Can You Do Asset Management Yourself?

Building an Asset Management (AM) System Is Sort of Like Building a Race Car. You Can Put a Vehicle Together with Parts and Labor, or You Can Buy One Already Built. Can You Do Asset Management Yourself? Of Course You Can. But Can You Afford To?

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By Rich Merritt, Contributing Editor

To build an AM system, you can buy software packages that fit your application—such as fieldbus diagnostics from Vendor A and a CMMS package from Vendor B and condition monitoring software from Vendor C—and install and integrate them for a fraction of the cost of buying an integrated AM system from one vendor. But can you really do it yourself? Will you spend hundreds of hours on it? Let’s see what’s involved.

Can YOU Integrate It?

Dr. Peter Martin, vice president of strategic ventures at Invensys Process Systems (IPS), says, “Five years ago, I’d have said no. However, connectivity today is better than ever. With OPC, ISA 95, MIMOSA and the Open O&M standards, packages that comply can go together much more easily. In fact, IPS often uses AM packages from other vendors.”

Mike Lamping, technology leader at Procter & Gamble, Cincinnati, Ohio, agrees. “My experience is with Rockwell Automation’s AssetCentre and its predecessor, Rockwell Software Maintenance Automation Control Center (RSMACC),” he explains. “RSMACC required Rockwell’s assistance to set up, mostly because of IT and security components that had to be configured. Once the system was running, it worked well as long as nothing changed. RSMACC required a domain controller and expected to be part of a domain. DCOM was also an issue and required modification, which is not a typical user function.

“On the other hand, AssetCentre was easier to install. The network components are more straightforward, and it doesn’t require an IT person to help set up. The task of configuration isn’t trivial, but it’s not difficult either, so a user could do it. We didn’t do condition monitoring with either package, although my suspicion is that the more functionality you want, the less a typical user will be able to do on their own.”

Martin agrees. “The real question is not whether you can do it yourself. It’s whether you can make everything operate efficiently in support of your business. That is an entirely different question.”

For example, IPS worked with Dynegy Midstream Services, Tampa, Fla., on pushing its equipment to full capacity, which was defined in specific terms. The team then integrated SmartSignal’s machine diagnostic software with real-time performance measures—Active Factory, Suite Voyager, Avantis AM and Predictive Maintenance solutions—to monitor progress. The system gathers data from a DCS, multiple data systems, and uses hardware and software from GE, Westinghouse, Rockwell’s Allen Bradley, Caterpillar, Solar Turbines and WonderWare, then sends it over a radio telemetry link and various LANs via protocols, including WINCUU, Suitelinks, Modbus Plus and OPC. It all fits together somehow.

IPS calls its method for accomplishing this Dynamic Performance Measures (DPM). Here’s how the maintenance part works. A threshold is set for each device. If the cost element and corresponding confidence element exceed the threshold, a report is generated that alerts maintenance engineers. Reports are passed to Avantis via InFusion object technology. From Avantis, work orders are generated to the maintenance department to handle according to severity.

Steve Furbacher, Dynegy’s former president, says in such a performance-oriented approach, the organization’s top level would still set company strategy, but lower management and worker layers would be empowered to determine how to reach those goals. This includes selecting and using appropriate tools required to produce necessary decision support information.

Figure 1 shows how this strategic decomposition is playing out at South Africa-based Sasol Infrachem, a global fuel and chemical producer. Frik Van Niekerk, business manager syngas and utilities for Sasol Infrachem, says, “The DPM methodology has allowed us to optimize not only our processes but also their financial contributions at the lowest possible operating level.”

Eric Olson, instrumentation device management product manager at ABB, adds, “Users could, with the right tools, and with a limited set of goals, set up a small AM system on their own. Some users may simply want to monitor a small number of devices such as transmitters or valve positioners without any need for interfacing to higher level CMMS or ERP/MES applications.”

In fact, some AM solutions don’t even need integration. “Because MTL's Fieldbus Diagnostics use H1 communications and device descriptions (DDs), there’s no added cost to set up the diagnostics and obtain the data,” says Ian Verhappen, director of industrial networks at MTL. “FDT and EDDL technologies are two standards-based solutions for representing data in a meaningful way. They allow manufacturers to assign parameters in a logical fashion and provide varying degrees of data interpretation.”

Bumps in the Road

Though users can set up some dedicated AM packages easily and inexpensively, this road isn’t always smooth, according to Dave Jones, automation engineer and IT administrator at Ash Grove Cement, Overland Park, Kan. “I’m implementing FactoryTalk AssetCentre,” he explains. “I completed the installation phase of AssetCentre myself without any significant problems. I installed a new server on the network with an existing FactoryTalk Directory/Transaction Manager server, and things went together nicely. My only issue so far is an apparent activation problem with AssetCentre Server. I may have to call U.S.-based product support and get it resolved.”

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