Wouldn’t it be fantastic if every new system design and installation could be completed on-time, or even ahead of schedule? After decades of experience, our team has identified a number of areas within the process where necessary time requirements might be underestimated. To help you avoid those potential pitfalls, we’ve assembled this list of project steps and typical timeframes to help you strategically plan for your next project.
- Identify the problem. Projects typically fall into one of two categories: companies that know exactly where the operational bottleneck lies within their process and need a solution developed to address it, or operations that recognize the effects of a problem but haven’t been able to determine the root cause. Organizations that need help identifying the problem should allot approximately three to six months for a third-party consultant to assess, collect and analyze data about the business, its networks, operations, processes, systems and assets. Only by first engaging in this due diligence process can the cause of the problem be identified.
- Evaluate potential solutions. Once the cause of the inefficiency has been identified, a variety of possible solutions are explored. Sometimes small tweaks to existing processes or systems may be all that are needed to improve (but perhaps not completely resolve) the current situation. A more complex situation may require three to six months to explore and consider potential solutions (new equipment, process or network modifications, expanded facility footprint, new facility location or structure) and build a business case for each.
- Formal design of the chosen solution. After the optimal solution has been determined, the system integrator maps out a formal design and implementation plan. As before, the more complex the situation the longer this project phase will take, with most requiring between three to six months. Within this step the applications engineering is performed, equipment, systems and controls are designed, and an installation timeframe is mapped out. Also, during this part of the process, bids from contractors and original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) are solicited and reviewed, and pricing and proposal options are formally presented to the company to select which route they prefer to take. At the conclusion of this phase, a functional specification document and budget is produced and approved.
- Contracting. This is the phase in which all the details are incorporated into a legal document to be signed by both parties. How quickly the terms and conditions can be agreed upon determines the length of this step; contracts can be executed in anywhere from less than a week up to three months. Generally, the larger an organization, the more time this phase will require in order to secure the necessary reviews, approvals, and signoffs.
- Team formation. Both sides now identify which personnel from each will have responsibility to execute and manage the project. Both groups meet, and the project is formally kicked off. This usually only takes a few days or a couple of weeks. During this time, it is critical to establish communication protocols to ensure that regular conversations about progress, timelines, milestones, obstacles, alternative solutions, and other timely updates can occur.
- Order equipment. Because the optimal equipment and the budget have been specified and agreed upon in the formal design phase, it should be a relatively quick process to cut purchase orders for the selected OEMs. Prior to doing so, lead times for equipment delivery should be evaluated to ensure that the necessary components will arrive in correspondence with the implementation timeframe. If not, the schedule may need to be adjusted or different vendors chosen.
- Installation. Again, depending on the complexity of the solution, this can take anywhere from three months to a year. If a software integration — such as the implementation of a new warehouse management system (WMS) — is involved, that may take an additional six months. This phase requires tight coordination of equipment deliveries as well as scheduling of sub-contractors and other support equipment. Further, it’s critical to be aware of how each trade’s progress impacts the work of subsequent contractors; maintaining and adhering to a project calendar can help maintain the correct sequence of work to be completed and prevent delays. Additionally, in a retrofit of an existing operation, the need to accommodate day-to-day work occurring in the building may also add time to the schedule. Organizations with extremely complex installations may opt to schedule the integration and go-live process across several sub-systems as a means to measure incremental progress.
- Testing, commissioning, training. To ensure the new systems will ultimately perform as expected, it’s critical to allot adequate time for testing of all functional and safety components, as well as for adequate training of operations and maintenance employees. This can take anywhere from a week to a month. Because the new equipment will take time to ramp up to its full productivity, blocking out the time to both ensure its proper functionality and that those using it are familiar and comfortable with its operation will speed that process along.
Thinking about implementing a new system in your facility? To learn more about working with DCS, we invite you to connect with us.
Seth Taylor, Vice President of Operations, firstname.lastname@example.org
With 22 years in the material handling industry, Seth has experienced many different roles – Project Manager, Sr. Director of Solutions, Vice President of Solutions, and VP of Operations. Seth oversees the entire process from contract to customer service, project delivery and support. He is passionate about growing his team and taking ownership of the post-sales efforts. Outside of the office, you can find Seth spending time with his wife, three kids, and dog Stella.