Avoid the pitfalls of ‘reuse’ on your automation project

Oct 22, 2014 9:06:00 AM | Posted by Jason Montroy

When used appropriately, reuse can dramatically reduce the upfront engineering time and cost for a project.

The term “reuse” is currently en vogue in automation. It refers to taking past work—code, process description, graphics, etc.—and restating it for new projects.pitfall

Take this scenario: a manufacturer is expanding production in its Illinois facility by adding a new process line nearly identical to the one in its Missouri facility. It is logical to think that the Missouri system, into which the company has already invested significant time and effort, could simply be reused in the Illinois facility. This approach may work in theory, but in practice a few factors deserve careful consideration.

First, ensure that the system intended for reuse actually works. Only best-in-class systems deserve replication. Otherwise, you merely transfer the problems from the first system into the new facility. Prior to replication, you should mine the system for its assets and consider leaving its less-than-desirable components behind.

Next, dig into the documentation. Understand it. Overly complex and poorly documented systems mean your team might lose traction during the development process—eating up much of the efficiency you intended to gain by copying it.

Finally, ensure the new plant takes ownership of the copied system by allowing the team to use the existing system or code as a “basis of design.” Give this team the freedom to leverage the existing system to make something even better. This lessens the ownership adoption curve while prompting innovation and identification of potential problems in a copied system.

While reuse isn’t a magic bullet, it isn’t a practice to avoid. When used appropriately, it can dramatically reduce the upfront engineering time and cost for a new project. By addressing system performance, documentation and adoption approach upfront, you can avoid the pitfalls of reuse.

This post was written by Jason Montroy. Jason is a senior project manager at MAVERICK Technologies, a leading automation solutions provider offering industrial automation, strategic manufacturing, and enterprise integration services for the process industries. MAVERICK delivers expertise and consulting in a wide variety of areas including industrial automation controls, distributed control systems, manufacturing execution systems, operational strategy, business process optimization and more.