Finding the right control system integrator can be a challenging process. You want to make sure your integrator is the best choice to address all your needs and goals in a prioritized manner. You want to ensure the systems they integrate are reliable and operate correctly. Choosing the wrong integrator can result in delays, miscommunication, longer downtime, and long-term problems.
Here are five key questions from Affinity Energy’s own engineers to help you determine if a potential integrator is a good fit before signing your next contract. The responses you receive from your integrator should help you hone in on the best qualified (not necessarily cheapest) option.
“Are you technology agnostic?”
Calling oneself an integrator while focusing competency, skill and knowledge on one product or manufacturer is counter intuitive. However, proficiency in any solution takes time, and taking shortcuts or staying in the shallow-end will become apparent at some point.
There is nothing wrong with having technologies or products that, in the absence of other requirements, are chosen based upon a history of good use. Fitting the solution to match your needs is the goal. Whatever the solution, competency is key.
-Bradley Mull, Affinity Energy Application Engineer
“Do you understand (or care) why we need SCADA/instrumentation/control?”
It seems like a simple and natural thing to ask, yet I find it’s often assumed or taken for granted. Regularly, a specification and drawing/plan gets assembled that calls out the need for a SCADA system, but the reason why it is needed is not apparent.
Possible reasons for a SCADA system can be:
- As a tool to drive operational efficiency
- To facilitate maintenance by responding to abnormal conditions faster
- To allocate costs
- To remotely monitor or manage assets
An integrator must follow one of Stephen Covey’s golden rules: Begin with the end in mind.
If I understand what is most important to a customer, I can ask more relevant questions, prioritize efforts, and make recommendations to ensure their goals are met in budget and on schedule. By understanding the why, I can be a more engaged team member because the project has more meaning.
-Allan Evora, Affinity Energy President
“What does your typical documentation/commissioning process look like?”
Commissioning, or testing, is often the last step in the SCADA installation process. Commissioning involves everyone who played any part in the new project. For example, on a large solar plant, that includes the utility, control systems supplier, systems integrator, power systems integrator, system operators, etc.
All systems in an environment are intertwined to some degree, therefore easily-accessible documentation between all parties is vital for an efficient commissioning process. If all groups onsite have access to the specifics of each integral piece, the commissioning process can be completed quickly. If documentation was poorly written, or not easily accessible, commissioning time will lengthen as the parties attempt to communicate and re-document. The longer the commissioning time, the longer systems stay offline.
-Josh King, Affinity Energy Application Engineer
“How much experience do you have with our type of process?”
It’s easy to hire someone who is knowledgeable on SCADA equipment, software, and communications but if they know nothing about the process, process requirements, or expected outcomes, writing a specification with enough detail will be a nightmare.
Typically, the more generalized the specification, the higher likelihood for incorrect interpretation. And that can cause the integration to be a failure for everyone.
-Mike Kalkas, Application Engineer
“How much experience do you have with the software we want to use?
Nobody wants to pay an integrator to learn on the job. Your selected integrator should already be very familiar with various SCADA software offerings to understand which will fit your needs the best.
For example, consider the idea of capturing electrical waveforms. An experienced systems integrator should be able to describe to you how various SCADA packages handle the capturing of waveforms, and which ones will be able to operate at the troubleshooting level you're looking for.
Here's what I would say to someone asking about waveform capture:
It can be very useful to see transient events at the sub-cycle level, but don't take it for granted. A significant point is that SCADA systems do not perform the capturing; that function is typically assigned to the devices, such as power quality meters. The device will capture and store waveforms around the transient, then a component application of the SCADA system will upload it for storage and viewing at the server. Because of the volume of data required to view a waveform segment, the software provider will make choices for efficiency in the implementation that may show up as limitations in the usefulness of the tool.
-Leland Durrette, Application Engineer