How a Change in Perspective Can Lead to New Solutions

Perspective and New Solutions

A change in perspective can often lead to new solutions. In order to fulfill goals across multiple projects for St. Louis-based Bunge North America, Interstates had to zoom out and look at the big picture. To achieve consistency across numerous sites, Interstates had to consider the entire operation as a program instead of as individual projects. This perspective, along with frank feedback, careful scheduling, and a solid team, has resulted in success for both parties.

Bunge wanted its grain handling and barge load-out facilities to have standardized control systems and improved safety. Initially, the various sites from northern Iowa to southern Louisiana varied widely in automation. Interstates developed a plan that would give them all the same level of control and a similar ‘feel’ so that operators could go easily between sites. “We created a standard that Bunge approved, and we applied this standard to all the sites,” says Randy Best, Project Manager at Interstates Control Systems. “This is unique because, even though each site had very different levels of automation starting out, now they are at a place where operators can go to different sites to help out, especially at harvest time, and fit right in with the control system and be able to run it,” he says.

Integrated Project Delivery

While Interstates had done jobs for Bunge previously, this series of projects was the first time Bunge had taken advantage of Interstates’ Integrated Project Delivery (IPD) service. According to Jake Keller, Project Manager at Interstates, “It was new to Bunge to use a contractor that could offer everything, a turn-key solution for the various needs on these projects. It was a benefit for them because, instead of using various contractors who were constrained to certain locations or service capabilities, we could offer consistency across all these projects and, really, a partnership.”

In order to offer a seamless, consistent approach across the entire program of sites, Interstates adopted a big-picture approach to project management. “Keeping standards across all these sites presented some logistical challenges,” says Keller. “It was hard to not just focus on the project in front of you and to really consider the bigger picture. Some sites had issues where we would have to spend more time, while others went more smoothly. We had to focus on finding the ‘wins’ and rolling those into improvements, resulting in success on the whole. Mistakes happened, but we did our best to learn from them and create a culture for continuous improvement opportunities,” he says.

Flexibility is Key

Since Interstates was able to iron out a lot of the design and implementation details that were crucial to the project in the beginning it allowed them to not get bogged down in details as much during the execution phase. Keller and the Interstates team had to think about broader milestones in scheduling. “We had to be very flexible with scheduling,” says Keller. “We had to consider the business of the operations of the facilities and how that hinged on commodity markets and availability to transfer products during prime times. There were often times where we would have to consider adjusting shutdown and startup dates, but given our overall size and ability to accommodate those changes, we could be flexible in order to meet their needs,” he says. In addition to flexibility, Randy Best says keeping the same people on the Interstates field and project teams was key to success. “We kept a solid team together for the last year and a half. Interstates allowed us to keep that strong core team, and that gives you the best possible results,” he says.

According to Keller, “It was kind of remarkable to have a team like ours, and a partner like Bunge, willing to take on these projects as a program and find a new approach. There were some sacrifices, and a lot of flexibility was needed, but I think we learned how to make this work. And, as the industry continues to demand broader updates and changes, I think this program approach will be utilized more and more.”