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By Nancy Bartels, managing editor
That question brings to mind the image of the blind men and the elephant. What you think EAM is depends on which piece of the elephant you’re touching. Is it really just CMM (computerized maintenance management)? Or is it CBM (condition-based monitoring)? Or one of the PMs—preventive or predictive maintenance? Is it an asset database and work order management system, spare-parts inventory tracking or a plant-floor-based road to business process optimization? The “next big thing” or merely an acronym in search of an application? Or all of the above? That depends on who you ask.
“EAM is different from industry to industry,” says Charles Gifford, director, lean production management, at GE Fanuc. “Some think of it as [something used in] continuous process—oil & gas, etc. It’s everything to a continuous process, where they’re running 24/7. They have thousands and thousands of I/O points. They’re highly automated, very sophisticated. By law, all hazardous factories have to have sophisticated maintenance in place. The chemical industry moves the needle far to the right and does predictive maintenance. The needle moves way to the left for most batch and discrete manufacturers. They’re doing preventive maintenance.”
David Berger of Toronto-based Western Management Consultants, says “I see no real difference between a CMMS and an EAM. It may have been a distinction many years ago, that CMMS was a small, stand-alone system, as opposed to a big enterprise-wide one. But in my view, it’s still a CMMS. I’m not slamming vendors, but the distinction is not really relevant in today’s world, and it only confuses users.”
That vagary is one of the reasons that EAM is often the red-haired step child of manufacturing software. Another is the persistent islands of automation that make up the plant-floor environment. “The operations guys have targets,” says Jeff Tropsa of Siemens Energy and Automation. They need to provide so many widgets. Maintenance is gauged by the number of work orders they complete. Neither side is aware of what’s happening on the other side.”
Finally, there’s the lingering belief that “maintenance is an evil cost,” says Neil Cooper, general manager of the Avantis business group, the EAM arm of Invensys, pointing to one of the dirty little secrets about maintenance that makes management less than eager to spend more on it than absolutely necessary. “Fifty percent of equipment failures are caused by faulty maintenance. That’s the double whammy of doing preventive maintenance. You’re spending too much anyway and then you run the risk of introducing a failure.”
Another cost-related reason is that the benefits of a state-of-the-art EAM system simply aren’t clear. Most manufacturers have other pain points that need attention first. “When you’re competing for IT systems, you’re competing against ERP, MES, etc. for software dollars, and everyone has the same ‘the sky is falling’ story,” says Gifford. “I don’t believe the EAM vendors are making the same business case as other software vendors. Maintenance is the last place where the money gets spent.”
No wonder many manufacturers—both process and discrete—are lagging well behind the technology in terms of adoptions. Gifford says “In most plants in America, EAM is two to three revisions behind what the vendors’ are offering.”
But a few end users in the process industries (call them “early adopters,” “leaders” or if you’re inclined to cynicism, “bleeding-edgers”) have taken the EAM concept beyond the old equipment database, work-order-generating software of even a few years ago. They are using their maintenance systems to help them, not just with maintaining and tracking their assets, but supporting their regulatory compliance, improving their product quality and, ultimately, their bottom lines.
For drug maker ImClone, regulatory compliance is one of the big drivers behind the sophisticated integration of its control, maintenance and ERP systems. The goal says Steve Greguske, Imclone’s principal control engineer, is to draw data directly from the controls, taking advantage of the history in the database and analyzing it for decision support—not just about maintenance, but about process optimization—and for proof of regulatory compliance.
At ImClone’s new $330-million facility in Branchburg, N.J., which was licensed by the FDA just this year, the company’s SAP ERP system and its Allen-Bradley Logix control platform and Rockwell Software’s FactoryTalk Asset Centre work in tandem to handle not just maintenance, but documentation for compliance.
“We’re using SAP for scheduling work orders for maintenance. But because of the advantages of the control systems, we’re integrating them [with SAP] to allow us more proactively to see when our systems need maintenance. Using the data historian, we can go back in time to see how things were degrading and figure out how to do thing better,” explains Greguske.
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