Asset maintenance goes online

Factory data can now be widely leveraged throughout a plant, site, enterprise or extended enterprise

Industrial automation is no longer dominated by proprietary networks. The rising availability and declining costs of Internet Protocol (IP)-based Ethernet, Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol (TCP/IP) and related technologies have paved the way for open standard Internet protocols to make their way to the factory floor. The technological convergence between traditionally separate domains such as plant automation and enterprise information systems is enabling breakthrough applications that optimize the entire enterprise.

In the old world, connection distance mattered. Today, increasingly, it doesn’t. The enabling technology of the Internet is equally applicable to a one-inch connection or a 1,000-mile connection. As a result, factory floor device information can now be widely leveraged throughout a plant, site, enterprise or extended enterprise—including trading partners.

Internet technologies create an environment particularly amenable to condition-based maintenance (CBM) by enabling the practical integration of condition monitoring and analysis tools with enterprise asset management and other enterprise business applications as part of a network-centric solution. This integration of plant floor asset management information throughout the enterprise is a key step for organizations seeking operations and maintenance (O&M) improvements to remain competitive.

The value proposition behind Internet-based CBM is clear. Systems and processes that predict the failure of machinery on the plant floor and provide months—rather than seconds—of advance warning of potential failure, and then make that information available throughout the manufacturing enterprise, can spell the difference between minutes of planned maintenance and hours of unexpected, costly downtime.

With Internet-based CBM available, the financial benefits of outsourced service management are magnified. Rather than having highly specialized and costly maintenance personnel dedicated to individual plants, the outsourced model places them in a centralized location, where their talents can be leveraged across multiple sites, or multiple customers. Many service management firms are entering this arena with packages to serve this growing trend.

Much development work remains for this model to truly become viable. Just because the communication infrastructure is becoming much more universally available doesn’t mean that all the pieces are yet in place for network-centric CBM. Information standards are critical to allowing interoperability between multi-vendor equipment suppliers, plants with global locations, and even operations and maintenance organizations within a company who must cost-effectively interoperate in a systematic fashion.

Information standards are consolidating. A consensus for an open operations and maintenance information standard is developing around the OpenO&M initiative led by two non-profit organizations—the OPC Foundation (for OLE for Process Control) and the Machinery Information Management Open Systems Alliance (MIMOSA).

The OpenO&M initiative leverages the broad support of OPC and the information depth of MIMOSA to enable open, Extensible Markup Language (xml)-based integration for O&M applications including those associated with CBM. Collectively, OPC and MIMOSA bring together leading companies with extensive experience in CBM and enterprise applications integration.

The OpenO&M information standards combine the platform, vendor- and product-neutral power of XML, OPC Foundation’s XML for data access (XML-DA) standards and MIMOSA’s Open System Architecture for Enterprise Application Integration (OSA-EAI) standards. These standards enable a bi-directional flow of information between operations, maintenance and emerging industrial decision support systems.

In the future, CBM may be implemented as a Web-services model, truly leveraging the full power and convenience of the Internet. For today, an increased amount of CBM is migrating online through secure and robust virtual private networks.

The combination of CBM, communication and information standards and outsourced service management culminates in a model that allows the health of assets to be managed with Internet-based information flow. This allows early warning of asset problems and cost-effective corrective actions to be put in place—ultimately giving users the higher uptime and lower costs needed to compete effectively.

atjohn@attglobal.net is president of MIMOSA and ian.wray@indus.com is Vice-President, Product Marketing, Indus International.

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