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Say goodbye to manual asset management

June 14, 2017

Manufacturers going through a digital transformation are uncovering new insights into their operations. Plant assets are getting smarter and automation systems are increasingly connected, thanks to new and expanding integrated control and information solutions.

So why are many manufacturers still guessing when it comes to asset status? Even with smart assets that can send information across the line, plant and enterprise, many manufacturers still rely on manually identifying and inventorying their automation assets.

Digitized production environments can contain hundreds or even thousands of assets. By manually managing the status, health and lifecycle of each and every one in the system, maintenance engineers become stretched too thin. So, their focus remains only on critical assets, like controllers.

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That time constraint has resulted in maintenance managing assets in two ways: check assets on a set schedule, or scramble after an issue such as unexpected downtime.

Luckily, manual asset identification is quickly becoming a thing of the past. Comprehensive, automated asset-management programs are designed to help manufacturers improve decision-making across the lifecycle of devices.

So why should you consider migrating to an integrated, software-based asset-management system?

Centralize asset management

Documenting the status of a few assets in a spreadsheet is pretty much the opposite of what employees need. Real-time information on all assets helps keep maintenance aware of how their system is performing.

New, software-based asset-management programs tightly integrated with your control infrastructure can streamline the identification process by using auto-discovery to secure, track and report asset information across the production system with limited employee oversight. 

Even the most basic assets can connect and convey information about the health of your equipment. It’s simply a matter of tapping into these capabilities. An asset-inventory agent will scan a network to discover hardware, firmware and software information for assets active in the facility. These devices are then tracked in an active asset inventory, which can be scheduled to scan for new assets at regular intervals or on demand.

Streamline lifecycle management

During a firmware update, engineers need to know how many devices are running legacy firmware. This is particularly important for devices nearing end-of-life status, as they will need to be replaced or updated in the near future.

Manually identifying and inventorying every device is a time-consuming headache for even the most experienced engineers. When updates need to be made, it becomes a chore to identify and locate the aging devices. With hundreds to thousands of devices in a single operation, accurately determining the number of necessary updates can be nearly impossible.

Simplifying lifecycle management into a single, software-based tool improves how a project scope is developed. An asset-inventory agent will automatically discover all the current firmware, IP addresses and additional data to define the scope of the project.

Secure your operation

The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) expands, security is top of mind. Asset-management programs have often focused on administering users and passwords, helping to reduce the risk of unauthorized access.

The addition of automated asset discovery adds another layer of security. Ongoing tracking of updates lets you know if a system has changed, singling out potential hazards like a workstation running unauthorized software.  

Perhaps most important for manufacturers going through the digital transformation is that asset discovery can help patch security vulnerabilities. Say a vendor sends a notification that there is a vulnerability in their firmware. In a manual world, that would require engineers to walk out and check each device to determine risk and threat exposure.

An automated asset-management program simplifies the process. As soon as a vendor notifies the plant of a vulnerability, engineers can run an on-demand search. The program will quickly identify affected devices and help engineers to put a plan in place to mitigate the risk.

In case of emergency

Unexpected events can wreak havoc on an automation system. In situations such as a power outage, machines can lose configuration files. This leaves engineers and plant supervisors scrambling to restore the machine and reduce downtime. Without a backup plan in place, it could take hours to track down the proper configuration file.

In addition to automated discovery, integrated software asset-management solutions offer traditional capabilities like a control-system backup for easy, more reliable access to the verified, control-system configuration files. In events that require disaster recovery, files are immediately available for engineers and plant managers to restore the operation.

Looking for more information about how to improve your operation? Watch this video to learn more about how to effectively manage your automation investments.

Download the full report: Highlights from Rockwell Automation 2017