When Control magazine launched in 1988, process instrumentation and control systems had little to contribute to their own maintenance and calibration, much less the condition of process or auxiliary equipment. Back then, savvy plants performed preventive maintenance, overhauling equipment and calibrating instrumentation on regular schedules during annual—or more frequent—shutdowns. Day-to-day problems were spotted, diagnosed and corrected by experienced operators, engineers and technicians on the fly.
By 1991, we were writing about separate systems dedicated to monitoring turbines, pumps and compressors, mainly by detecting unusual vibration levels. At the time, these expensive systems were justifiable for only the most critical and costly equipment.
In the recession of the early 1990s, engineering and maintenance staffs were reduced and, in many cases, ultimately replaced by outsourcing and automated systems, a trend that has accelerated ever since, as the knowledge to maintain increasingly complex control systems has become more specialized, rare and costly, while the prices of automation sensors and information technology continue to fall.
Smart Instruments Enable Self-Diagnostics
In 1996, William Mostia, PE, wrote that, "Most modern microprocessor-based equipment has some ability to provide self-diagnostics. More and more equipment is falling into this category, and with the advent of digital communications and coming fieldbus technology, built-in diagnostics should only get better."
Instrumentation became smarter, HART and digital fieldbuses gained ground, and more companies adopted the computerized maintenance management systems (CMMS) that grew up to be today's enterprise asset management (EAM) systems. The issues evolved from not having enough data to not being able to use it effectively, in part because instrumentation and control asset management software (AMS) has been difficult to integrate with EAM systems.
In March, 2004, we wrote, "It's often helpful to augment the CMMS with asset management software (AMS). Asset management can include everything from relatively simple software that gathers instrument data to highly sophisticated programs that analyze data, predict failures, and direct preventive maintenance.
"When it is time to link a CMMS to an asset management application, there are a wealth of options ranging from manual data entry to fully automated data transfers. Although all vendors presently strive to provide standard protocols for integration among different software programs, the easiest integration occurs when linking software programs from the same vendor.
"Second best, in terms of ease of use, is linking software programs developed under the same framework. Most all CMMS and asset management software runs under Windows, but vendors are now creating a layer above Windows called a framework."
OPC Tries to Set Us Free
In March, 2009, we said OPC has made it practical for plants to take on the integration themselves. "Five years ago, I'd have said no," said Peter Martin, vice president of strategic ventures at Invensys. "However, connectivity today is better than ever. With OPC, ISA-95, MIMOSA and the OpenO&M standards, packages that comply can go together much more easily. In fact, Invensys often uses AM packages from other vendors."
As the accompanying timeline indicates, this was a time when automation, CMMS and AMS vendors allied with and/or acquired companies to build their asset management capabilities.
By November 2011, we were routinely reporting detailed success stories of companies reducing automation and plant operating and lifecycle costs with effective asset management. "New pressures both from the market and from regulators to save energy, be more environmentally sensitive and be 'green' and 'sustainable' are pushing maintenance into a more positive light," wrote managing editor Nancy Bartels. "A well-run maintenance department with a clear focus on energy efficiency can be key to both sustainability efforts and clear, bottom-line savings. Who knew?"
But taking full advantage of automation and control as a plant "nervous system" that we can readily tap for instrumentation and equipment condition information we can use to optimize operations and maintenance is still an elusive goal. That's the objective of the ISA108 Intelligent Device Management standards initiative, formed in September 2012 to define standard templates of best practices and work processes for design, development, installation and use of diagnostic and other information provided by intelligent field devices.
Commercial Technology to the Rescue?
Today, cloud-based systems are giving equipment vendors and service providers remote access to condition information, so they can provide monitoring and analysis for a fee. The cloud also easily supports software-as-a-service (SaaS) applications.
"It turns out that SaaS has found a home in the process industries, namely for remote access," we wrote in November 2013. A supplier can create a cloud-based application that can communicate to various types of hardware and software platforms such as RTUs, PLCs and operator interface terminals installed at remote sites. The application can also communicate to remote-access hardware, including smart phones and tablets, PC-based HMI platforms and databases.
"Using this information, remote support engineers can proactively contact customers, and begin working on issues before downtime events occur," said Anil Gokhale, PE, global manager, process and process safety technology for the systems and solutions business at Rockwell Automation. "When an event does occur, having access to historical information greatly reduces the time spent troubleshooting, and significantly decreases downtime duration. As we connect to more equipment and collect more data, we can develop additional algorithms and logic to do more predictive analysis to improve asset performance and uptime."
Going forward, we see relentless development of commercial applications based on the burgeoning "Internet of Things (IoT)." This technology is inspiring and empowering automation and software vendors, control engineers, equipment makers and maintenance managers to devise and implement sensors and systems to help them pare operating costs and prevent downtime. As the costs of sensors, bandwidth, communications and computing power continue to fall, this "pervasive sensing" approach has become a most interesting trend in maintenance and asset management.