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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This laundry list of applications targets one of the biggest challenges of doing this kind of asset management. As Lyter explains, "You really need a suite. One app won't solve all your issues. We have tried to get more stuff in one package because we don't like having three dozen apps, but no one company has the whole thing."

But sorting through the complexity of multiple systems has been worth it for Lyter. It's cut down on the number of people having to go out to facilities. "A significant amount of information is available via computer wherever the people are. They can troubleshoot right from home if they need to. No time is lost getting to the facility."


Power generation is not the only process industry working on ways to listen to its assets more carefully. Simmons Foods is a privately held company that sells processed chicken to restaurants and mass merchandisers. It has 20 different plants spread all over Arkansas, Oklahoma and Missouri.

Simmons uses the EAM module of its Oracle ( ERP system. "They're all on the same instance of Oracle," explains Bill Henderson, application developer, EAM/MRO inventory at Simmons. "Each maintenance department with a separate inventory is a separate ‘organization' within the EAM system. The data is visible either as a whole or individually. Corporate has visibility into all of it."

Like the other users we talked with, Simmons' journey to asset monitoring is a work in progress. The system has been fully implemented at four plants, with the others using various pieces of it.

Simmons is also working with Oracle to develop a prototype project using condition-based monitoring. At one of its plants, there are seven refrigerator compressors, each equipped with Opto22 ( sensors. The sensor information is sent directly to the Oracle system, and work orders are based on those reports. "We used to have weekly PM. Now it's based on run time because all those compressors don't run all the time," says Henderson. 

Simmons' decision to use the Oracle EAM module was based on the fact that it has implemented Lean practices. "We need to eliminate waste wherever we find it. Earlier we had a mixed culture. Some of our companies had paper; some had EAM; some were run-to-failure. Through Lean and EAM, we're starting to emphasize preventative maintenance," he adds.

Operations such as Constellation, RRI, PPL and Simmons are on the leading edge of this movement. It's still a tough sell, and it's still complicated. Matrikon's Chris Rogers says, "There is capability to do this top floor to shop floor integration. The real issue is that nobody has the focus or understanding to do it all by one company. You really have to fundamentally rethink how you're going to do your business. But outside forces will push the change. Innovators are honestly looking at what we can do differently. As soon as the masses start to see that there are real dollars to be made here, they will change."

Let's be clear. Advances in the asset-monitoring space have not brought about world peace, universal harmony and/or free beer for all. And there is still no such thing as a one-size-fits-all solution. Getting your critical assets to talk to you and then using the data they give you to drive production improvements or reduced downtime is no trivial pursuit.

But it is getting easier.

Nancy Bartels is Control's managing editor.

Familiar Names Get with the Program

Meanwhile, folks whose eyes have always been clearly focused on the plant—the process automation system vendors—are using their expertise to develop applications to gather data and monitor asset health. Some are also offering their software and expertise as a service to customers who want to outsource the complexities of managing their asset data.

At September's 2009 Emerson Exchange, Emerson (  unveiled its Syncade Operations Management Suite. Billed as a replacement for older manufacturing execution systems, Syncade connects to the PlantWeb architecture and integrates real-time plant-floor data with procedural, off-line and transactional plant business processes and asset management.

It also announced a partnership with asset performance management vendor Meridium ( Meridium will provide advanced analytics and decision-support technology to Emerson's AMS Suite: Asset Portal 4.0 powered by Meridium. Asset Portal 4.0 will offer a real-time connection to other AMS Suite applications to enable analysis of diagnostic alerts and other asset health information. It also offers integration with SAP's Plant Maintenance module and IBM's MAXIMO.

ABB ( is offering its asset management system on the software-as-a-service (SaaS) model. In this model, which the company describes as "more than SaaS," ABB installs the technology, does the system integration, maintains the solution and has remote access to the system to deliver the product. It provides the domain expertise and relieves companies of much of the responsibility for maintaining the systems. The company is also doing proof of concept on using Web 2.0 for reporting system. In the trials, an agent that does condition-based monitoring and is remotely connected to the ABB facility is placed on a specific device. When some threshold has been crossed, the agent issues a message through a secure pipe to a Web site. That site maintains a blog that reports on the device. Users can access it and communicate information via text, email, even Twitter. The device can be on a user's buddy list. Group instant messages allow end users to communicate with the domain experts to solve problems.

Invensys Operations Management ( has just released Avantis PRO 5.0, the latest iteration of its EAM solution. Based on Microsoft.NET architecture, it enables real-time monitoring of the maintenance health status of the entire organization. Users can see at a glance what areas of the plant need attention.

Honeywell ( has also announced a partnership, this one with Australia-based Synengco Pty Ltd. Under the partnership, Honeywell will license and sell the SentientSystem suite of applications for optimizing operations and asset management for power utility customers. The suite integrates with Honeywell's Experion PKS and other distributed control systems to improve operations efficiency and asset management. The asset management applications provide process monitoring, early warning systems, creep and fatigue monitoring and root cause analysis.

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