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.J. Lambert, instrumentation and electrical reliability specialist at BP Cooper River plant in Wando, South Carolina, pointed out that his plant objectives are to lower costs and become more available, so they can remain competitive with offshore plants. A. J. was at the ISA show to pick up the HART Communications Foundation’s “Plant of the Year” award for the implementation of a HART-based asset management system that has saved several hundred thousand dollars a year on a meager $10,000 investment.
Based on the results from Lambert and his BP plant, and many others like him, it is clear that most process automation users have accepted the value of asset management. Especially in North American “brownfield” process plants, where there are only two ways to become more competitive and keep the plant open in the face of “greenfield” competition from overseas: process optimization and asset management.
Process optimization strategies can provide as much as 25% improvement to the bottom line. But process optimization only works when the process is working. The flip side to process optimization is keeping the process up, by using asset management tools and best practices to reduce unplanned downtime and cut maintenance expenses.
It’s likely many of you are in the evaluation or implementation stage of your asset management projects. One of the most important decisions to make at this stage is whether to manage assets locally or remotely. Each approach has its advantages and disadvantages, and each plant has unique implementation issues. Here’s the scoop on both methodologies to help you determine the best approach to meet the unique needs of your plant and your company.
The Good and the Bad
Table I summarizes the benefits and challenges of local asset management strategies. From the vantage point of a single plant, local asset management will always have a lower initial cost than remote management schemes. This is mainly because the remote communications system, hardware and software, to provide data to a remote asset management system is not needed, and therefore, does not have to be purchased, installed, maintained and supported. But if no man is an island, then maybe no plant should rely on only local support. Obtaining support from management, corporate support groups, and other plants would be non-existent at worst, and difficult at best.
“For me,” says Lothar Lang, lead engineer of process control systems at Bayer Material Science’s Baytown, Texas, site, “there are the following benefits for local asset management: easier to access data, potentially faster response and maybe higher ownership for local people that leads to faster resolution of identified bottlenecks.” Challenges, he continues, include communication of, and access to, the data. “Remote asset management,” he says, “opens data to â€˜everybody’, leading to better understanding of specific issues by management and support groups.” That way, he points out, “everybody is using the same numbers and information source, leading to a common understanding and baseline.”
Process industry firms with few plants, or a company with one plant that produces the bulk of their product often favor local asset management.
“Local asset management makes sense for smaller operations,” says Tim Holtan, senior business analyst for SmartSignal Corp., “If an organization only has several assets to manage, remote monitoring may not be the best approach.”
BP Cooper River implemented a local asset management system, because the initiative was plant-centric and not intended to be a corporate-wide project. The company also had the local staff to manage both the project and the data they started to accumulate. “Before using HART to connect our field devices to our AMS, we had a major shutdown every two years, and pulled out 35 to 50 valves” Lambert reports. “There might have been a work order or some concern about a particular valve,” he says, “but we didn’t really know what was wrong with it. That costs money and time. Now, with more information, we pull maybe five or six valves during a shutdown, and we know why they pull them, and we even pull some that operations doesn’t know about because we can see a potential problem before it becomes serious.”
Because of the large number of sensors and control elements installed with HART connectivity, many plants are following BP Cooper River’s lead and connecting those existing instruments to newly purchased asset management software. Lambert reports that Cooper River is installing a Honeywell AssetMAX system to manage the data they’ve collected.
FIGURE 1: CORPORATE OVERSIGHT
|Remote asset management allows centralized experts to monitor many plants simultaneously.|
A Remote Possibility
As we’ve noted editorially in previous issues (see “,” Sept. â€˜04, p58) the time is not far off when it will be possible to operate and monitor remotely a fully functioning process plant.
Charlie Piper, product manager for fieldbus programs at Invensys points out, “From a technological standpoint, today, it makes little or no difference whether the person is sitting 1,000 ft. away or 1,000 miles away from the device. Technologies such as Windows 2003 Server with terminal services, plant networking, and .NET can deliver a Windows-based application, or even a Windows desktop itself, to virtually any computing device anywhere in the world.” The issue, he says, “is very much a matter of determining who will actually be sitting on the other side of the computer monitor and what you want them to do.”
Of course, what Piper fails to mention is the difficulty of handling communications and security associated with remote asset management. When you pin down all of the suppliers of remote asset management technology, these vendors admit that the issues of security and communications downtime are the critical parameters that will define the success or failure of a remote asset management implementation.
“If there is only a small need for manual intervention, the benefits of local asset management are mostly psychological,” says Gregg LeBlanc, director of product and industry marketing for OSIsoft. But, and it’s a big one, he says, “Clearly connectivity is a weak point for management. Our software can buffer information when a link is down, and backfill the information into a central system once the link is restored. All calculations can be made aware of a data outage, and recalculate to catch up with the analyses that were missed. However, if the link is severed and an abnormal situation arises, local human intervention is still required.”
Security too, is a bugaboo. The more links to the outside world, the greater the risk is for a control system’s network to be penetrated. If, as the vendors pontificate, it is possible to have a remotely operated plant, with either just a skeleton maintenance crew or a roving maintenance group that moves from plant to plant, it is also possible to have batches and recipes go completely awry thanks to some malicious code inserted through all those remote monitoring communications links.
If remote asset management is going to live up to its hyped reputation, it will have to do so by providing both robust and difficult-to-penetrate communications systems.
Neither Here Nor There
“The best approach,” says Scott Hillman, asset management program manager for Honeywell Process Solutions in Phoenix, Ariz. “is a combination of both local and remote support and asset management. Local asset management is required to coordinate and plan asset activities within a site based upon a priority management system.”
THE 411 ON REMOTE ASSET MANAGEMENT
1. Data access to all
2. Better understanding of issues by management and support groups
3. More powerful data analysis tools often available
4. Access to remote experts, both in-house and 3rd party
5. Lower labor costs because few people can monitor many plants
6. Forces standardization and automation of data collection
7. Share best maintenance practices among plants
8. Forces standard practices and use of single software package
9. Analysis of problems not hindered by day-to-day plant operations
10. Can help optimize spare part inventory management
11. Only way to support remote unmanned facilities
12. Can be used to implement industry benchmarking
1. Hard to implement and maintain connectivity to all
2. Security is a significant and difficult issue
3. Customizing data to meet needs of each location
4. Higher cost
5. Less reliable, depends on reliability of remote communications
6. Cannot see, hear, feel, smell, touch problem
7. Need to enforce standards across all plants
8. Need to get trust and buy-in from local maintenance personnel
Finch manages remotely
ver the years, many organizations have subscribed to the age-old wisdom, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” However, companies that run continuous production operations often adhere to a different philosophy: “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” That’s because a sudden machine failure can damage thousands of dollars worth of products and disrupt delivery schedules, particularly in continuous-production industries such as paper manufacturing. More often than not, unplanned machine failures create increased labor costs, lost revenue and unhappy customers.
No one is more aware of this reality than Finch, Pruyn & Co. Inc, a leading manufacturer of fine, uncoated papers for marketing, book publishing and office use. Based in Glens Falls, N.Y., Finch, Pruyn paper is known for its superior smoothness, high brightness, opacity and excellent printing characteristics. Founded in 1865, the locally owned and independent company produces more than 240,000 tons of paper per year.
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