Remote Expertise for Essential Asset Management

Manage Essential Assets with Automated MonitoringIn 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.

The results:

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.

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  • Pete Winn

    It’s interesting to see the distinction drawn between the individual for whom the data will be useful and those who are paid to look for problems 24×7.

    I think this is often overlooked in system design of this type as many seem to forget that the Rotating Systems Specialist will have way too much to do to sit monitoring all of the plant and as such a user of a lower experience factor must be trained to spot and coordinate any issues with the specialist.

    this therefore raises two interesting design considerations of 1) making sure that issues can be spotted by the monitoring system and actioned quickly; and 2) making sure that multiple connections to “experts”, “decision makers” and “Fixers can happen and happen quickly.

    • http://www.linkedin.com/in/JimCahill Jim Cahill

      Ronnie, Pete, Thanks for your comments. I shared them with Nikki Bishop and wanted to pass along her feedback.

      “Remote monitoring is not meant to replace the physical presence
      of an equipment specialist for repairs. Remote monitoring is meant to
      alert the right person right away when there is an issue and also provide help
      with root cause diagnosis. For example, remote experts can analyze full
      spectrum vibration data and provide recommendations. For sites with very
      limited staff, remote monitoring personnel can help arrange for someone to go
      on site and help resolve issues or even provide necessary parts. Remote monitoring
      doesn’t replace the person actually on site but can help alert them and help
      with diagnosis.”

      • Pete Winn

        I’d agree with that remote monitoring is certainly an extended capability, offering providing expert analysis where it wouldn’t otherwise be practical on a specific asset. My point was more about making sure that this is picked up in the design work and providing the correct collaboration environments to support this mode of operation – allowing the on ground and remote staff to have effective and open communications.

        There’s a lot of steer towards video conferencing being a panacea for this sort of comms, however, I’m always amazed that this limits the channels that the two parties have to communicate to just talking and pre-prepared material. Could you imagine setting up a meeting for a bunch of Engineers and denying them the ability to use the whiteboard or sketch something out on paper to explain their idea?

        Good blog and comment though Jim / Nikki – keep it up.

  • http://www.assetpoint.com/ Ronnie Alfred

    Actually, remote expertise for Essential Asset Management will be expensive and have some problems. This is because of technology and the distance. It is not easy to guide and instruct people from far distance. For example, the Rotating system have some issues inside. So in order to guarantee the quality and practical meaning, we should have available solutions for issues.