Condition Monitoring Gets Sophisticated

Careful balancing of reactive, preventive, and predictive maintenance is essential to successfully manage productive assets, but these activities cannot succeed without information. Monitoring and managing the conditions of machines, motors and power puts useful information in the right hands. Trends point to greater of use of a variety of technologies including wireless sensors, greater inform...

By Peter Cleaveland for Control Engineering June 1, 2007
Condition monitoring tools

Careful balancing of reactive, preventive, and predictive maintenance is essential to successfully manage productive assets, but these activities cannot succeed without information. Monitoring and managing the conditions of machines, motors and power puts useful information in the right hands. Trends point to greater of use of a variety of technologies including wireless sensors, greater information integration, and an increasing interest in contracting out for condition monitoring services and expertise.

More and more, companies are using wireless monitoring equipment and similar systems. Wireless sensor networks, once objects of curiosity, are increasingly moving into the mainstream as ways to gather information on equipment. Self-organizing meshes of inexpensive wireless vibration sensors, for example, can watch for impending trouble and allow maintenance personnel to intervene before equipment malfunctions.

Wireless systems are especially suitable for brownfield installations and plant renovations, says Neil Cooper, program director for asset performance management solutions at Invensys Process Management, “where people are just trying to figure out ‘how do I get value out of what I have in place?’” And in a plant without an existing digital communications system, he continues, “the wireless infrastructure is now robust enough and low cost enough that people can consider incrementing areas of the plant that they wouldn’t have gone after traditionally.”

Stuart Harris, vice president of Emerson Process Management’s Asset Optimization division, points out that it’s only recently that wireless networks have begun to be integrated into larger systems. “Emerson,” he says, “is very much involved in the SP100 [ISA’s Wireless Systems for Automation standard] activities as well as the work that’s going on with the wireless HART protocol. … Having standards at this field network for wireless is enabling the infrastructure of wireless to be leveraged for all kinds of field measurements.”

As standardization moves ahead, major automation suppliers are climbing aboard, offering wireless sensing equipment as part of their larger offerings. Emerson Process Management, for example, has integrated wireless sensing into its PlantWeb architecture, even offering a starter kit called SmartPack. Invensys Process Systems has set up partnership arrangements with Apprion, Dust Networks, Ember, and other members of the ZigBee Alliance.

Levels of integration

Manufacturers are increasingly recognizing the need to integrate condition monitoring/asset management into the larger corporate structure. This integration, says Harris, has three levels. First, he says, is “a drive for integration of predictive diagnostics into kind of a suite of applications.” In the past, he explains, “many vendors provided solutions for small subsets of the installed physical plant assets, so you may have a vendor who may have an application for vibration analysis, a different tool for control valve diagnostics, and a different application yet again for their ultrasonic program.” But today’s trend is driving towards an integrated suite, where the diagnostics from across that whole breadth of plant assets comes together. Bringing that information together will, he says, “provide more information for things like management dashboards and key performance indicators.”

The next level is the integration of asset management and process control. This allows operators to see what’s going on with the health of assets and respond accordingly. An operator can, for example, spot the beginning of cavitation and alter process conditions to prevent equipment damage.

The third level is integration to the enterprise level with a completely integrated asset management / control system / safety system, although some people feel that in many cases that’s probably a few years away.

Condition management includes all parts of the enterprise, and aims for optimization of assets, as explains this graphic, adapted from Invensys Process Systems.

Business issues, ROI

One thing that has slowed the adoption of modern condition monitoring and asset management practices has been that the people making the investment were not necessarily the people reaping the rewards. “There has been, historically, a little bit of a disconnect between the metrics and the measures for condition monitoring and reliability and the plant economics or the payback,” says Harris.

“Looking at it as a management person,” says Cooper, “you’re saying, if I’ve got operations with a set of metrics focused on utilization of a facility. I’ve got maintenance focused on metrics around availability of the facility; I’ve got the plant manager measured on uptime; but the corporation is actually measured on shareholder value. And there’s no connection— the measurement systems aren’t connected even conceptually.”

That finally has begun to change, even if only early adopters are doing it. “The bigger companies, and companies that are really trying to break out, have gotten through the missionary stage,” says Cooper. “They understand the value, but they’re very early in applying it.”


