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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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.”

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