The art of asset management

Will asset management save North America's process plants? This article from the editors of CONTROL provides the 411 on local and remote asset management capabilities and corporate oversight.

By Dan Hebert, PE, Senior Technical Editor, and Walt Boyes, Editor in Chief

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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 ‘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.
As you develop your asset management strategy, keep in mind the thoughts of Richard McCormick, automation group supervisor at Ultramar Limited in Quebec. He is currently planning the implementation of an AMS for next year. “Our system will be local,” McCormick says, “and I don’t really see any advantage to implement a remote one. This system will monitor assets that are very local, like instrumentation, compressors and other process equipment, so I don’t expect big advantages for corporate to monitor these. They will, of course, be able to access the information if desired.”

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