Optimizing Assets Requires Well- ‘Tuned’ Resources and the Right Attitude

A band director manages available assets by getting each musician to play the same song, measure, and count at the same time. Optimizing the band to win every contest it enters requires ensuring every instrument is in tune and every musician is committed to perfection at every rehearsal. The decision on whether to simply manage production assets or to strive for optimized assets isn't that di...

By Dave Harrold April 1, 2003
Process and advanced control
Asset management
Condition-based monitoring
Productivity, management, and control
Data acquisition
Information systems
Manage information from cradle-to-grave Don’t forget to check for electrical leaks Here’s an example of real-life asset management and condition-based monitoring Optimize maintenance resources

A band director manages available assets by getting each musician to play the same song, measure, and count at the same time. Optimizing the band to win every contest it enters requires ensuring every instrument is in tune and every musician is committed to perfection at every rehearsal.

The decision on whether to simply manage production assets or to strive for optimized assets isn’t that different from the band example. It really comes down to the attitude of every employee.

Plenty of material is available describing ways and means of changing a corporation’s culture for any number of reasons, including developing a culture intent on optimizing production for maximum profit. Basically all the words boil down to one thing—100% executive and shareholder commitment is absolutely essential.

Until that’s achieved, executive put-downs about “boys and toys” undermine employee morale and prevent production operations from reaching their full potential.

Not either/or choices

Of course commitment alone won’t produce the desired results; it also takes talented, trained employees applying the appropriate tools.

Depending on the material you read and hear, descriptions of asset management (AM) and condition-based monitoring (CBM) seem to be saying about the same thing; the specific tools you need to optimize production assets are _______ (you fill the blank).

The reality is, optimizing production assets isn’t about choosing between an AM or CBM solution. To do it right, to obtain sustainable asset optimization requires acquiring and placing AM and CBM tools in the hands of committed, trained employees, backed by systems that help ensure efficiency.

The most significant differences between AM and CBM solutions are where data originate and how data are analyzed.

The premise of AM solutions is that increased sources of process variability are likely caused by equipment that’s performing differently than before, thus AM solutions rely on existing production devices—sensors, transmitters, and final control elements—to provide data for knowledge-based analysis algorithms that produce extrapolated conclusions and predictions. AM solutions are similar to paying attention to symptoms of shortness of breath and tightness across the chest, and trying to decide if you’re having a heart attack or anxiety attack.

CBM solutions apply additional instrumentation and systems to measure and collect data about vibration, thermal, oil, and electrical conditions to determine the actual health of devices like motors, compressors, pumps, etc. CBM solutions are the special analysis equipment emergency room personnel use to validate if symptoms are the result of a heart attack or an anxiety attack.

Asset management solutions

Today’s marketing machines frequently apply entirely different definitions to phrases like “asset management.”

For example, enterprise resource planning solutions define asset management to include employees, rolling stock, finances, and inventory.

Within the control and instrumentation domain, the definition of asset management is generally confined to the systems and equipment-vessels, piping, pumps, motors, valves, etc.-used in producing a product. Nevertheless, that still leaves lots of room for interpretation.

Some may disagree, but control-loop problem assessment using software and/or services from companies, such as ControlSoft (Highland Heights, OH), ExperTune (Hebertus, WI), Honeywell (Phoenix, AZ.), Matrikon (Edmonton, AB, Canada), and Techmation (Scottsdale, AZ) fit within the definition of AM solutions.

Each of these companies have evolved their unique solution to control-loop problem assessment, but in the end each is collecting data from existing instruments and final control devices, submitting the data to analysis algorithms, and arriving at interpretations of causes of control loop problems.

Another form of AM solutions is available as digitally enabled fieldbus protocols, such as ControlNet, FOUNDATION fieldbus, HART, and Profibus.

Besides serving up traditional process values of pressure, temperature, level, and flow, fieldbus communication packets include additional device information that, when properly analyzed by knowledge-based algorithms and maintenance personnel, can be used to imply a process’ health.

A major difference between the control-loop problem assessment AM solution defined above, and fieldbus AM solutions is the amount of information available for analysis.

The first relies exclusively on traditional instrumentation and final control device data. The second adds microprocessor diagnostic data, such as A/D drift, cycles, stroke, etc., to the primary measurement data. The belief is that more data analysis will result in more accurate interpretations; assuming, of course, the underlying algorithms and knowledge base are sufficiently robust.

