Serving up asset management

Asset management is like pizza that comes in many flavors and styles. It can be cut into several pieces, cooked with ingredients from home, or ordered out. So, would you like yours thin crust or deep dish?

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By Rich Merritt, Senior Technical Editor


ASSET MANAGEMENT (AM) is like a pizza. It can be cut into several pieces: loop tuning, maintenance management, condition monitoring, etc. You can cook AM by assembling all the ingredients yourself, or you can buy it already cooked by a full-service supplier. AM comes in many flavors and styles too. These range from the deep-dish, Chicago-style version, with more capabilities and ingredients than you may need or want, to thin-crust types, with just loop tuning or computerized maintenance management software (CMMS). Finally, AM can be delivered to your plant for local consumption, or it can “served” to you from remote computers.

AM Tastes Efficient, Yummy!
Unlike some of the vaporware that plagues our process control industry, AM software actually works, and it works well. Michel Gaumond, electrical maintenance coordinator at the Alma Division of Abitibi-Consolidated, a paper mill in Alma, Quebec, Canada, recently installed a new control system on a new paper machine, and used asset management to help make it all work. “System commissioning was done using the AMS asset management system from Emerson Process Management,” says Gaumond. “This simplified calibration, control configuration and verification of various field devices. With AMS, commissioning took less time than we expected, and made it possible to document every step. It allowed us to find and diagnose problems during testing and startup. We performed many tests on the various systems before the actual startup, and AMS was extremely valuable when troubleshooting.”

Abitibi-Consolidated continues to use asset management during operations to fine-tune the process (See Figure 1 below). “Our Continuous Process Improvement Team includes engineers and operators, who are dedicated to solving problems that come up during operation, and devising ways to further optimize and refine the process,” explains Gaumond. “This team has a dedicated set of DeltaV workstations in a separate room, where it can analyze data from DeltaV historian, event logger and AMS, as well as OSISoft’s PI historian. The team spends 100% of its time solving problems and optimizing processes.”


Engineers and operators at Abitibi-Consolidated’s paper mill in Alma, Quebec, use asset management to find problems and fine-tune their paper machine. Source: Emerson Process Management

Maintenance comes after startup and operations, and AM has the right ingredients there too. “We’ve trained the maintenance group how to use tools such as equipment diagnostics. We now have a full year of equipment performance data, such as valve signatures, and we’re learning to perform predictive maintenance. For example, we can compare the current signature of a valve to the signature when it was installed, and determine if the valve is working properly.”

Though Abitibi-Consolidated is using software from two of the process industry’s biggest AM suppliers, Emerson and OSISoft, similar success is possible when using AM software from less famous firms. FileNet, for example, is known for its enterprise content management (ECM) solutions in industries that often drown in paperwork.

Duke Energy, an integrated power and natural gas company in Charlotte, N.C., was similarly submerged in documentation and subsequently aided by FileNet, according to Steve Morgan, Duke’s electronic document management integration manager. “Duke Energy is composed of 700 subsidiaries and joint ventures, with offices from Charlotte to London,” says Morgan. “It faces a number of regulatory requirements on its three nuclear and 27 fossil-fuel plants.”

Morgan adds Duke must maintain records on litigation support, sales contract management, enterprise resource planning (ERP), financial accounting, manufacturing and engineering, change management, engineering document management, regulatory submissions, process safety management/OSHA, health/safety/quality, specifications/estimates and procurement, maintenance/repair/operations, and research. Keeping track of this data may sound deadly dull—much like eating a frozen, supermarket pizza—until you realize AM’s direct benefits.

“In the past, nuclear plants were down for 45 days when undergoing regularly scheduled shutdowns,” says Morgan. Much of that was filling out regulatory paperwork. “Thanks to FileNet’s solution, Duke Energy has been able to bring a plant back online in 21 to 30 days. Considering that such plants generate $1 million dollars per day in revenue, this can add up to a substantial amount of extra income for the company.”

Abitibi-Consolidated and Duke’s applications and requirements show that proven AM software from large or small suppliers can make your process more efficient, productive and manageable.

Making the Crust
Pizza starts with making a good crust. In a process plant, the crust is real-time plant floor data. Getting real-time data into asset management is getting easier all the time because modern control systems can deliver data in a standard, usable format. As Dave Ochoa, Emerson’s director of strategic planning, puts it, “Many assets in modern plants and mills are intelligent and self-diagnosing. These assets communicate by industry standard protocols, such as fieldbus and HART. System interfaces are available which pass information directly through the control system, multiplexers and linking devices.”

The major process control vendors have been on top of this trend for several years. They saw the need for connecting the plant floor to IT long ago, so almost all of them now offer completely integrated asset management software packages that acquire the necessary data. Even SAP, the 800-lb ERP gorilla in our industry, has finally acknowledged that the plant floor is more than just a place to get production numbers.

“Integration of plant floor information with SAP is currently the hottest area in the enterprise IT space,” says Jindrich Liska, manufacturing intelligence VP at Iconics. “Historically, SAP and other ERP vendors embraced a top-down approach of plan-driven push manufacturing. However, a top-down model doesn’t meet the requirements of agility and responsiveness in today’s competitive global market. Instead, the new bottom-up paradigm is emerging as an approach to leverage plant-floor, real-time information for fast and accurate business decision making.”

