By: Dan Curlin
Understanding your project’s timeframe for the SCADA implementation process, and tips on how to shorten it.
As senior project manager, I get the “how long is this going to take” question a lot…from owners wishing to get the new system up and running as fast as possible, and ECs on strict deadlines. How long does SCADA implementation take? That’s definitely a loaded question and a difficult one to answer, because it really depends on your environment, other subcontractors, and system complexity.
Before getting down to a time range to expect when looking to get a SCADA system installed by a control systems integrator, you must first understand the SCADA implementation process in its entirety.
For a limited time, we're offering free installation and training of VTScadaLIGHT.
Understanding the SCADA Implementation Process
Most of what control systems integrators do takes prep work you might not see onsite. Here are the three main steps to a SCADA integration process after receiving drawing/proposal approval:
1. In-house configuration
The SCADA architecture must be meticulously planned to ensure it integrates seamlessly with your existing systems. It can take a few weeks to a few months to initially build out a system in-house before onsite integration. First, a control system integrator orders the equipment for your approved project, which takes time to be delivered in-house. Then, they configure that equipment in-house. During this process, they check for proper compatibility between operating systems, HMI software, and data servers. If implementing a system on your computers, they might need remote access to correctly set up the software.
2. Onsite integration
After in-house configuration is complete, your integrator will ship the newly configured equipment to your location. Typically, the part that takes time in this phase is waiting for schedules to coordinate, whether it’s waiting for a good maintenance window to shut off power (during a retrofit project) or planning timing around your other subcontractors (during new construction). Your integrator may rely on subcontracted electrical contractors to tie the SCADA system into existing systems. After onsite integration, it’s time to test the system.
3. Onsite testing/commissioning
In the last step, your integrator will thoroughly test all parts of the system, including alarms and output parameters. This is where scheduling becomes very important, as the customer must allow time for equipment to be tested during a scheduled maintenance window that has the least impact on the system. As with all parts of the process, the testing timeframe totally depends on the systems being tested. A single generator can take an entire day, while a battery system may only take a few hours.
Why System Integration Might Take Longer Than You Think
Before we even delve into example timeframes, you must understand the two biggest factors that can negatively affect implementation time: new construction projects, and systems with multiple manufacturers.
Retrofit vs. new construction
For existing SCADA environments, your timeframe should be a lot shorter than new construction. Because there is no hard startup deadline during a retrofit project, all onsite work and testing is at the client’s discretion. It’s up to the client how fast or slow the project goes.
Because new construction environments require the coordination of many contractor and subcontractor schedules, SCADA implementation can take much longer. For example, mission critical environment projects usually span a few months at least. In one extreme example, a project I was working on spanned multiple years due to its size, complex wiring design drawings, schedule coordination, and the intense testing process.
Historically, the more OEMs you have, the longer the integration process takes. Central energy plants, for example, require a lot of system coordination that takes significantly longer than an average project. They don’t just have an electrical system to integrate…they also have mechanical, generators, battery backups, power distribution units, ATSs, boilers, chillers, cooling towers, condensed water loops, and chilled water systems. Getting all those systems to work together makes the design, implementation, and testing process very complex.
How Long Does SCADA Implementation Take?
I can’t stress enough that the following examples are purely samples of the possible length of your project. The following examples do not include any time for waiting on other schedules.
A small, 5-piece system (power distribution units, UPS, metering, etc.) with 20 monitoring points each in a new construction environment may take:
- 2-3 days for submittal phase
- 3 weeks to ship hardware plus 1 day for drawings (concurrent)
- 3 days to set up software
- 1 week for in-house integration
- 2-3 days shipping
- 2-3 days for onsite integration
- 1 day for commissioning
Total turnaround time: 5-6 weeks
A large, typical distributed generation system with multiple substations, two generators, a handful of UPSs, 25 power distribution units, and 20 cooling units in a new construction environment may take:
- 1 week for submittal phase (including mockups)
- 3 weeks to ship hardware
- 3 days to set up software
- 1 month to 1 month ½ for in-house application development and integration
- 3 weeks for onsite integration
- 1 week for commissioning
Total turnaround time: 3-4 months
How to Shorten SCADA Project Timeframes
If you think the turnaround time of your SCADA implementation will take too long, there are actually a few things you can do to shorten your time frame.
Hire a flexible integrator
Some integrators have a difficult time meeting deadlines, mostly due to poor project management. I know a lot of control systems integrators without devoted project managers, who trust their engineers to manage their own projects. In some cases this may work, in others it can take much more time as the integrator goes from one job site to the next then back again.
Affinity Energy, on the other hand, has two project managers dedicated to getting projects completed on time, under budget, and within the client’s specifications. If you’re under a tight deadline we have the resources to get it done quickly. If your milestones are spread out, we have the flexibility to be on hand when you need us.
As a PMP, I know that with good project management comes increased flexibility, risk reduction, consistency, and happy customers.
Allow your integrator to participate in scheduling conversations
The #1 reason projects take longer than expected is because the system integrator isn’t included in the beginning of discussions, when schedules are being decided. If the owner has a scheduling meeting with the general contractor…then passes that information to the electrical contractor…who passes that information to the integrator……
- Important information can and will easily be lost or miscommunicated down the line
- The integrator might need more time than he was allotted (in which case, he would be forced to communicate that information back up the lengthy chain, wasting time.)
Take away the red tape and let your integrator communicate with all project stakeholders (client, construction team, electrical contractor). Better yet, include the integrator in your scheduling meetings and CC them on every scheduling email.
Better communication between administration and operations/engineering
In our industry, there is a large discrepancy between the administrative part of a client’s organization (project planners) and the operations/engineering teams. This usually results in an unproductive ‘hurry up and wait’ mentality.
For example, I’ve had projects where the administrative person told me it had to be completed in one month. We rushed to send the client submittals to get the project rolling….but after four months we hadn't heard anything.
To make sure your SCADA project timelines run smoothly, ensure those that manage your projects dig into everything that could possibly impact the schedule (holidays, other subcontractors, extended timelines, etc.) On after understanding all factors, should they decide on the project deadline.
Dan Curlin was a Senior Project Manager for Affinity Energy from 2003-2016 with responsibility for project performance, revenue forecasting, account management, and resource utilization. A Certified Project Management Professional (PMP) with a Project Management Certificate from North Carolina State University, Dan directly managed scope, scheduling, and budgets for a large project portfolio of Fortune 500 clients.
After working several years as a designer, Dan seized the opportunity to work as an Automation and SCADA Engineer designing HMIs for process control automation firm Digital Systems, Inc. and ultimately won Intellution’s HMI screen design competition.
Dan joined the Affinity Energy team in 2003 as a Project Engineer, and after eight years of experience ensuring the SCADA, power monitoring and control, and critical facility monitoring systems he implemented adhered to customer schedule and costs, became a Project Manager.
Dan is a graduate of North Carolina State University with a B.A. in Industrial Design, and a minor in Science, Technology, and Society.