Companies supplying fieldbus-based AM solutions include ABB (Rochester, NY), Emerson Process Management (Eden Prairie, MN), Endress+Hauser (Greenfield, IN), Honeywell, Invensys Production Management (Foxboro, MA), Siemens Energy & Automation (Atlanta, GA), Smar (Houston, TX), TopWorx (Louisville, KY), and Yokogawa (Newnan, GA).

CBM solutions

According to a 2002 Frost & Sullivan (San Jose, CA) study titled “World Condition Monitoring Equipment and Services Market,” the 5.2% growth this market experienced between 2001 and 2002 indicates end-users are seeing, or hope to see, significant benefits from CBM solutions.

Traditionally, CBM solutions have included various forms of thermal, vibration, and liquid analysis. However, recent advances in partial discharge measurement technologies of medium voltage electrical circuits adds an important new form of CBM analysis. (See “Don’t forget to check for electrical leaks” sidebar.)

During the past few years, the CBM market space has witnessed several consolidations and the emergence of several new companies offering niche solutions for specific industry segments. While this bodes well for the overall market, it also raises a flag indicating end-users need to be cognizant that CBM solution providers are not created equal. Before placing the “heartbeat” of production operations in the hands of strangers, do your homework and seek a second or even third opinion.

CBM suppliers refer to similar things differently, but generally CBM solutions can be categorized as:

  • Vibration analysis;

  • Rotating device alignment;

  • Infrared thermography;

  • Ultrasonic monitoring; and

  • Oil and coolant analysis.

One or more CBM categories appropriate for a specific production operation depends on several factors including type of equipment in use, process complexity, process availability requirements, staff expertise, and budget.

CBM suppliers, such as 3e Technologies (Rockville, MD), Bently Nevada (Minden, NV), Computational Systems (Knoxville, TN), Expert Monitoring (Cardiff, U.K.), IOtech (Cleveland, OH), National Instruments (Austin, TX), Rockwell Entek (Milford, OH), and SmartSignal (Lisle, IL) are ready, willing, and able to customize a CBM solution to meet specific customer requirements.

Customized solutions range from providing products and training for “do-it-your-selfers” to turnkey solutions where the supplier provides on-site expertise.

For example, oceangoing freighters can use contracted CBM services that monitor and analyze the health of ship-board rotating equipment. Data are collected and uploaded, via satellite, to land-based expert analysts who use signature analysis techniques to compare data about current equipment performance with previously collected data for that piece of equipment.

When a pending equipment failure is identified, a scheduler arranges for the necessary parts, tools, and mechanics to be waiting at the ship’s next port-of-call. As long as repairs are completed in less time than it takes to unload and reload the ship, the ship’s availability remains optimized at 100%.

Pulling it together

Optimized production operations are not achieved just by purchasing more intelligent devices, asset analysis software, and/or specialized testing tools. Despite their robustness, AM and CBM solutions represent useful point solutions, but not the entire answer.

Achieving optimized production operations also requires addressing how:

  • People from operations and maintenance work together;

  • Maintenance activities are prioritized and tracked;

  • Spare-part inventories are managed;

  • Required skill sets are identified, evaluated, trained, and upgraded;

  • Documentation is maintained, revised, and made available; and most importantly

  • Committed senior management is to achieving optimized production operations.

Assuming that last item exists, the next step is to review the remaining elements and compare what and how things are being done now relative to proven best practices.

Occasionally, companies are able to overcome the “that’s the way we’ve always done it” syndrome and complete an objective self-analysis, including evaluations of proven best practices. Unfortunately, that’s seldom the case.

If it becomes apparent self-analysis isn’t working and/or identification of proven best practices has become a bigger than anticipated task, it’s time to engage outside experts.

For example, working in concert with Invensy’s Avantis technology, Popware (Hamilton, ON, Canada) develops first-versions of Avantis add-on functions and products, then partners with customers to “fine-tune” the function or product to meet specific asset optimization requirements.

Regardless if you measure winning by the number of band trophies collected or by “embarrassingly” high-corporate profits, neither is achieved without equal doses of commitment, attitude, skills, appropriate application of tools and work practices, and excellent execution.

Comments? E-mail dharrold@reedbusiness.com

Manage information from cradle-to-grave

The bulk of documented information about a production operation is developed and assembled well before the first widget, pound, or gallon of product is ever produced. The trick is to keep that information fresh as the operation ages.

That means valuable information begins to form during the discovery phase of the life-cycle model and continues to evolve through pre- and detailed-engineering. By the time the operations and maintenance phase is reached, there are thousands of pages of information related to the product and what it takes to produce it.