In other words, the ERP tail once wagged the process control dog. Although plant systems obediently sent information to ERP and other higher level enterprise software on demand, results that would help plant operations rarely came back. But now, with your local AM software collecting plant floor data and using it to analyze process operations (See Figure 2 below), you don’t need ERP anymore.

Asset management software on a server lets management view plant data from all facilities worldwide. With AM software, like PortalWorX from Iconics, who needs ERP? Source: Iconics

ERP NEVER really worked anyway, says Dave Shook, marketing manager at Matrikon. “The dirty little secret of ERP software is that it’s used for financial functions instead of driving manufacturing decision making,” he says. “In process manufacturing, ERP has been a pretty big bust.”

Another reason you never got any benefit from ERP and other AM software was because the various AM software packages were completely separate and didn’t talk to each other.

Bruce Reierson, business development manager for asset optimization at ABB, explains that, “In the past, each of the involved disciplines used separate systems, specifically designed for their individual needs, to achieve their respective goals. These closed systems made it nearly impossible to leverage their benefits enterprise wide. Today, with the introduction of open architecture environments, the enterprise benefits by linking critical real-time plant floor information across the enterprise in a manner that is tailored to the individual user.”

For process control professionals, open integration provides two benefits: first, linking your control system to AM improves overall plant operation; second, you and your control system can provide the information that will help optimize an entire enterprise. In short, build the crust correctly, and you may increase your status from being an unknown engineer in a remote plant to that of an information guru.

Ordering the Pizza
You can buy a pie from a pizzeria that just makes pizza or from a full-service restaurant that offers pizza along with its fish, chicken and tacos. However, you can’t get a pizza with the same taste as a Domino’s Pizza at a sit-down restaurant.

It’s the same with AM software. All the major process control vendors offer a complete line of AM products, and all the software works together. Alas, some of the ingredients may not “taste” quite as good as software from a shop that specializes in CMMS, loop tuning or document management.
There are two arguments here. The first says process control vendors should configure their AM packages to meet specific needs of process industry users and run with their control systems, thus simplifying integration of the AM process. The opposing argument is that the specialty shops know more about their particular area of expertise than the process control vendors, so you can get a best-of-breed package by shopping around.

“Asset diagnostic applications take a variety of forms, but need to be correlated together to form a comprehensive view of asset, unit and plant health,” says Emerson’s Ochoa. “We believe the heart of AM is not CMMS, but rather the asset diagnostic and condition/performance monitoring technologies, and the ability to access these in a holistic manner.”

Peter Martin, performance management VP at Invensys Process Systems, agrees that, “The intent is not just for the automation companies to provide CMMS, rather it is to combine the worlds of automation and maintenance in a way that will provide new levels of business value. Traditionally, operation and maintenance have been managed and automated independently. Automation suppliers are in an ideal position to accomplish a holistic approach because they interact with both operations and maintenance.”

George Buckbee, marketing manager at ExperTune, counters that, “Best-in-class software tools often are orders-of-magnitude more capable than what an individual DCS or PLC vendor can provide. Before high-speed open connectivity, users were restricted to the tools provided with their DCS package. This was very limiting, because each DCS vendor couldn’t keep up with the rate of innovation in each part of the asset management field. Independent software suppliers who focus on niche markets, are able to develop highly capable, best-in-class applications for asset management.”

Matrikon’s Shook, adds that, “Our asset management software is far more sophisticated than that available from the control vendors. We maintain our edge by staying ahead in the areas that really count.”

Can the smaller companies compete with the top tier of automation vendors? “Yes, this is nothing new,” says Heidi Schlinsog, sales and marketing coordinator at Eagle Technology. “Companies have come out with CMMS as part of their software, and give it away for free sometimes, which is hurting the industry because most of their CMMSes aren’t complete.”

Matt Langie, director of product marketing for Datastream, adds that, “The Datastream sales team rarely sees large process control vendors in deals. If companies are looking for best-of-breed technology, they typically don’t consider the larger vendors.”

“The dirty little secret of ERP software is that it’s used for financial functions instead of driving manufacturing decision making. In process manufacturing, ERP has been a pretty big bust.”

Langie reports that the competition is coming to an end anyway. “The ‘end-to-end’ packaged applications are likely to become an anachronism within five years,” he predicts. “As service-oriented architectures (SOAs) emerge as the standard IT infrastructure, web services will enable easy integration between applications.”

Roger Levin, product manager of integrated asset management at Rockwell Automation agrees with this projection. “At Rockwell Automation, we have the ability to manage plant assets, we have access to information supplied by our control systems, and we have an extensive offering around predictive technologies and machine health.”

Nevertheless, he acknowledges that integration is coming. “Many of the one-stop-shopping offerings are actually optimized for the supplier’s hardware, and therefore aren’t usable on the open market. As open standards in the process industry provide a way for all device manufacturers to participate on an open playing field, the best-of-breed applications will become ubiquitous.”

