Next, there’s ES software’s maintenance benefit. “If a piece of equipment fails or is predicted to fail, the plant control system can ask the ES to help develop a repair schedule based on its knowledge of the plant’s production schedule, maintenance parts, and personnel availability,” he says.
Chris Boothroyd, product manager at Honeywell agrees. “After production plans and schedules, by far the most common example of plant-relevant information are maintenance plans and history,” he says. “Customers want to view near-real-time information about a pump or vessel to monitor the process and/or equipment performance. However, when something goes awry, they also want to know what the most recent maintenance activity was on that pump, and when the next planned maintenance will occur. Of course, they can get this information from the ERP system, but only by logging on to ERP, remembering the correct transactions, finding the right equipment, running the right report, etc. It’s simply too hard and wastes too much time.”
ES provides another benefit to plant operations people outside the control room. “Many individuals throughout the enterprise have no access to the control room, yet need process data to make decisions,” says Jonas Berge, marketing manager at SMAR. “For this reason, a connection is needed from the process automation system to the rest of the organization. For example, each plant may have a team dedicated to performance improvement. The software they use needs access to all process data to access the control loops to compute variability, error, output standard deviation, and detect oscillation, etc.”
Ken Smothers, principal engineer at Aquila Networks, a group of Kansas City-based power companies, adds, “Our control system vendor only provided the software to allow us to see data on the historian,” he says, so Aquila connected to the company network itself. “The primary purpose of the connection is to provide steam sales data to the billing clerk. Additional benefits include providing historical data and troubleshooting information to specific personnel, who don’t reside at the plant. We’re doing it by providing a link from the historian through a switch, which goes through a firewall, into a router, and then connects to the company network. The selected individuals can then connect to the historian via software loaded on virtual servers running on a VSWorks platform.”
Quality control efforts benefit from these links, says consulting engineer Paul Wiancko, principal at PRT Wiancko & Assoc. “Another reason for high-end collection of process data is for quality control work,” he says. “For some products, it’s desirable to link final test results with process parameter history on an ongoing basis. Some customers want to go back to the supplier, and see how the process ran at the time of production. Higher-end software can collect, organize and suitably present this data, but sometimes it needs specialized software to make the transition.”
Coincidentally, just when you see enough positive benefits to justify ES, along comes another government mandate that may require you to do enterprise integration: Sarbanes-Oxley.
Sarbanes-Oxley: Another Y2K?
Sarbanes-Oxley (SOX) regulations make a company’s CEO and CFO personally responsible for everything that appears in their quarterly and financial reports, under penalty of fines and imprisonment. “I think this is the next Y2K, although there are some good practices that can be implemented,” says OSsoft’s Kennedy. “Those assigned to the SOX project are generally not those that know what to do.”
A recent poll of CONTROL’s subscribers says that none of the respondents have had to provide information about plant operations yet, but it’s certainly coming soon. SOX is yet another Y2K/ISO 9001 brouhaha that’s likely to plague you.
Leroux of ABB says SOX isn’t that just coming temporarily, but will be here to stay. “While SOX is seen as primarily at the business level, most organizations feel SOX may require some interaction with manufacturing, particularly to address processes that impact a firm’s finances.”
Robert Fallwell, manager of measurement engineering services at Emerson Process Management, says your company’s accountants and outside auditors already are working their way down to you. That’s because the SOX auditors want to make sure the critical data that goes into the annual report is accurate.
“Flow measurements are most important for oil, gas, and many process industries, because they’re literally the company’s ‘cash register’,” says Fallwell. “All revenue and most of the cost data reported by a company is generated from or related to flowmeters and associated equipment.”
Most of that information is already being shipped to your company’s ERP system, but how accurate is it? Fallwell says, “When the SOX auditors arrive at your plant, they’ll want you to prove that these measurements are accurate, that you have procedures in place to ensure measurement accuracy, and that the plant’s operators, engineers and production accountants are trained in the correct procedures for the measurement control process.”
Essentially, you have to provide your company executives with “reasonable assurance” that the data is good, and that you can detect and fix any flow errors that come up. Fortunately, Fallwell says you won’t have to prove the accuracy of every flow measurement in the plant or refinery—just the ones that feed the cash register. However, complying with SOX requirements will mean more data, audit trails and tracking information that you’ll have to integrate with enterprise software. In fact, if you haven’t integrated your enterprise, SOX may make it a requirement.