In the February 2013 edition of Chemical Industry Digest, University of Texas Separations Research Program (SRP)‘s Robert Montgomery and Emerson’s Pete Sharpe and Nikki Bishop authored, Manage Essential Assets with Automated Monitoring.
In prior posts, we’ve discussed how wireless technologies have opened up the ability to continuously monitor plant assets not already instrumented. I’ll focus this post around the human expert side of the equation.
The people who analyze rotating machinery vibration and other predictive data, smart instrumentation and control valve diagnostics, and control system diagnostics have unique sets of skills. The authors describe how technology has opened up the opportunity to these specialists to work remotely to work with several plants:
The ability of a rotating equipment specialist anywhere in the world to log in and remotely access equipment performance data to help troubleshoot a compressor means that the specialist can be centrally located, supporting a number of plants. These “Intelligent Operations” or iOPS centers are starting to spring up in industries such as mining, upstream production, gas processing and air separation plants where operations can be quite geographically spread out.
They noted that remote access is nothing new, but:
…a 24×7 dedicated remote operations facility for planning, controlling, operating and maintaining a number of plant sites is quite revolutionary.
There are special requirements for the control and asset management systems to facilitate this type of remote expert support:
First, the system must aggregate the process and asset data together and highlight statistically meaningful changes in performance… The first-responder to an AMS alert in an iOPS center may not be the expert in that specific area, but will engage the right persons and help coordinate a response with the site team…
From their offices (or a remote iOPS center) a rotating equipment specialist can review wave forms and spectral vibration data to help analyze a bearing issue. Asset, instrumentation and control system alerts can be sent to appropriate personnel in realtime, if email or pager notices are acceptable.
Security is a critical concern when providing remote access:
Remote access is provided through secure VPN access combined with multiple firewalls, and remote functionality is limited by user-based security. Any asset issues can be detected and diagnosed remotely, but local coordination is used whenever system or asset maintenance needs to be done.
The authors shared several examples from several industries where essential assets were added to the existing critical assets that were continuously monitored. For one North American refinery, maintenance expenses were reduced $100,00USD along with improved process control and increased plant availability. A PEMEX refinery in Mexico addressed cooling tower failures leading to unscheduled alkylation plant shutdowns. The authors described the solution [hyperlink added to quote]:
Four wireless networks and a total of 122 wireless devices were installed on four cooling tower sections… Typical measurement points include fan vibration, basin level, pressure and temperature on the water supply and return, and supply water pH. The wireless gateway data was integrated into the legacy DCS via Modbus, and a backhaul network with 802.11 Wi-Fi radios provided data integration via OPC communication to other host systems.
Water costs can be better controlled, reducing the cost of chemicals as well as the cost associated with water supply and disposal. Fouling has been reduced and thus, efficiency increased, through tighter water chemistry management. Two out of three manual rounds have been eliminated, a reduction from almost 9000 hours per year to less than 3000.
Robert described how the Separations Research Program has setup remote experts to optimize their maintenance program:
…critical alerts are routed to trained personnel automatically. Whether it is a cavitating pump or a system health issue such as an overloaded PC or failed backup controller, alert information is routed to the right person right away so that action can be taken. Secure remote access was also set up so that subject matter experts could log in and help diagnose any issues and determine the proper corrective action.
Read the article to see other examples of providing continuous monitoring to essential assets and providing remote expertise for reduced maintenance and unplanned downtime.