The art of asset management

Nov. 7, 2004
Will asset management save North America's process plants? This article from the editors of CONTROL provides the 411 on local and remote asset management capabilities and corporate oversight.


.J. Lambert, instrumentation and electrical reliability specialist at BP Cooper River plant in Wando, South Carolina, pointed out that his plant objectives are to lower costs and become more available, so they can remain competitive with offshore plants. A. J. was at the ISA show to pick up the HART Communications Foundation’s “Plant of the Year” award for the implementation of a HART-based asset management system that has saved several hundred thousand dollars a year on a meager $10,000 investment.

Based on the results from Lambert and his BP plant, and many others like him, it is clear that most process automation users have accepted the value of asset management. Especially in North American “brownfield” process plants, where there are only two ways to become more competitive and keep the plant open in the face of “greenfield” competition from overseas: process optimization and asset management. 

Process optimization strategies can provide as much as 25% improvement to the bottom line. But process optimization only works when the process is working. The flip side to process optimization is keeping the process up, by using asset management tools and best practices to reduce unplanned downtime and cut maintenance expenses.

It’s likely many of you are in the evaluation or implementation stage of your asset management projects. One of the most important decisions to make at this stage is whether to manage assets locally or remotely. Each approach has its advantages and disadvantages, and each plant has unique implementation issues. Here’s the scoop on both methodologies to help you determine the best approach to meet the unique needs of your plant and your company.

The Good and the Bad
Table I summarizes the benefits and challenges of local asset management strategies. From the vantage point of a single plant, local asset management will always have a lower initial cost than remote management schemes. This is mainly because the remote communications system, hardware and software, to provide data to a remote asset management system is not needed, and therefore, does not have to be purchased, installed, maintained and supported. But if no man is an island, then maybe no plant should rely on only local support. Obtaining support from management, corporate support groups, and other plants would be non-existent at worst, and difficult at best.

“For me,” says Lothar Lang, lead engineer of process control systems at Bayer Material Science’s Baytown, Texas, site, “there are the following benefits for local asset management: easier to access data, potentially faster response and maybe higher ownership for local people that leads to faster resolution of identified bottlenecks.” Challenges, he continues, include communication of, and access to, the data. “Remote asset management,” he says, “opens data to ‘everybody’, leading to better understanding of specific issues by management and support groups.” That way, he points out, “everybody is using the same numbers and information source, leading to a common understanding and baseline.”

Process industry firms with few plants, or a company with one plant that produces the bulk of their product often favor local asset management.

“Local asset management makes sense for smaller operations,” says Tim Holtan, senior business analyst for SmartSignal Corp., “If an organization only has several assets to manage, remote monitoring may not be the best approach.”

BP Cooper River implemented a local asset management system, because the initiative was plant-centric and not intended to be a corporate-wide project. The company also had the local staff to manage both the project and the data they started to accumulate. “Before using HART to connect our field devices to our AMS, we had a major shutdown every two years, and pulled out 35 to 50 valves” Lambert reports. “There might have been a work order or some concern about a particular valve,” he says, “but we didn’t really know what was wrong with it. That costs money and time. Now, with more information, we pull maybe five or six valves during a shutdown, and we know why they pull them, and we even pull some that operations doesn’t know about because we can see a potential problem before it becomes serious.”

Because of the large number of sensors and control elements installed with HART connectivity, many plants are following BP Cooper River’s lead and connecting those existing instruments to newly purchased asset management software. Lambert reports that Cooper River is installing a Honeywell AssetMAX system to manage the data they’ve collected.
As you develop your asset management strategy, keep in mind the thoughts of Richard McCormick, automation group supervisor at Ultramar Limited in Quebec. He is currently planning the implementation of an AMS for next year. “Our system will be local,” McCormick says, “and I don’t really see any advantage to implement a remote one. This system will monitor assets that are very local, like instrumentation, compressors and other process equipment, so I don’t expect big advantages for corporate to monitor these. They will, of course, be able to access the information if desired.”

Is Remote Management of Assets in Your Future?
But what happens if your plant is short on personnel, or short on expertise? Stuart Harris, vice president, asset optimization at Emerson Process Management says, “In an environment where maintenance and reliability expertise is being lost to factors like aggressive cost management, shrinking capital budgets, overcapacity, and employee turnover and retirement, building a virtual team through remote analysis provides a cost-effective asset management option. Companies,” Harris notes, “want information they can use to make business decisions, but they may not be able to support the resources for maintaining the technology.”
Many middle-sized plants find themselves in just such a dilemma. “Remote analysis gives them a way,” Harris points out, “to acquire, process, and communicate information for business decisions.”

