Chemical companies, especially Tier 1 firms, are very receptive to this line of thinking, Harrison says. With raw materials costs rising and selling prices tight, they are desperate to drive out any other costs — and using historical data to identify trends and improve processes to achieve this is proving a popular solution. He currently is working with a number of undisclosed chemical companies in this area.
"The big breakthrough with HANA is being able to ask questions I never thought I could ask before. The other side of this is getting swift answers back. With faster answers, we can do more data blending. The question now is how we use this information."
He believes the future lies in the ability to more rapidly and better process ever more plant data.
The way this data is presented will be important, too. For example, engineers trained in SAP's Visual Enterprise applications, 3D diagrams and animated equipment explosions already have cut many days off large dollar maintenance project executions. Similarly, the advent of 3D technical documentation from equipment manufacturers will make the whole maintenance experience much simpler — and, he notes, more digestible for new people coming into the industry.
"Overall, we are on the cusp of a radical change of how people understand maintenance and deal with it."
Asset availability is the key issue for the chemical industry, asserts Kim Custeau, Burlington, ON-based director of product marketing for asset management solutions for Invensys. "Customers need to schedule resources appropriately. This includes labor utilization, materials sourcing and so forth. Basically, you need everything in the right place at the right time to carry out the maintenance or repair job. So, supply chain connectivity is crucial — from the personnel right down to those 60-cent gaskets," she explains (Figure 1).
Her group particularly focuses on Tier 2 companies, where tight margins are forcing greater proactivity in areas such as maintenance tracking.
"Take predictive maintenance, for example. The guide book tells you that a particular piece of equipment might need maintenance every 30 days. What it often won't tell you is that the same asset might work very differently in locations with different climate conditions," she notes.
More than 25% of maintenance done today is unnecessary and can introduce additional failure risks, Custeau points out. Fortunately, use of both condition-based maintenance and a reliability-centered model for operations and maintenance can ward off unneeded maintenance.
To address such challenges, Invensys developed Avantis Condition Manager, part of its InFusion enterprise control system. The system also provides early failure detection to increase asset availability, reduce costs and avoid unnecessary downtime. Invensys's own figures suggest that plants on average lose 5% of their production due to unplanned outages.
Like Harrison, Custeau also is concerned about the nomenclature used: "People are starting to look at how maintenance data is put onto their systems and the nomenclature that is used alongside it. This is a big issue, so Invensys systems have a lot of pull-down menus which make use of specific nomenclature. However, people still want to have the ability to use freehand text; so one of our key challenges is to encourage companies to change their approach and be more systematic in the way that they do this." Invensys is partnering with niche maintenance consultants who are experts in culture change to help its users do just that.
Fertilizer manufacturer CF Industries, Deerfield, IL, has standardized on Avantis.PRO software as its core platform for collection and storage of data on maintenance, repair and operations (MRO) activities. The company also uses Avantis.DSS decision support software to analyze the data for continuous process improvement, and has supplemented its system through adoption of standard catalog descriptions and categories for all MRO items.
This system is designed to automate maintenance planning and tracking activities on nearly 50,000 assets, including vessels, pumps, rotating equipment and electrical motors. It also helps manage and analyze MRO inventory and procurement for more than 60,000 inventory items in the four CF Industries manufacturing locations.
"Avantis.DSS software takes data from available Microsoft documents, such as Excel, and makes useful information out if it, which enables us to monitor assets and optimize efficiency. Data analysis that took two weeks is now done in ten minutes, which opens up new doors for improvement," notes Dave Wiedenfeld, group project leader, IT.
The software has proven particularly beneficial in analyzing and improving inventory and spending activities. It has contributed to reducing inventory by several million dollars and to savings of approximately $2 million through improved sourcing and contract negotiations.
"For now, we can actually ensure that maintenance materials and services we need are there when we need them, know what it costs to maintain the plant, and know the best way to maintain it based on history. This puts us way ahead of the game," Wiedenfeld adds.
Mobility will play an important role in the future, Custeau believes. "The maintenance person will take a mobile device of choice and be dispatched to where needed — while having full access to all the information on the office desktop. People expect instantaneous access to all their information, especially the new folks coming in the industry now. So our emphasis is very much on mobility and providing the access to information that they need," she concludes.
Seán Ottewell is Chemical Processing's Editor at Large. You can e-mail him at email@example.com.