New technologies are making onsite maintenance staffs much more effective. “They send proactive alerts to maintenance people to address developing problems, guide them on how to fix those problems, and give them the option to involve experts remotely,” says Dave Biros, global product marketing manager for process automation service at ABB. Not only does this approach help train the onsite staff on how to perform tasks, but fast access to experts also serves as a safety net.
A common use for remote services is to give generalists access to specialists as needed. “These facilities will still use their internal resources to do the actual wrench turning, but want access to specialists to manage the high tech,” explains Ryan Williams, product manager for asset management and reliability services at Rockwell Automation.
The underlying technology puts tools directly in the hands of technicians standing in front of machinery. One example is software with pre-packaged libraries of maintenance best practices for specific classes of assets. “Many producers invest large amounts of money in CMMSs [computerized maintenance management systems] that have best maintenance practices programmed into them,” Biros says. Some service agreements include software that can synchronize back to a central database for preventive-maintenance updates for the covered equipment.
If all else were equal, many users would prefer to keep the maintenance of key production equipment in-house for the sake of retaining knowledge about processes and control over production. “But all is not equal,” notes Glen Gardner, product planner at Fluke. “It’s physically impossible to have expertise on every type of machinery on the plant floor.”
Gardner identifies three technologies being deployed to help users get the best of both worlds: mobile devices, software as a service (SaaS) and wireless communications. The dominant model for combining these technologies to manage assets is for technicians, the assets themselves or both to upload measurements to a database on the cloud through some kind of gateway, he says.
In the case of a technician collecting data with a portable instrument, the gateway is usually a smartphone or tablet. “It’s now easier than ever for a technician on the plant floor to call up a manual on a web-enabled device, as well as to specify all the repairs that were made,” Gardner says. “Technicians can also take measurements and photographs and send them wirelessly to a CMMS.”
An engineer at a remote location can not only look at data already sent automatically to the database by the equipment, but also ask the onsite technician to gather any necessary, missing information. “The ability of a third-party expert to combine those two data streams gives them a lot more information to diagnose problems quickly without having to dispatch a field engineer,” Gardner says.
Read Automation World's full feature, "A Remote Road to Stellar Asset Management."