Predictive maintenance to the rescue!

As the maintenance crisis continues to brew, process control vendors are stepping on the marketing toes of the traditional maintenance suppliers, whereas they should be stepping up to save the day.

By Rich Merritt, Senior Technical Editor

JOEL LEONARD, A TRAINER at MPact Learnng Center in Greensboro, N.C., says a maintenance crisis is brewing. He says that for every 10 experienced maintenance people that leave the industry, only about half are being replaced, and the workforce is getting older. A study reported by our sister magazine, Plant Services, shows that 47% of maintenance people are 46–55 years old, and 14% are over 55. Leonard says that maintenance is becoming more complex, most companies do not have a succession-development plan in place, and a crisis is brewing. “There’s nobody coming down the pike,” he says.

Enter the process control vendors, ever eager to help. They are jumping into the maintenance space with hardware and software that performs vibration analysis, condition monitoring, equipment diagnostics and predictive maintenance.

As we pointed out last month (“Expertise Lost,” April, ‘05, p36), Emerson Process Management added predictive maintenance and condition monitoring to its arsenal of process control and asset management tools. Emerson announced a vibration analyzer that reports problems via fieldbus. At the recent National Manufacturing Week show, Invensys announced expert condition monitoring analysis has been added to its asset management software.

Both Emerson and Invensys have been doing instrumentation and control systems maintenance on an outsourcing basis for several years, so these tools help them do their jobs. Emerson says 48% of all control-related failures occur in mechanical systems, and most of those are in motor-driven pumps. Therefore, Emerson’s first vibration analyzer product is for motor-pump trains.

Invensys takes inputs from any analyzer or condition monitoring system, grinds the data up, and provides expert analysis of equipment conditions. Both companies are responding to the shrinking number of experienced maintenance people who use traditional solutions to diagnose equipment problems.

CONTROL’s Senior Technical Editor Dan Hebert reported in our March issue (“Approach Asset Management Incrementally,” p65) that GE Energy has a similar asset management system for vibration data. As he reported, “Vendors recognize end-user demand for condition monitoring, and most now supply asset management software and hardware … with their control systems.”

Knowing our beloved vendors as well as you do, you would expect such capabilities to cost zillions of dollars. Not so. Emerson’s vibration analyzer is priced between $4,000 and $7,000, which is extremely competitive. The cost for installing similar vibration analyzers and data gathering equipment on a motor-pump system is about $8,000 using conventional methods (see “Distributed Intelligence,” Sept., ‘04, p58).

Invensys hemmed and hawed a bit when we asked them the cost of their software, but they said they were competitive with Emerson. They have to be, of course.

In these cases, Emerson, Invensys and the other process control vendors are stepping on the marketing toes of traditional maintenance management companies, vibration analyzer manufacturers, CMMS software vendors, and all the other suppliers who, up to now, had the maintenance and diagnostic space to themselves. Going up against the ferocious marketing machines of the Big Six process control vendors may prove detrimental to their financial health.

Control hardware vendors are also getting into the act by adding diagnostics and predictive maintenance to their products. A recent Chromolox survey of its customers showed that in the next two years 75% plan to buy temperature control systems with diagnostic or predictive maintenance features. Only 5% of those surveyed have equipment with such diagnostic capabilities now. Consequently, Chromolox added those capabilities to its IntelliPanel process heat control system.

We expect to see similar capabilities in every process control device coming down the pike. Predictive maintenance and diagnostics will soon become as pervasive as the Ethernet port now being installed on every product. Vendors who don’t provide such diagnostic capability are likely to lose market share.

After all, there is a maintenance crisis looming, so process control hardware and software vendors have to save the day.


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