Go beyond condition monitoring

Despite condition monitoring, unplanned outages continue to be an issue, significantly impacting financial performance through lost production and extra repair costs.

By Neil Cooper, Invensys Process Systems

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Corporate knowledge. Does the company have a knowledge management process or tools? What’s the current state of the work force? Is a retirement bubble coming up that necessitates immediate action? Does the company really know where the necessary knowledge resides?

Skill base. Does the firm have the essential expertise in areas such as reliability-centered or condition-based maintenance, optimization, advanced process control (APC), and condition monitoring and analysis?

Technology base. To fully achieve the promise of condition management, a wide range of technologies both in the plant and at the corporate level need to come together (Figure 3).

Figure 3. Plant- and corporate-level technologies need to come together effectively.

Figure 3. Plant- and corporate-level technologies need to come together effectively. (Click to enlarge).

So, engineers, planners and managers need to work together and ask themselves a series of technology questions that focus on five key areas.

  1. The state of the core automation systems. Is the distributed control system current? Is the plant using a digital fieldbus with intelligent devices, traditional 4–20-mA analog or both? This will impact what data are available and how to access them.

    It’s important to understand that the plant doesn’t need to be “state of the art.” Many new analytic tools can infer conditions from the simple data points that are being collected as part of the control strategy.

    It’s also crucial not to confuse alarm management with condition management. Alarm management plays a critical role in dealing with the huge number of discrete input/output points that are part of the control strategy, working in real time at a discrete level. Condition management complements alarm management by performing the advanced analytics that warn of a developing issue long before it becomes a process or system alarm or alarm storm.
  2. The current level of condition monitoring. What instrumentation is in place? Which assets are addressed? What data can these current tools provide? How are the data currently used? What tools are being used? What processes are in place to deal with the issues identified? Is there any automation of these processes?
    Find out if the information already being gathered is handled in systematic or automated fashion and moves across departmental boundaries. One of the major values of condition management is making information useful beyond the realm of the collection point or device — putting it in a broader context.
  3. The current level of APC and process optimization. Is the company using such solutions? These models can play a key role in identifying and understanding the dependencies and context for the condition data.
  4. Integration infrastructure. Does the firm have a standardized way for integrating applications at the plant level, applications at the business level and among plant and business applications? This will be critical for gathering the condition information at the plant level and then driving the workflow necessary to resolve issues. For example, if a critical condition is recognized, automated workflow tools should page or email the key personnel, automatically trigger the necessary work requests or work orders to the maintenance team and update the necessary HMIs and management dashboards.
  5. Business intelligence. Is there an integrated measurement system as well as a vehicle to deliver the information across the company? The vehicle most commonly employed is some form of portal or dashboard solution such as the one shown in Figure 4.

Figure 4. Such a graphical display often serves as the vehicle for delivering information.

Figure 4. Such a graphical display often serves as the vehicle for delivering information. (Click to enlarge).

The next steps

The analysis that establishes the foundation or starting point is the most important step in the path to condition management. It is a comprehensive effort that brings information and, importantly, people, together. It also provides the groundwork for setting priorities and expectations and for understanding the implications on processes and roles.

With the foundation effort complete, a company can better see the possibilities for value and improvement, determine risk/reward and identify which parts of condition management can be implemented first. The success of initial low-risk/high-reward projects, in turn, can fund an ongoing program.

Many chemical makers can gather the information for a condition management baseline from within. This valuable effort can enable them to more clearly understand their resources, processes, limitations and options.

However, the subsequent steps can be complex and likely will involve the assistance of a technology partner familiar with the tools and solutions required for a condition management architecture, not just condition monitoring.

Condition management is an over-arching solution that makes use of the mountains of data generated by individual condition monitoring systems. It combines, rationalizes, presents and communicates decision support information effectively. It truly can help management identify the actions and practices needed to get full benefit from monitoring investments and, in turn, optimize the return from plant asset investments.


Neil Cooper is vice president of asset performance management solutions for Invensys Process Systems, Burlington, Ont. E-mail him at neil.cooper@ips.invensys.com.

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