Competitive pressures and the loss of key personnel through retirement and corporate head-chopping are causing many companies to look closely at contracting out their condition monitoring and asset management functions, says Scott Teerlinck, business manager for Rockwell’s Plant Services business, so they can focus on their own core competencies. “On the asset management side,” agrees Schiltz, “we definitely see a trend for increased levels of collaborative partnerships relative to leveraging vendors and suppliers like never before.”

This trend has caused condition monitoring/management and asset management to grow into a multi-billion dollar business. In 2005 ARC Advisory Group predicted that the worldwide market for Plant Asset Management (PAM) systems would grow at a compound annual growth rate approaching 10% over the following five years, from a bit more than $1.1 billion, and forecast it to more than $1.8 Billion by 2009. Aided by new types of intelligent analysis software, these PAM systems, says ARC, “are evolving from a predominantly predictive maintenance application to a comprehensive asset information solution that preserves its maintenance roots while expanding into the operations realm.”

Some of the largest control and process management vendors are adding these services to their portfolios. Invensys Process Systems’ Avantis unit offers Avantis.Pro enterprise asset management (EAM) software solution and the InFusion Condition Manager; Rockwell Automation offers RAAMP, which includes MRO process management as well as spare parts management services. Emerson Process Management’s PlantWeb digital plant architecture is built around the concept of detecting process and equipment problems before they occur, so that users can move from reactive to proactive management. Asset condition monitoring services from GE’s Bently Nevada unit includes its GE Trendmaster Pro condition monitoring system. Flowserve has a suite of asset management tools for valves, actuators and positioners.

While some companies are outsourcing much or all of their condition monitoring and asset management functions, says Cooper, others decide to keep the monitoring of their critical, large-scale heavy impact equipment in house, but hire a managed service to look at the balance of the plant. “In a power plant, for example, the owners might choose to monitor the boilers and turbine, but will contract out the monitoring of the coolers, preheaters, cooling tower fans and cooling tower pumps.”

Loss of knowledge

Some people worry that outsourcing condition monitoring and asset management may exacerbate already declining in-house skill levels. What about the crucial knowledge and expertise that exist only in people’s heads and are critical to keeping the plant running? “They’re losing it, anyway,” says Cooper. “All the engineers that built the plants are the same age as the plants, and they’re all retiring.”

One factor exacerbating the loss of in-house expertise, says Teerlinck, is that engineers are not receiving sufficient training in the field. The reasons, he says, are economic, financial, globalization and demographic—“every ten retiring workers [are] being replaced by three to seven.”

Yet, there is a possible source of the needed training, says David Ochoa, director of planning for Emerson Process Management asset optimization division. “Training is a big part of the services that have to be provided by an asset management supplier,” he says. It’s important, he continues, to set up programs to make sure that people are aware of the technology and make proper use of it.

Yet just getting the software is insufficient; you have to follow through. “We’ve got instances where asset monitoring systems have been put in and created alerts that were not paid attention to. The process wasn’t really there to communicate effectively within the plant and react appropriately to the diagnostic,” Ochoa adds.

Asset management outsourcers can counter that problem, says Teerlinck, by bringing in subject matter experts, and bringing in resources to work along side the existing team members “to make sure that what we’re doing is aligned with the strategy of that manufacturer.” They may also hire some of the manufacturer’s own people.

Condition monitoring and integrated asset management are no longer optional for most companies; they are essential. Fortunately the means to achieve them are more available then ever before — if you’re willing to take the effort to really learn what’s going on in your plant and then make wise choices in addressing the issue.

Author Information
Peter Cleaveland is a contributing editor to Control Engineering. Contact him at .

Condition monitoring tools

Major control and process management vendors are adding condition management services to their portfolios:

Invensys Process Systems’ Avantis unit, Avantis.PRO enterprise asset management (EAM) software solution, InFusion Condition Manager

Rockwell Automation RAAMP, MRO process management, spare parts management services

Emerson Process Management’s PlantWeb digital plant architecture helps detect process and equipment problems before they occur moving users from reactive to proactive management.

GE’s Bently Nevada unit, asset condition monitoring services, GE Trendmaster Pro condition monitoring system

Flowserve, suite of asset management tools for valves, actuators and positioners

Matrikon ProcessMonitor Advanced Process and Equipment Monitoring software, Control Asset Performance Management

For more information, visit sites above and: