Machines Have Their Say

Machines Are Getting Better at Telling Us What's Wrong with Them. More and Better Sensors and Sophisticated Algorithms Make Predictive Maintenance Practical—and Help Close the Loop Between the Plant Floor, EAM Systems and ERP


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But MRG Solutions and SmartSignal are providing only part of the puzzle. Constellation has a MAXIMO ( system to handle the traditional functions of work order management. It also uses MAXIMO to keep track of critical spares, costs and labor for budgeting purposes. 

Constellation's foray into cutting-edge asset management is a work in progress—not all of Constellation's plants are connected to its EAM and ERP systems—but it's already starting to pay off.

"We convinced upper management that this is the way we should be controlling costs going forward. We used to automatically overhaul generators and turbines every five years. Now, we do some checks yearly, but we wait for testing and diagnostics to tell us it's time," says Andracchi. "We had to get $400,000 worth of saves this year. We've already met that goal."

A Bit Farther Down the Road

Houston-based RRI Energy Inc. is a bit farther down the road than Constellation with its predictive maintenance program. It has been using SmartSignal since 2005, and has deployed over 13,000 MW of generation that are monitored by its SmartSignal system. In RRI’s case, SmartSignal receives 30,000 data points from OSIsoft’s PI systems ( and analyzes the data every five minutes.

The SmartSignal system processes information for 67 coal and natural-gas units. "These are a combination of the most critical assets and the ones that have proper instrumentation to provide information for the model," says David Thomason, manager of IT/plant applications at RRI Energy. "The system monitors both processes and equipment—groupings that make sense to monitor together." 

Using the SmartSignal/OSIsoft combo, RRI is establishing trending data around machine performance. "We can tell when the rate of change is different and approaching a critical threshold. It gives us earlier predictive analysis and can catch real-time or near-real-time issues," says Thomason.

RRI is planning to use Smart Signal's xConnector to take data from the model and push it back into the PI screens. "We will be able to look at a bearing temperature in real time and where its expected value should be,  based on the statistical model," explains Thomason.  

Much of this complex analysis goes on behind the scenes at RRI. "The process analysis team and SmartSignal jointly create the models. The users don't see them; they only see the results. We have an email system that people can subscribe to, and SmartSignal sends an alert or puts an entry into the WatchList. That prompts an email outlining what the alert is about."

Like Constellation, RRI does not have a direct feed to its EAM or ERP system. However, it uses the EAM module in its SAP enterprise system ( That takes care of work orders, materials management, scheduling and resource planning.

Again, like Constellation, RRI's journey to predictive maintenance is very much in progress. The next step, says Thomason is a one-plant pilot of a Microsoft SharePoint ( -based dashboard. It will use a hierarchical database structured on same basis as it is in SAP.

"The content of the portal will be based on navigating through the equipment hierarchy. When a user selects the pump, for example, a query will be run against the EAM system and will retrieve completed work orders, planned work and notifications relative to that piece of equipment. At the same time, it will bring up associated SmartSignal information and PI screens, explains Thomason. "It puts all the relevant information and data  associated with that piece of equipment together. We will then have a  more dynamic way to maintain and monitor critical equipment condition and their assessments. This will also be helpful in outage planning."

And that critical bottom line that is the driver for much of this implementation? Thomason estimates that the predictive and proactive systems saved RRI $7.4 million last year—"a very positive ROI."

Allentown, Pa.-based PPL Generation has launched itself on the same kind of condition-based asset monitoring journey. It is doing a pilot project with Siemens Energy, Instrumentation, Controls & Electrical ( using Siemens new SPPA-D3000 Plant Monitor at its Brunner Island, Pa., coal-fired facility. There it is testing the D3000 by feeding it OSIsoft PI data on previously known faults, says Frank Lyter, the manager of PPL's Equipment Reliability & Performance Center. So far, it's passed with flying colors, catching the faults based on the PI information alone.

According to Lyter, the Siemens installation is just a part of a suite of systems from multiple vendors that listens to assets, analyzes what it finds and gets the maintenance process organized and on track. PPL is also using Matrikon's Operational Insight optimization software, SmartSignal monitoring software, IKS Plant IQ ( asset condition tracking solution, Ventyx eSOMS suite for operator rounds scheduling ( and DocKit equipment assessment software from ATI ( and OSIsoft's PI, among others.

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