Ultramar’s McCormick has reservations. “For vendors and system integrators,” he says, “I would see a big disadvantage in not being really involved locally.” He questions the desirability of relying on a third party for support.

This, of course, assumes that a third party will be doing the management remotely. There are two basic schools of thought in remote asset management. The first is the corporate consolidation (See Figure 1). In this system, asset management remains in the hands of the corporation, but is done on a remote basis by a team of managers and operators co-located in a single location, regardless of the number of plants they will monitor. The other is to outsource the entire program to a vendor.

Remote asset management allows centralized experts to monitor many plants simultaneously. 

A Remote Possibility
As we’ve noted editorially in previous issues (see “,” Sept. ‘04, p58) the time is not far off when it will be possible to operate and monitor remotely a fully functioning process plant.

Charlie Piper, product manager for fieldbus programs at Invensys points out, “From a technological standpoint, today, it makes little or no difference whether the person is sitting 1,000 ft. away or 1,000 miles away from the device. Technologies such as Windows 2003 Server with terminal services, plant networking, and .NET can deliver a Windows-based application, or even a Windows desktop itself, to virtually any computing device anywhere in the world.” The issue, he says, “is very much a matter of determining who will actually be sitting on the other side of the computer monitor and what you want them to do.”

Of course, what Piper fails to mention is the difficulty of handling communications and security associated with remote asset management. When you pin down all of the suppliers of remote asset management technology, these vendors admit that the issues of security and communications downtime are the critical parameters that will define the success or failure of a remote asset management implementation.

“If there is only a small need for manual intervention, the benefits of local asset management are mostly psychological,” says Gregg LeBlanc, director of product and industry marketing for OSIsoft. But, and it’s a big one, he says, “Clearly connectivity is a weak point for management. Our software can buffer information when a link is down, and backfill the information into a central system once the link is restored. All calculations can be made aware of a data outage, and recalculate to catch up with the analyses that were missed. However, if the link is severed and an abnormal situation arises, local human intervention is still required.”
Security too, is a bugaboo. The more links to the outside world, the greater the risk is for a control system’s network to be penetrated. If, as the vendors pontificate, it is possible to have a remotely operated plant, with either just a skeleton maintenance crew or a roving maintenance group that moves from plant to plant, it is also possible to have batches and recipes go completely awry thanks to some malicious code inserted through all those remote monitoring communications links.

If remote asset management is going to live up to its hyped reputation, it will have to do so by providing both robust and difficult-to-penetrate communications systems.

Neither Here Nor There
“The best approach,” says  Scott Hillman, asset management program manager for Honeywell Process Solutions in Phoenix, Ariz. “is a combination of both local and remote support and asset management. Local asset management is required to coordinate and plan asset activities within a site based upon a priority management system.”

Different functional groups within a site manage different assets, and thus some prioritization is required to balance the reliability needs of different assets against one another and against the overall production requirements of the site. Even within a functional group different assets have different impacts on production and productivity. 

A one-size-fits-all approach, or an approach that focuses solely on one asset type is doomed to create conflicts and actually has the potential to reduce overall plant productivity.  Thus, a plant needs generalists on-site who can manage data, collate information, keep individual applications running, and make priority calls between needs across the site.

However, in today’s highly competitive environment, few sites can afford to keep experts on all classes of assets available on site–thus the need for remote asset management. Remote asset management capabilities allow companies to centralize experts in key locations to support multiple sites. Remote manageme nt also allows the use of experts from the manufacturers of the individual equipment manufactures, or best-in-class industry experts engaged on a contract service basis.