It’s already happening. Some of asset management ingredients offered by the process control companies actually come from best-of-breed vendors, says Patrick Holcomb, senior VP of business development at Intergraph. “Intergraph has announced integration and even reseller agreements with the major DCS vendors,” he says. “In some cases, they are reselling our software, so they can represent best-in-class engineering.”

Delivering the Pizza
All eight major ingredients of AM aren’t necessarily real-time functions. Only condition monitoring, which often is resident in the field devices, must be in the plant. The software to analyze condition monitoring data, plus software for all the other AM functions, can reside in a server 6,000 miles away at your corporate headquarters, a specialty supplier, or a process control vendor. If you use such a server, then you can access AM data via networks or web browsers.

“Where the software runs is not as important as where users can interface and gain access to critical information,” says Rockwell’s Levin. “AM data collection, storage and analysis functions don’t necessarily have to be at the production site. Where the actual software runs is more a function of the needs of a user.”

Putting AM software on a central server is one way to approach the problem, he says. “We have a contract where we manage 105 sites from a central server. This can be accessed securely from anywhere in the world, and users can view data, work orders, and machine health by facility, region or machine type.”

With a central server, you can buy “seats” for your plant, which allow access to the information from licensed terminals, or you can rent the software. “Indus offers its asset management solution on a ‘hosted’ basis, where the actual software resides on a server hosted and maintained by Indus,” explains Gary Frazier, director corporate communications of Indus International. “The solution accesses data from control systems, and provides access via a web server. The client pays a monthly subscription fee for the use of the application. One client, Smurfit-Stone Container Corp, estimates savings of $500,000 over five years using the hosted model.”

Prasad Raghavendra, product manager at Honeywell Process Solutions, reports that, “Honeywell doesn’t rent any of its software. However, there is software deployed as a pay-per-use service running on a central web server. The package gets its information from control systems via open standards like OPC.”

Shook adds that, “We’ve been offering this for years, with no takers so far. Part of the problem has been that operating companies are very protective of their data.”

Web-based delivery is a major trend in AM, says ExperTune’s Buckbee. “Detailed process information can be accessed by hundreds of users, directly from their desktops via their web browsers. When the local team needs help, they can call on experts from around the world to solve their problems. In one recent case, a control engineer at a plant in North Carolina called in a corporate engineer and an expert consultant to solve a process oscillation problem. In just two hours, with web connections and a conference call, they solved a problem that had plagued the plant for weeks.”

Paying the Delivery Person
Getting AM vendors to tell us how much an entry-level AM software package costs was fruitless. Several vendors weasel-worded their answers, essentially saying, “How much does it cost for a user not to install asset management?” 

Only one actually answered the question. “An Indus AM solution can cost as little as $125,000 or as much as several million dollars, depending on the capabilities required, the number of users, and many other factors,” says Indus’ Frazier. “In the long run, ‘best of breed’ AM solutions more than pay for themselves in a relatively short time.”

“We’ve been offering software deployed as a pay-per-use service running on a central web server for years, but there are no takers so far. Part of the problem has been that operating companies are very protective of their data.”

For a single plant, you may not have too many options. You may have to buy the software outright. For companies with multiple locations, who can set up a central server, several options exist for per-seat costs, site licenses, or an enterprise license.

You don’t necessarily have to spend a zillion dollars on AM software. “An asset management system doesn’t have to be expensive to be useful,” says Todd Stauffer, marketing manager at Siemens Energy & Automation. “Inexpensive ‘entry level’ AM packages are useful for plants that have limited budgets for maintenance.”

ABB’s Reierson confirms this assessment. “A widely held opinion is that an asset management system must be installed on a grand scale to provide measurable results,” he notes. “This is a misconception. Today’s asset optimization solutions can be incrementally implemented, on a physical location basis or by asset type, and still provide immediate payback.”

You have plenty of options, including purchasing AM software for your plant, putting AM software on a central company server, leasing, purchasing and many combinations of each. In this case, it definitely pays to shop around and compare all the options.


Slicing the Pie

There are eight basic pieces of the Asset Management pie:

  • Condition monitoring—Diagnostic and status information from smart instruments, fieldbus equipment and devices with embedded web servers provide real-time data relating to equipment health. Specialty software analyzes the data to identify problems.
  • Maintenance management—CMMS takes real-time diagnostic information, data involving equipment usage and availability, plant schedules and other factors into consideration, and determines when an “asset,” such as a control valve, needs maintenance.
  • Loop tuning—Using real-time and historical data, loop tuning software can identify when a process loop needs to be adjusted for maximum efficiency.
  • Process optimization—This software analyzes overall process or unit operations, identifies problems, and recommends changes to improve an entire process.
  • Plant historian—Captures real-time data from the entire process, and makes it available to operators, process engineers and maintenance people for analysis.
  • Document management—Organizes, updates, and makes available a host of documents, including manuals, regulations, equipment schematics and so on.
  • Supply chain management (SCM)—Based on an evaluation of available assets and incoming orders, SCM tells the plant what to make.
  • ERP—Runs the enterprise’s financial business. 
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