That also explains why many organizations are convinced that ensuring near-instant access to accurate documentation is a critical first step in achieving truly optimized operations.

For example, working together, Aspen Technology (Cambridge, MA), Dow Chemical (Midland, MI), and Intergraph PPO (Huntsville, AL) have developed an engineering information architecture that permits users to take product information developed using Aspen’s Zyqard and populate Intergraph’s SmartPlant and Asset Information Management software suites to form an optimized plant information management system (PIMS).

The goal of PIMS software is to provide the correct information, to the correct person, at the time it’s needed.

When seeking PIMS software on which to build an optimized operation and maintenance organization, ensure it’s capable of managing any and all information sources, including MicroStation, AutoCAD, Web links, and OLE information.

Also consider and evaluate how well and how easy it is to address document-management activities, such as:

Document red-lining and commenting;

Revision control;

Document check-out/check-in enforcement;

Defined work and approval flow; and

Change notification.

For more information, visit

Aspen Technology

Intergraph PPO

Don’t forget to check for electrical leaks

Electrical systems aren’t usually included in the list of condition-based monitoring (CBM) solutions—but they should be.

All efforts to manage assets using process measurements, knowledge-based software, vibration analyzers, and oil analysis become unimportant if the plant’s electrical system fails because of deteriorated insulation.

Partial Discharge (PD) is a well-recognized and accepted means for the early detection of electrical insulation deterioration. Though PD has been successfully applied to electrical systems rated as low as 2,300 volts, its real value is in 4.1- 34.5 kV systems.

InsulGard system from Eaton/Cutler-Hammer (Cleveland, OH) is designed to address a plant’s medium-voltage CBM requirements. InsulGard consists of three components for the continuous monitoring of PD:

Standard sensor packages;

A 15-channel continuous data collector; and

Analysis and communication software.

InsulGard collects electrical and insulation influencing data including humidity, load, temperature, power or reactive power, and partial discharge activity.

Data are continuously monitored and analyzed by the InsulGard software.

For those times when a “second opinion” is required, the software can upload data to Cutler-Hammer’s diagnostic personnel for further analysis and reporting.

Plants having turbine- or hydro-generators, substations, switchgear, bus ducts, power center transformers, and medium-voltage cable terminations would be well advised to include a PD solution, such as InsulGard, as part of a condition-based monitoring solution.

For more information, visit

Here’s an example of real-life asset management and condition-based monitoring

Today’s troubled world creates elevated anxiety levels in many people; it may also contribute to heart attacks.

Symptoms of anxiety and heart attacks are very similar, and even trained medical personnel may confuse one with the other: Pressure, squeezing, or pain in the center of your chest; pain spreading to your shoulder, neck, or arms; lightheadedness and/or fainting; sweating; nausea; and shortness of breath.

Accurately diagnosing a person’s symptoms as being caused by anxiety or a heart attack requires specialized testing, such as an electrocardiogram, ultra sound, and blood tests.

Asset management (AM) and condition-based monitoring (CBM) solutions perform similar, though less personal, roles in production facilities.

AM solutions use traditional, existing process measurements of pressure, level, temperature, flow, etc., and control valve performance to provide well-educated diagnosis of deteriorating process performance. However, validating the diagnosis and pinpointing the exact cause requires specialized thermal, vibration, electrical, and liquid testing associated with CBM solutions.

We want to keep our body’s processes performing at peak efficiency for as long as possible. Our hearts are one of the critical assets required for that process.

When our internal AM sensors indicate deteriorating asset performance, the wise person immediately seeks a medical CBM solution to pinpoint the cause and then initiates appropriate corrective action.

Be it hearts, pumps, or valves, asset optimization requires the effective, timely, and skilled use of asset management and condition-based monitoring solutions.

Optimize maintenance resources

Production operations won’t remain optimized very long unless maintenance activities are also optimized.

For example, before implementing MRO’s (Bedford, MA) Maximo software, the U.S. Army’s Aberdeen Proving Ground (APG, Aberdeen, MD) relied on 12 homegrown databases to process and track maintenance service orders for more than 25,000 pieces of equipment scattered across 72,000 acres. Despite its best efforts, APG was unable to determine detailed information about many of its maintenance responsibilities.

Following the implementation of Maximo, APG operations and maintenance management have the necessary information to track work and know exactly where resources are being applied and what each asset is costing to maintain.

Another benefit Maximo has brought to the APG site is the ability to track response-team performance to various priority codes, an important element of ensuring critical-to-mission assets are maintained at the highest possible availability.

For more information, visit