Managing Assets For Improved Performance

With Asset Performance Management, or APM, plant operators are deploying the latest tools that enable the use of data to improve efficiency and extend the life of assets.

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Sometimes, maintenance becomes a customer service issue. Helicopter manufacturer Sikorsky Aircraft Corp., in Chicago, monitors and maintains its finished products for customers in the commercial, industrial and military industries. In order to increase customer loyalty, the company took measures to increase aircraft availability by implementing a software solution that identifies and predicts equipment maintenance needs or potential malfunction.

Sikorsky deployed software from SPSS Inc., an IBM company in Chicago that produces predictive maintenance analytics software used in plants to monitor manufacturing equipment. The goal is to determine the relationship between how the aircraft is being operated and maintained, and the consumption of parts.

The ultimate goal of the analytics is to catch malfunctions before they occur, thus assuring greater availability. SPSS uses the same tools to monitor plant equipment. “Plants are moving from sense-and-react to predict-and-act,” says Marcus Hearne, senior product manager at SPSS. “With predictive, you’re able to uncover an unknown or unseen event before it occurs.”

Hearne notes that the industries that show the most interest in predictive data analysis are those that are most reliant on high availability. “Electricity plants are a big user because it’s critical that they keep availability at the highest level,” Hearne observes.

As the economic recovery gains momentum in the manufacturing world, plant operators are looking at the possibility of running full steam for the first time in nearly three years. Much has changed during that time, including an industry-wide push toward greater efficiency.

With dollars in short supply after a prolonged recession, manufacturers need to get the most out of their existing equipment. The board room isn’t in any mood to invest in new assets. So plant operators need to increase their uptime and extend the lifetime of their current assets. And that requires a new way of monitoring and maintaining equipment.

Asset performance management (APM) has become the new buzzword for getting more out of existing equipment. The term includes everything from condition monitoring to analysis of historical data to determine when a valve may stick and cause a stoppage. The goal of APM is efficiency—it can be described by the old saying: a stitch in time saves nine.

Few plants have been running at full capacity in recent years. Many manufacturers point back to 2007 as the last time capacity was an issue. In the meantime, many knowledgeable workers have been laid off. Many plants are now looking forward to full capacity production this fall. The question is: will manufacturers be ready to get the most out of their assets, especially with so many knowledgeable workers gone?

Coming out of the downturn, manufacturers find that they will have to ramp up production using the same equipment they’ve used for a lower production level. “A lot of plants are coming to us now to get more systematic, and to ramp up their reliability. They want to kick-start that ahead of the upturn,” says Magnus Pousette, head of ABB Reliability Services North America, in Columbus, Ohio. “They’re sensing that the market is changing and their order books are going to improve. But their cash is really tight, so they want to use the same equipment.”

Back to the future

Ramping up with the same equipment won’t be easy for some plants. The U.S. auto industry recently faced that challenge. Automakers had to produce newer, more technically advanced cars that provided greater fuel efficiency while using mostly the same equipment they had used in the past.

That can work if you have knowledgeable engineers. Unfortunately, many plants reduced their engineering population. “Plants that did not cut down all that much on knowledgeable personnel may be able to ramp up to 2007 levels pretty quickly, while others will struggle,” says Pousette. “Those that cut back didn’t make a bad decision. When you only have 30 percent of your usual orders, you have to cut back.” In many cases, plants will turn to technology—APM programs—to help run their equipment effectively.

Reliable, predictable uptime is a major goal at every plant. Reliability was the leading goal for Rubbermaid Commercial Products, in Winchester, Va., when the company decided to adopt ABB’s maintenance management service. The Winchester plant has 55 major production machine centers and 1,300 equipment assets that need maintenance. The plant operates 355 days a year, 24 hours per day.

The company analyzed its operation and found an unacceptable level of preventive maintenance tasks and a high rate of unpredictable equipment failure, which increased machine downtime. The result was missed customer order deadlines, a poor return on net assets and an environment of reactive maintenance.

