Real-time asset management and OPC

Used as a standard technology platform from which to build real-time applications and practices, OPC can ultimately lead to an immediate impact on your bottom line. This article discusses how OPC can be applied in an industrial setting to help improve your asset management practices.

By Paul Miller, Manager of Asset Management Solutions, Matrikon 

WITH THE CONSTANTLY evolving business environment, industries are left to find ingenious ways to remain competitive. Over the last few years, more emphasis has been placed on asset management and how it affects the bottom line. Asset management, loosely defined, is the control and operation of all physical and soft assets within an organization. Most often, asset management refers to the maintenance of physical pieces of equipment. Recently, the focus has shifted from just physical assets to include maintenance of soft assets, such as software and control systems. This article discusses how OPC can be applied in an industrial setting to help improve asset management techniques and practices.

Looking for Efficiency
Plant managers are continuously forced to find more efficient ways to operate their facilities. In most industrial settings, one of the largest fixed operating costs is the yearly maintenance budget. As a result, this is the first area to receive cutbacks or reductions. This causes a problem, because managers still have to operate and maintain the facility at full capacity with reduced resources. There is a direct conflict between maintaining an organization’s assets and meeting budget targets. Maintenance departments must operate with fewer staff and smaller budgets, while maintaining more sophisticated equipment.

The solution is to move away from the traditional reactive approach to maintenance (fix it when it breaks) to a strategic, proactive methodology (predict impending failures). To accomplish this, real-time data from operations needs to be tied directly into the maintenance management system used in the organization. This is where OPC is the perfect fit.

Establishing and Monitoring a Maintenance System
The first step in adopting a strategic approach to asset management is the integration of the computerized maintenance management system (CMMS) with real-time data. The CMMS typically tracks daily maintenance costs and procedures, and enables the planning and scheduling of routine preventive maintenance (PM). Better systems also allow implementation of more advanced meter-based PM programs. Meter-based PMs determine when maintenance should be performed on the asset, based on vital statistics, such as actual run hours or the number of start/stops of a piece of equipment. This information can be automatically collected from the various control systems and equipment at a facility using OPC. This reduces the need for regular manual entry of meter readings, decreasing the workload on already overloaded maintenance personnel.

The next step toward asset management excellence is to implement condition-monitoring programs. These monitoring programs can then be used to drive condition based maintenance (CBM) strategies. The focus of a CBM program is to ensure that proper maintenance is being performed at the right time. Under CBM, no maintenance should be done before it is absolutely necessary for that piece of equipment. With proper planning, a CBM program can help ensure that maintenance resources are used to their optimum efficiency. OPC technology is crucial to implementation of a CBM application. To work properly, information must be collected from a variety of data sources in real-time. Since the maintenance effort is pushed to the limit, it is vital that information can be easily collected from various control and collection systems. In essence, the CBM application becomes an automatic health check on assets within an organization.

In addition to physical equipment such as pumps and motors, organizations are starting to track the maintenance costs associated with soft assets, such as a Distributed Control System (DCS). Although the maintenance costs of a DCS are typically not tracked, they can be quite significant. Also, losses in productivity from a poorly performing control system can escalate exponentially. In the past, any problem with poorly performing control systems has been hard to identify. Few organizations have the manpower required to perform continuous control loop audits. As a result, most control loops operate on a run-to-failure methodology. Because of this, maintenance may be treating the symptom and not the cause of the problem. For example, a control valve that is wearing prematurely may be replaced with new, longer-lasting materials, when in fact the old valve design was sufficient: the premature wear was due to cycling caused by a poorly tuned control loop. Tuning the loop may be enough to correct the problem, thus saving money and manpower.

Standard tools that monitor control loop performance online and in real time are available. These tools enable continuous monitoring of control loops, and instant notification of operational deviations as they occur. Using OPC to tie these systems into a CMMS provides tracking and automatic evaluation of your soft assets. It also enables easy tracking of true operational and maintenance costs associated with those assets. Personnel can focus on fixing the cause of the problem, and not just the symptom (cycling valve).

OPC Provides the Connectivity
OPC is the perfect connection medium for integrating real-time information with asset management strategies. Because OPC is widely accepted in the control industry as the standard communication method, a wide range of devices is immediately available for integration. Specifically, the Data Access (DA) and Alarm & Event (A&E) versions of the OPC standard are especially well suited to the integration requirements. Events that happen daily can now be integrated tightly into maintenance strategies without custom application development.

As the marketplace continues to strain operating and maintenance budgets, organizations must continue to adapt and meet new challenges. Real-time asset management is one adaptation that provides immediate success. In general, there is an immediate need to move from reactive maintenance procedures and practices to a more strategic approach. OPC connectivity is the vehicle to achieve this goal. It provides the integration of real-time systems to corporate CMMS applications, improving PM programs, enabling true CBM implementations, and providing easy tracking and monitoring of soft assets. OPC is a standard technology platform from which an organization can build real-time applications and practices, ultimately leading to an immediate impact on the bottom line.

  About the Author

Paul Miller is the Manager of Asset Management Solutions for Matrikon Inc., Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. Paul is a professional engineer holding a degree in Chemical Engineering, Computer Process Control. He has been working in the field of industrial asset solutions since 1998. E-mail:

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