Good News:
1. Easier access to all data
2. Easy to customize reports 
3. Faster response for repair and maintenance
4. Sense of ownership by plant maintenance
5. Problems can be seen, heard, smelled, felt
6. More flexible and easier to update/modify than remote systems
7. Less expensive
8. Best approach for firms with one main plant
9. Best method for sites without reliable and secure high-speed communication
Bad News:
1. Harder to communicate with those not on site
2. Fewer prople locally for problem solving and brainstorming
3. Data collection is often manual and/or non-standard
4. Less corporate visibility and support
5. Requires on-site specialists
6. Harder to share best practices or benchmark

1. Data access to all2. Better understanding of issues by management and support groups3. More powerful data analysis tools often available4. Access to remote experts, both in-house and 3rd party5. Lower labor costs because few people can monitor many plants6. Forces standardization and automation of data collection7. Share best maintenance practices among plants8. Forces standard practices and use of single software package9. Analysis of problems not hindered by day-to-day plant operations10. Can help optimize spare part inventory management11. Only way to support remote unmanned facilities12. Can be used to implement industry benchmarkingBad News:
1. Hard to implement and maintain connectivity to all2. Security is a significant and difficult issue3. Customizing data to meet needs of each location4. Higher cost5. Less reliable, depends on reliability of remote communications6. Cannot see, hear, feel, smell, touch problem7. Need to enforce standards across all plants8. Need to get trust and buy-in from local maintenance personnelFinch manages remotely


ver the years, many organizations have subscribed

to the age-old wisdom, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” However, companies that run continuous production operations often adhere to a different philosophy: “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” That’s because a sudden machine failure can damage thousands of dollars worth of products and disrupt delivery schedules, particularly in continuous-production industries such as paper manufacturing. More often than not, unplanned machine failures create increased labor costs, lost revenue and unhappy customers. No one is more aware of this reality than Finch, Pruyn & Co. Inc, a leading manufacturer of fine, uncoated papers for marketing, book publishing and office use. Based in Glens Falls, N.Y., Finch, Pruyn paper is known for its superior smoothness, high brightness, opacity and excellent printing characteristics. Founded in 1865, the locally owned and independent company produces more than 240,000 tons of paper per year.Finch, Pruyn operates four paper-producing machines in its plant. One of these machines, which produces bonded specialty paper, accounts for 55% of Finch’s total paper output. With more than half of the company’s revenue stream dependent on a single machine, the ability to achieve maximum uptime on this production line is critical. In order to maximize uptime and productivity, as well as drive growth, the paper producer needed a solution that would help prevent problems before they occurred.For Finch, Pruyn, its objectives were two-fold: first, minimize or eliminate costly troubleshooting delays, and second, shift the company’s maintenance strategy to a more proactive, preventative approach. To accomplish these objectives, Finch, Pruyn turned to Rockwell Automation, which recommended the paper company switch from its current reactive approach to In.Site Continuous Support, its proactive, real-time remote monitoring and diagnostics service. Finch, Pruyn was quick to recognize the potential benefits of the remote monitoring program and decided to implement the service on its specialty paper line.As a first step, Rockwell Automation engineers traveled to Finch Pruyn’s New York manufacturing facility to install a network communications kiosk on the plant floor. The kiosk is used to connect the In Site service to each intelligent device (e.g., controller, drive) involved in the production process. The wide-area network transmits data collected from the plant floor to a data warehouse at Rockwell Automation’s command center outside Cleveland.With the connection to Finch, Pruyn’s production process established, engineers at the command center continuously assess production status using proprietary software applications to compare real-time and historical process data (e.g., line speed, yield, mean) to a predetermined optimal range. If a parameter deviates outside the range, In.Site staff notify plant floor personnel at Finch, Pruyn and begin troubleshooting activities to diagnose the cause and determine corrective actions. Once corrective measures have been determined, In.Site engineers collaborate with the plant maintenance staff to execute the actions and restore normal operations.“Not only are we proactively identifying acute problems that could lead to unplanned downtime, but we are calling the customer immediately to let them know that we are already working to correct it,” says John Strohmenger, a Rockwell Automation In.Site manager. In the first year of the In.Site program, numerous potential unplanned downtime events at Finch, Pruyn were prevented, improving the overall profitability of the specialty paper line. For example, Finch, Pruyn avoided  $347,000 in lost production and manpower hours by reducing the number of unplanned downtime events nearly 50%. The increased productivity and reduced maintenance expenses allow Finch, Pruyn to focus on higher priorities, such as producing high quality printing paper and improving business profitability.“Our specialty paper line is critical to the success of our business,” said John Zak, a drive system specialist, at Finch, Pruyn. “Before we had In.Site, unplanned downtime was a constant concern. But now, we are confident the line will remain in operation. And, if it does go down, we know the duration of the event will be minimized. This has resulted in a significant improvement in profitability. The In.Site program has already paid for itself three times over.”

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