Remote, Automated Plant Asset Monitoring

MaintWorld: Keep a Watchful Eye on Essential AssetsWireless technologies have established their value in process automation. In a MaintWorld magazine article, Remote, Automated Monitoring Keeps a Watchful Eye on Essential Assets 24/7 (pp. 14-16), Emerson’s Nikki Bishop and Aaron Crews describe how these wireless technologies can be and have been put to use.

They note the technology shift that has occurred in recent years where plant assets can communicate their status and well-being back to plant personnel—and not just any person, but the person who is in the best position to solve the problem.

Traditional predictive maintenance based on periodic, manual data acquisition:

…provides only a snapshot of asset data and early warnings of impending problems may be missed. Even further, sending personnel out to the field for manual data collection might also mean putting them in a hazardous environment.

Not only are early warnings missed, costs are incurred servicing assets that don’t need servicing. Most plants have continuous monitoring equipment on their most critical assets such as turbine generators, compressors, and pumps with large motors. Nikki and Aaron highlight how:

…on-line monitoring of the second-tier equipment, such as pumps, heat exchangers, blowers, small compressors, cooling towers and air cooled heat exchangers (“fin-fans”) have traditionally been deemed cost-prohibitive.

Problems with these essential assets can impact the process and can cause unplanned downtime. Wireless vibration measurement devices reduce the barriers to installation that have traditionally existed in many plants. The data from these devices:

…lays the foundation for an asset monitoring strategy… Once the measurement framework is in place, pre-engineered monitoring solutions are plug-and-play and take raw measurement data and transform it into meaningful alerts through analysis…

Providing awareness of the alerts is a critical component of an automated monitoring system… Alerts via text message or email ensure that the alert gets to the right person, right away.

Through this integrated asset monitoring and alert platform, the plant assets can reach out directly to the subject matter experts when they need help.

Nikki and Aaron provide a case study where The Separations Research Program at The University of Texas (UT) combined this essential asset monitoring with remote monitoring. This was done to remotely connect subject matter experts to local staff. It was important since this research facility did not have redundant assets. In fact:

Losing one asset means the entire process is down until the repair is complete.

Remote monitoring, which is a key part of an Integrated Operations (iOps) business strategy, includes the process assets as well as alerts from the process and control system. These alerts are routed to the appropriate subject matter expert through text or email. Via secure VPN, the subject matter expert can:

…help diagnose problems with assets and assist with the appropriate corrective action. With log in access via tablet or smart phone, diagnosis support is available instantly.

Reports are also an important component to show asset health trends and maintenance to-do lists.

This technology extends beyond the operators to a remote iOps center, which:

…can monitor for any alerts 24/7 via the remote monitoring appliance installed.

In turn, the iOps center:

…can contact the local site representative as well as a remote subject matter expert… The local site representative and remote expert collaborate on the required actions and the UT operator can then carry out the corrective actions and fix the fault before it becomes a failure.

Wireless technology not only provides the means of communication between the devices monitoring essential assets and the control and asset management systems, but also from these systems to the plant personnel and remote experts. These experts can diagnose the situation and deploy local support to the site if necessary. This provides local personnel support to address problems in the best and quickest ways possible, and minimizes or prevents lost production—and optimizes plant performance.

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