Rubbermaid operators implemented ABB’s PM30 hosted maintenance management service to improve its overall maintenance program. The system improved data collection on both products and equipment, and analyzed the data to identify potential failure. “The consistent management of the PM30, flexible modification of its contents and administration of the output allow the continuous drive for excellence,” says Rich Sankovich, Rubbermaid’s operations maintenance manager.

Sankovich notes that ABB’s service helps the plant regularly achieve a 20 percent higher preventive maintenance completion rate. Plus, improved reliability has provided better planning and scheduling. Equipment failure has also decreased dramatically.

Mining data

Technology is playing a factor in improving asset performance. Plant operators are deploying more sensors and gathering a wider range of historical data to determine where a piece of machinery or equipment is vulnerable to breakdown. “Asset-intensive manufacturing plants have been investing heavily in asset management and maintenance over the years,” says Mehul Shah, analyst, Aberdeen Group Inc., in Boston. “Companies are faced with increasing shareholder pressure to maximize return on assets and to reduce manufacturing costs.”

Data mining and analysis is one way to extend the life of equipment. You can reveal the equipment’s weak spots and repair them before a breakdown. “Plants have to make do with the equipment they already have, so they’re trying to understand that equipment better,” says Kim Custeau, director of product marketing at automation supplier Invensys Operations Management, in Plano, Texas. “In the past, the data on their equipment has been in different silos. Now, they’re bringing that data together into a predictive system.”

Custeau notes that plant operators are starting to look at the overall equipment landscape rather than looking at individual pieces of equipment. “Each piece of equipment has its own manual, but it’s not written for how the equipment is installed,” says Custeau. “You have to adjust your equipment monitoring to its environment. Is it near vibration? Is it in Alaska where its cold or in the South where it’s hot?”

Plant operators are also working to manage their electricity so it’s easier on equipment and so the equipment runs more reliably. “Operators are seeing a need to manage the power going to the equipment a lot better than they did before,” says Rich Chmielewski, manager for process automation at Siemens Industry Inc., the Alpharetta, Ga.-based automation supplier. “Before, you had spikes and sags, as well as harmonics and grounding issues. Operators are looking for a power flow that runs the equipment optimally while also providing energy efficiency.”

Using wireless

In some situations, the condition of an asset can’t be monitored easily, either because parts of the asset are in places that are hard to reach with wiring or because the asset is so spread out that wiring is simply too expensive. In these cases, operators are turning to wireless technology to monitor assets.

One example comes from automation vendor Honeywell Process Solutions, which deployed a wireless system to monitor operations on an oil tanker. The oil tanker operators needed to protect the rotating assets, improve the ability to operate at full capacity and proactively manage the long lead-time maintenance schedules. With more than 500 points, manually monitoring the rotating equipment would take three months. The idea of running wires was out of the question. The cost would exceed $100 per foot. The assets spanned 900 feet in length by 150 feet in width.

Deploying wireless sensors was a challenge. Inherent vibration in the ship itself can affect sensors. Honeywell had to assess the interference points and consider how the equipment would behave with a sensor attached.

With the system finally installed, the operators can read and collect data five times a day, which results in proactive maintenance that can be scheduled for times when the ship is in port. “The wireless solution tells them what is wrong at the earliest possible time,” says Rajat Sadana, global senior product manager at Honeywell Process Solutions, in Phoenix. “This was an oil tanker that goes around the world, so it’s difficult to do maintenance.” Sadana notes that the system has helped the operators avoid or postpone costly spells in dry dock.

Asset performance management takes a range of forms, from monitoring equipment on ships, on helicopters or in a consumer products plant. The tools can include wireless sensors, condition monitoring systems, and data crunching to reveal failure patterns prior to failure. The underlying theme of APM comes down to predictive maintenance. If you can fix a problem before it causes work stoppage, you can improve uptime, and potentially extend the life of the asset—a stitch in time saves nine.

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