The Design, Operate, Maintain Approach

Design, operate, maintain (DOM) is a key new concept in asset management and industrial maintenance, repair and operation. It comes from those who design facilities and those who operate and maintain them working closely together for efficiency and profitability. Interestingly, many industries were in a better position to implement DOM years ago than they are today.


Design, operate, maintain (DOM) is a key new concept in asset management and industrial maintenance, repair and operation. It comes from those who design facilities and those who operate and maintain them working closely together for efficiency and profitability.

Interestingly, many industries were in a better position to implement DOM years ago than they are today.

But as early as the 1980s, growth in the number of process control and systems engineering firms indicated that more and more industries were outsourcing their plant engineering. A growing movement toward open standards and interoperable components made it possible to involve numerous outside vendors—including consulting engineering firms—in plant design. Lack of communication between designers and the industries they serve seems only to have grown as outsourcing has become the trend.

As gaps in communication between designers and operations/maintenance staffs widen, consulting engineers often have designed simply to meet a particular capacity increase outcome. Design data is developed separately, often on different platforms, from those used by manufacturing operations and maintenance personnel.

An ISO data standard for this information is being developed, and that standardization should at least allow in-house staff and outside design consultants to more seamlessly communicate and share data that leads to greater industrial efficiency. But even before ISO 15926 standard is finalized, there is plenty that can be done to make DOM a reality.

For example, say the switch has just been thrown on a renovated production line at a process manufacturing facility. As pressures and temperatures rise to spec and product begins flowing, a head pressure problem develops in a critical compressor unit. Maintenance is dispatched to the site but quickly finds that it lacks the information to diagnose the problem. The necessary data, it turns out, is buried in a stack of CDs and binders left by the consulting design engineers.

Or imagine being the consulting engineer who logs hundreds of hours on a design for a new mix-and-fill line, only to find out later that maintenance engineers had upsized several pumps on the line you are replacing—a change not included in the as-built information on the pre-existing line.

Technology can offer only a partial solution to these communication problems. Integrated asset lifecycle management (ALM) tools will do so much good. Regardless of what technology is available, a proactive approach is the most important factor in implementing DOM processes in an organization. Technology facilitates and standardizes the cooperative approach, and in some cases, automates parts of the DOM process. Here are three steps that help a facility realize the benefits of DOM.

Open systems

Proprietary data standards are barriers to communication. If operation and maintenance information are in an open, easily-accessed format, facility engineers can import and export information in a controlled way and have public application program interfaces to handle that export and import.

To operate in a DOM modality, it will also be important to have an asset management system with a layered architecture, enabling the user to view information on projects as they are in the design phase and track them through construction and design. At each step of the process, different departments can view layers of a project that are relevant to them and provide feedback. This gives the ability to start collecting information during a project and make sure a client is getting the design that meets needs. This early access to information also will allow facility managers to work ahead in planning a preventive maintenance program.

Take control

Information about plants and assets is worth a great deal. Plant engineers need cumulative operation and maintenance history data to optimize their processes on an ongoing basis. If plant engineers undertake projects to improve production capacity, they need to be able to share that information with the design engineers. To do this, they must agree on a format with the designers, one that both can use.

Conversely, before work starts, the plant engineer must agree with the design engineer on data formats and frequency of communication on the new design. This entails generating a list of each feature, component or piece of equipment that will need to be managed on an ongoing basis.

Determine what information you need about each item on the list, at what points in the project you need it, and how data must be structured to tie into the existing asset management system. Whether it is a series of Excel spreadsheets, an Access database or XML documents, you want this data structured to tie it to information about facility operations and maintenance activities.

Agreeing in advance on how and when information will be exchanged can be a workaround to the fact that plant engineer and designer are on different information platforms. The spreadsheet contents or tables the consulting engineer provides will have to be mapped to fields in the existing system, but at least information will be flowing from design into asset management systems.

Ongoing dialog

Just as information needs to flow from design into asset management systems, data needs to flow from maintenance and operational history into the design process. The plant staff should actively solicit suggestions from designers on exactly what data and data format will provide them with the necessary insight to optimize project results.

The ideal DOM workflow is a process in which O&M histories are available to design, and plans and specifications are freely available to operators and maintenance personnel. For example, imagine that a portion of a plant is being rebuilt, and the plans are integrated into the facility's asset management system. If you see that new pumps and compressors are being planned, it may make sense to forego rebuilds or other maintenance on the equipment that is about to be decommissioned.

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