What's Wrong with This Picture?

Back again, sitting in Walt's chair with my feet on his desk. (No peeking, Walt!)

Old business first. The live link to Walt's August 10 post mentioned the last time I was here has been fixed. You should be able to get to it directly. As I said, law, sausages and magazines . . .

Now on to other things. Going through the email this morning, I came across the following from the folks at SmartSignal. They are publicizing a study conducted by Power magazine that identified several key factors necessary to improve availability and capacity in power plants--and the need for most plants to improve their levels of equipment-performance intelligence to maximize these factors and achieve peak performance.  The blind study generated nearly 1500 responses and named six factors recognized to be of very high importance in improving availability and capacity: aging plants and equipment, manning levels, unplanned outages, maintenance intervals, derates, and personnel skill levels. However, in spite of their importance, says the SmartSignal news release, "fewer than 25% of respondents believe that they have appropriate equipment-performance intelligence to optimize these factors in their plants.   

Here are the numbers: Eighty-nine percent said aging plants and equipment were important factors, but only 19% said they had information to optimize this factor. Manning levels were identified by 86% as important, but only 18% had adequate information for optimizing this factor. Ninety percent named unplanned outages, but only 24% said they had information for optimization. Ninety-one percent named maintenance intervals, but only 21% had the necessary information. Derates were named by 77% of respondents, but only 11% had optimization information, and 95% named personnel skill levels, but only 18% had adequate information on this factor.

Understandably enough, Jim Gagnard, President and CEO of SmartSignal says, “These results verify the gap in the industry that we’ve observed, but we’re surprised to see how big this gap still is today. The industry is facing so many pressures. Our focus has been on creating predictive-analytic solutions that power plants can use to optimize their workforces, aging equipment and maintenance procedures.” 

SmartSignal software may indeed solve the problem, but what I'm curious about is the bigger picture. Why don't power plants have the information? Is it impossible to get? Too hard? Too expensive? How long has this knowledge gap been going on? Did it not matter before so nobody ever bothered to collect the information? Has it been lurking as uncorrelated data in sombody's file cabinet for years? Or has some poor drone been telling the Powers That Be about the problem for years, only nobody listened? Or all of the above?

Perhaps most pertinently, how may other knowledge gaps are out there in our operations (I don't think power plants are the only guilty parties here) waiting to bite us when we least expect it? And how would we know?