Plants get help in boosting reliability

More and more companies are placing greater emphasis on maintenance and seeking help from vendors to boost the effectiveness of their efforts, as some recent major investment decisions demonstrate. Many automation companies now are benefiting by building up asset management services alongside process control capabilities.

By Mike Spear, editor at large

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Few people would disagree that a well-maintained plant is a reliable plant — and a reliable plant is more likely to be a profitable plant. Yet few would disagree either that companies traditionally have shown a reluctance to invest in plant maintenance. The reasoning, apparently obvious at least to those making the decision, was that such spending comes straight off the bottom line and so cuts into the profit margin. Many engineers certainly know of plants suffering from that spurious economic logic.

These plants run equipment to breakdown, with maintenance teams fighting fires instead of addressing reliability and operators resisting production stoppages for maintenance. Such failings undoubtedly still exist at too many plants, but fortunately more and more companies are placing greater emphasis on maintenance and seeking outside help to boost the effectiveness of their efforts, as some recent major investment decisions demonstrate.

At the end of last year, for example, Brazilian petrochemical producer Braskem awarded ABB, Wickliffe, Ohio, and Zurich, Switzerland, a $30-million contract to takeover the maintenance of instrumentation as well as rotating and electrical equipment at six plants in Camaçari in the state of Bahia. Under the terms of the two-year renewable contract, ABB will put in a service staff of around 300 to work full-time at the Braskem sites and will earn a variable bonus linked to the reliability of production processes.

Overall, ABB has more than 20,000 people in its service business worldwide — around 20% of its total staffing — accounting for 16% of the group’s revenues. “There is strong demand for our expertise to increase the performance and useful life of plant assets,” says Veli Matti Reinikklal, head of ABB’s Process Automation division.

Moving beyond control

ABB is just one of the many automation companies now benefiting by building up asset management services alongside process control capabilities — in ABB’s case, its PAM (Plant Asset Management) system within the IndustrialIT 800xA control system.

In January, for instance, Emerson Process Management, Austin, Texas, won a $1.7-million contract from Atlantic LNG to monitor the performance of process and mechanical equipment at its liquefied natural gas plant in Point Fortin, Trinidad and Tobago (Figure 1).

Figure 1. Atlantic LNG’s Point Fortin site will monitor over 300 pieces of equipment in four trains. Source: Emerson Process Management.

Figure 1. Atlantic LNG’s Point Fortin site will monitor over 300 pieces of equipment in four trains. Source: Emerson Process Management.

Atlantic, which is owned by a consortium that includes BP, British Gas and Repsol, will be using Emerson’s AMS Equipment Performance Monitor — part of the AMS Suite of software packages within the PlantWeb digital plant architecture — to monitor more than 340 items of equipment on four trains of the LNG plant.

What packages such as Performance Monitor and AMS Suite in general can do “is give operators insight into the real condition of their assets, give them real-time feedback on the way that they operate the plant impacts asset performance, while at the same time provide the maintenance and reliability teams with additional in-depth tools to focus on predictive diagnostics. We are really redefining the maintenance practices based on predictive tools, as opposed to the traditional approaches to maintaining assets,” says Stuart Harris, vice president of marketing for Emerson’s Asset Optimization business.

Recent enhancements to those Emerson tools include the introduction of advanced diagnostics to the company’s Rosemount 3051S series of pressure, flow and temperature transmitters. This embedded ASP Diagnostics Suite uses HART communications to alert users to abnormal operating conditions through a graphical user interface based on the international Electronic Device Description Language (EDDL) standard that is said to give an intuitive view of the process to both operators and maintenance personnel. The latest version of EDDL also has been incorporated into Emerson’s CSI 9210 Machinery Health transmitter for monitoring motor/pump trains (Figure 2). “The new EDDL interface provides a clearer, visually-intuitive picture of developing cavitation,” says Brian Humes, general manager of the company’s Machinery Health Management business.

Figure 2. EDDL graphics technology gives a clearer picture of equipment status.

Figure 2. EDDL graphics technology gives a clearer picture of equipment status.

Invensys Process Systems (IPS), Foxboro, Mass., in December 2006, demonstrated its new InFusion Condition Manager software to customers. According to IPS, while other vendors’ condition monitoring (CM) solutions tend to focus on basic monitoring of field devices or rotating equipment, the InFusion offering — building on the company’s field-proven Avantis.CM technology and last year’s introduction of the InFusion enterprise control system — collects, aggregates and analyzes real-time data from a full array of plant assets. “The InFusion Condition Manager can help organizations to move from a reactive to proactive environment in which they can effectively predict and prevent problems before they occur,” says Neil Cooper, general manager of Invensys’ Avantis EAM (enterprise asset management) (Figure 3).

Figure 4. Compressor efficiency problem leads to automatic generation of work order.

Figure 3. Compressor efficiency problem leads to automatic generation of work order.

Honeywell, Phoenix, Ariz., is another major automation vendor taking a broader view of asset management with tools such as its SmartCET corrosion transmitters, which use HART and easily connect to existing distributed control systems (DCSs). Chemicals producer Rohm and Haas has saved more than $500,000 in capital expenditure by using these transmitters to identify the root cause of differences in performance between two identical process units at its Deer Park, Texas, site. “Having a corrosion sensor that connects to the DCS is a real benefit,” says Andrew Wheeler of the Deer Park operations team. “We can view corrosion just like any other process reading and this allows us to make decisions that preserve our equipment.”

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