Optimizing Global Engineering Efficiency

Across major geographies, under-budget projects are the exception rather than the rule

By Andy Weatherhead, Manager, Global Engineering, Rockwell Automation

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Globalization and disruptive technological advancements, such as virtualization, cloud and big data, are continually altering the industrial landscape. To succeed, innovative companies must re-envision where and how they do business so the right resources are applied regardless of their location. In the past decade, concepts like virtual teaming and multi-office execution began to play major roles in the operating strategies of engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) and global engineering firms. Offshoring is no longer isolated to manufacturing, data processing and call-center positions, as a growing number of firms move engineering, design and development work overseas as well.

Cost reduction is a primary driver for these moves and a top concern for both facility owners and EPC contractors, given today's complex global environment. To further minimize costs, many owners also are tightening requirements for EPC contractors, they want firms to assume more risk while meeting tighter project schedules. [1]

On top of cost pressures, the increasing difficulty of finding qualified engineering personnel looms large for owners and EPC firms. After all, even the most advanced virtual teams and multi-office capabilities cannot succeed without the right people in place.

The skills shortage has received significant visibility in developed regions, such as North America and Western Europe. This deficit is driven by trends, such as downsizing, EPCs refocusing on core competencies other than automation, and the increasing wave of retiring baby boomers. The growing skills scarcity even extends to newly advanced economies, such as China. While that nation graduates large numbers of engineering students annually, too few highly trained and qualified personnel are available to fill the requirements of process industries.

Companies are implementing multiple strategies to simultaneously reach cost-reduction goals for capital projects, while finding experienced and qualified personnel to execute projects, and operate and maintain their plants, including :

  • Teaming with automation suppliers to provide this knowledge and fill the skills gap.
  • Sourcing engineering services globally.
  • Tapping global virtual engineering teams for around-the-clock engineering support.
  • Locating services close to the project location or equipment and vendor locations.

The global nature of many of these strategies means that execution will necessitate collaboration from locations with varying levels of IT infrastructure, different engineering tools and best practices, diverse engineering backgrounds, and varied industry domain expertise, not to mention cultural and communication differences. The reality is that most companies do not have the proper tools and infrastructure in place to effectively address these complexities.

Overcoming these project challenges overwhelms some manufacturers. The 2012 PricewaterhouseCoopers (Global Project Management Survey) found that poor estimates/missed deadlines was the greatest factor contributing to poor project performance. Additionally, research found many of these projects exceed budgets by at least 50 percent.

Investing in front-end engineering and design can help companies overcome project cost overruns, as well as help develop a detailed project scope, budget and timeline to reduce risk and uncertainty during a projects design and commissioning phases. Trusted third-party service providers can help companies navigate complexities related to global project execution through the entire project lifecycle. Rockwell Automation, for example, relies upon a unified, flexible work environment comprised of a standard delivery toolset embedded with domain expertise, rigorous project methodology and detailed governance processes. Regardless of a company's access to qualified talent or location, this approach helps minimize risk and drive efficiency and consistency into projects. 


Industry libraries: a core element of effective execution. Companies embarking on global projects face a myriad challenges related to schedules, start-up time, cost, productivity, quality and safety. Overcoming these challenges can be difficult. In their quest to deliver consistent project outcomes, many engineering companies rely on industry libraries containing engineering content. These standard software modules of industry functionality are critical for standardizing complex designs in a repeatable way. Industry libraries are just one element to successful project execution, a holistic approach also includes project methodology and governance processes.

With most large organizations that deliver automation solutions, engineers are designing and implementing solutions for multiple customers around the world on turnkey projects that require the coordination and management of the scope from multiple vendors, and for the same customer at multiple locations around the world. (See Figure 2)

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