from plant floor operators during acceptance testing is invaluable prior to installation of our systems. Overall, during the project, it is important with the engineering team and maintenance team to have them involved. We like to encourage the technical representatives of the customer to be a part of our team. Their input can have a big influence on what we do and will also allow them to understand it before it hits the shop floor. Engaging the client well ahead of when we perform the FAT is a key component of our process.
A well-documented system with fantastic code and user interfaces provides the customer with all the tools they need to maintain their new systems without intervention from outside their organizations.
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