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Sustainability in Instrumentation and Process Control: Consider the Economics

Posted on April 27th, 2016 by in Chemical Manufacturing Excellence

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Economics is perhaps the best-understood of the four domains (process, economics, politics and culture) in our working definition of sustainability because it entails traditional activities to improve profitability that are already occurring in various forms throughout the organization.  Examples include energy conservation programs, reducing the cost of raw materials and energy, streamlining processes, reducing paperwork, improved communications, re-using waste energy, recycling streams with valuable components, improved scheduling to produce products more efficiently, centralized process monitoring, and the like.

These activities can (and often do) involve multiple disciplines and departments of the organization — especially during implementation.  For example, many instrumentation and control activities involve electrical, piping and/or mechanical disciplines.  Energy conservation programs can involve mechanical, electrical, piping, and utility disciplines with help from the accountants during the approval and verification portions of the project.

The underlying premise behind economic sustainability is the economic viability of the entire operation.  The cited activities suggest existing activities that focus on improvement.  However economic viability must be ensured in the long run in order for the operation to be sustainable.  Each discipline (including instrumentation and control) naturally tends to focus on improvements that can be implemented within their area of expertise and control.  This is good and should certainly be continued.  However economics can be improved (and the operation made more sustainable) by including seemingly unrelated disciplines in project meetings where all can ask questions and make suggestions — even outside of the individual’s area of expertise.  Such discussions often provoke thought that can result in economic improvements — increasing sustainability.

It should be clear that viable ideas to improve economics can come from many directions and disciplines.  In chemical processes, the largest improvements tend to come in the area of raw materials, energy and equipment costs.  While not within their discipline per se, instrument and control professionals can use their expertise to make suggestions to improve economics and thereby increase the sustainability of the process.

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All opinions shared in this post are the author’s own.

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