The Search for the Asset Management Holy Grail, Part I

Are We There Yet?

By Nancy Bartels

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Configuration alone is a challenge—one that is often overlooked. Storey observes, "We've got smart devices. We've got smart systems. We've got condition-based monitoring, which tells us continuously what's going on. It compares an asset's measured condition with its real condition and can raise a flag if necessary. And we have stranded diagnostics. You can buy an asset management system to go with the DCS to receive these diagnostics. But we really haven't configured the instruments properly."

Most companies don't do this configuration because it's so complex, he says. "For a majority of companies, [the worker] takes the device, takes the handheld and puts in configuration parameters. It works, and life is good. Some configuration parameters allow you send information. But we're also talking about tags, etc. If it only sends out 4-20 mA, everyone assumes it's correct. But it isn't really. You find a lot of mismanagement of configuration. Data that goes into configuration may not be managed well. Things get out of synch."

But this is only one aspect of asset management, he warns. "We're also looking at the loop level. Is it controlling? Is it in manual? Is it responding properly? Then there's maintaining alerts and alarms. There's a lot of soft configuration that's all part of asset management," he continues. "You have to invest time and energy into finding out how to match up the instrument information with information about how critical the device is. You have to set individual priorities, based on the application of the device as well as its condition, and most projects don't want to deal with this. [The data] comes to the asset management system this way and is kind of useless because people haven't done the work. Then they don't have the work processes to deal with it." 

Abandon Hope, All Ye Who Enter Here?

So is there any hope? Why even bother if the job is so tough? After, all, we've kept our facilities running all this time the old way.

As with the Holy Grail of legend, the benefits of achieving it are just too great to let it go. End users and vendors are still out there trying multiple paths.

A few hardy souls are embarking on a new project to map out a way through the configuration part of the Holy Grail maze. Conversations have been ongoing for some time, and formalized action to develop some standards around configuration management began with a meeting last month at the ARC Advisory Group (www.arcweb.com) Forum in Orlando, Fla., according to Storey. He continues, "This stuff is tough to do alone. It needs vendor and user-community help to push the technology along faster."

The Fieldbus Foundation and ISA were part of this meeting in February. Shell has offered up some materials for managing instrument configuration and work processes that the company developed in-house over the course of several years, adds Storey. FDT and the HART Foundation have also expressed an interest in the efforts.

"We're trying to promote some standards on just pieces [of the asset management system]. "We're focusing on instrumentation and systems stuff, systems nodes and networks," adds Storey.

Meanwhile, individual vendors are tackling the quest in their own ways. For example, Endress+Hauser (www.us.endress.com) just released an instrumentation support program called the Installed Base Audit. The program begins with a plant audit by an E+H instrumentation expert that puts all the device and application data into E+H's W@M Life Cycle Management database. Then, working with plant personnel, he or she helps assign a criticality level to each instrument. Based on the data, the plant gets recommendations for improving maintenance activities, as well as the populated database. The system is open in that it includes, not just Endress + Hauser instruments, but those from other vendors as well.

Meanwhile in late February, Beamex released a new multi-function calibrator, MC6, that combines simple metering, calibration, a documenting calibrator, a communications module and a data logger. The calibration module can be used with all types of fieldbus instruments, not just pressure and temperature transmitters. It can be used as a HART, Foundation fieldbus or Profibus PA communicator.

The big process automation system vendors, including Emerson Process Management, (www.emersonprocess.com), ABB and Invensys Operations Management (http://iom.invensys.com) and Rockwell Automation, all have asset management modules that can easily integrate with their control systems, and all offer service programs for helping you manage your maintenance systems.

Maybe the secret of finding the asset management Holy Grail is that there is no secret. You get there the same way you get to any other goal—a step at a time. And, you treat the journey the same way you would treat any other major technology upgrade project—or any road trip. You have to assess where you are, decide where you want to be in the end, and then figure out a route that makes the most sense for you. 

Kim Custeau, director of product marketing for the Invensys Avantis asset management suite, explains the map. "Start with the basics. What assets do you have? What parts do you have? What processes do you have? Go step by step and learn about what these parts and processes are doing. Look at the system holistically. Then move to monitoring technologies."

From there, look at the asset and see how performance can degrade. Then what happens? Somebody has to go and do something, so you overlay the monitoring system with a workflow. Create a process by which, when performance starts to degrade, the maintenance technician gets a message to go check things out."

Then you keep refining your database, setting benchmarks, and improving the system as you go. 

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