Once upon a time, not so long ago and for about 10 years, I was on a team of “loveable losers.” On hiatus from Control between 2003 and 2012, as editor of Plant Services magazine I did all I could to champion the cause of asset reliability through proactive maintenance.
Convinced of the intrinsic rightness of converting critical equipment from catastrophic breakdown and wasteful preventive to the advanced technologies of predictive maintenance (as part of a world-class, risk-based, reliability-centered asset management program, of course), I sat at the feet of crusty gurus as we wondered aloud how any successful company could survive, how any reasonable person could not see the light, and embrace the power of vibration, ultrasound, infrared and oil analysis.
But again and again, most plants found they couldn’t get it done. They couldn’t spare the labor, training and equipment dollars long enough to get enough ROI for sufficient time to sustain the effort—to get over the mountain and reach the promised realm of reliability.
And of the few that could, many found themselves slipping back when management recognized and rewarded their good work and savings by cutting their budgets and letting go the very people who made it happen.
Their handhelds, cameras and sample containers gather dust, and the fresh trainees’ knowledge slips away as their days are again filled with emergency repairs, expediting replacement parts and rigging workarounds.
Every now and then, a vendor PR person from my Control days would realize we were talking about asset management, and would want to tell me again how their instruments and valves can monitor their condition and send alerts to operations when maintenance is needed, and I would say, “That’s nice. But let me know when you’re ready to connect that beautiful DCS and its plantwide network to sensors on real equipment that has bearings, gears and windings, and call me when you get it integrated with asset management systems so it alerts the right people, and maybe even sends them a work order.”
Well, as you probably know, on Nov. 2, the Cubs won the World Series, ending the team’s 108-year streak as “loveable losers.” That’s nice. But the week before, at the Emerson Global Users Exchange in Austin, I learned the company is making a major-league push into rest-of-plant asset condition monitoring.
As part of Emerson’s Plantweb digital ecosystem, the company’s “pervasive sensing” initiative uses wireless and fieldbus to connect a new generation of low-cost sensors and provides analytics for insights into asset performance.
This year, the company added technologies to monitor pipes and vessels for corrosion and erosion; medium-voltage switchgear for hot spots, partial discharges and humidity; toxic gases; and process temperatures with sophisticated surface-mount sensor/transmitters. There also are pressure gauge, steam trap, relief valve and power monitoring applications.
A new Asset Health Advisor performs diagnostics and provides alerts for predictive maintenance. It takes in heat exchangers, blowers, compressors, cooling towers and pumps.
By building condition monitoring and predictive technologies into the plant, whether by making them part of the automation system or by using a separate Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) infrastructure, Emerson and other automation, sensor and analytics suppliers are reducing the needs for handhelds, for making rounds, and even for specialized training, as much of the knowledge is being built into software applications or made available via monitoring and analysis by off-site experts.
It’s great that the Cubs have ended the Curse of the Billy Goat. I’m even happier that soon, asset management won’t require so much time at the feet of crusty reliability gurus.
Control's full coverage from the Emerson Global Users Exchange is available as a free download.