Call the data doctor


System reliability is vitally important in the power industry and effective asset maintenance and management is as much an information challenge as it is an operational one, writes Steven Hagner

Aging equipment and an aging workforce are leading to increasing pressure in the power industry, but operational and maintenance budgets remain tight. Companies are looking for ways to improve how assets are managed and maintained, and for ways to reduce associated costs.

Modern information technology software solutions are using the masses of data available from operational technology in a convergence that is showing significant performance improvements, increased reliability of systems and reduced operational and maintenance costs.

O&M workforces are being stretched, both in terms of the amount of resource available and aging, retiring experts leaving a business. To maintain numerous and varied assets across one or multiple sites, information from disparate sources, including time and usage-based inspection data, needs to be manually reviewed and assessed by human experts to identify trends and evaluate risks.

Critical decisions are based on the interpretation of this data, but this process is far from perfect. It is inefficient and open to human error, but it is also proving increasingly difficult for the power industry to maintain as key experts retire from the business.

An asset health centre solution allows utilities to perform true condition-based monitoring and predictive maintenance of critical assets for immediate and long-term efficiency improvements. It accesses information from SCADA systems and other data sources and combines this with trends based on industry performance models established from decades of experience.

For Ventyx, this historical data is based on decades of use of a patented fleet screening model from ABB called MTMP, which assesses the condition of transformers by analyzing electrical, mechanical and thermal risk.

The intelligence the asset health management system assembles from equipment is used to predictably alert engineers to assets that are at risk of failure. It presents information on dashboards in a variety of formats to enable better decision-making and provides proactive messages with required corrective actions and the timeframe in which they need to be completed to avoid failures.

In asset-intensive businesses such as the power industry, failure of major equipment can not only result in a loss of power and associated revenue but comes with potentially heavy costs for emergency repair or replacement. It can also damage confidence in a brand as customers relying on vital electricity supplies are let down.

Catastrophic failure of equipment such as transformers can further lead to extensive damage of surrounding infrastructure and, critically, can threaten the safety of personnel.

Effective management of the health of assets requires realtime and historical data from a variety of IT and OT sources. To turn this data into information, however, software algorithms are needed to analyze, evaluate and feed back required actions to operators and maintenance teams.

Such algorithms are centred on in-depth understanding of the power industry and present information based on a balanced view of operational performance, financial performance and risk to the business, highlighting opportunities for improvement and optimization across assets’ lifecycles.

The modern asset health management solution pulls detailed realtime and near-realtime data from all assets, along with other offline data and disparate data sources, to ensure a complete picture is obtained and efficiency can be optimized.

It aggregates information from online and offline data sources, such as costs, manufacturers’ data and industry standards. It then prioritizes assets that need attention and sends this data to enterprise solutions such as work management and maintenance systems. As well as providing all data required to enable the strategic use of resources, this approach gives the added benefit of having all information in one central location.

Vital business decisions

When planning the implementation of an asset health management system, questions need to be asked about what data should be gathered, whether the quality of the data is sufficient to base vital business decisions on, and, for it to be effective, how to implement a single solution to cover critical assets. The solution needs to address all of these issues, pulling from both IT and OT expertise.

ABB algorithms used by the Ventyx Asset Health solution can monitor as many as 170 discrete parameters for some asset classes, bringing together previously disparate data sources such as historical corrective maintenance to near-realtime feeds of existing conditions. To ensure data quality is sufficient, it should be continually assessed through the use of smart filters, which look at the consistency, validity and completeness of data while also checking for duplicate data.

To cover critical assets, the solution also needs to be equipment- and sensor-agnostic. Even older equipment, with limited numbers of sensors, can benefit from being included within an asset health management solution as many of the data points are not near-realtime. Obviously, areas such as dissolved gas analysis (DGA) for a transformer would suffer from not having a realtime feed, but many other areas would still provide clear indicators as to asset health and help to streamline the maintenance required and reduce failure risks.

As the asset health solution monitors multiple asset types with a primary focus on risk of failure, information needs to be displayed to operators in a clear and consistent form so they can quickly identify any areas of concern and rapidly navigate to detailed information about an individual asset when a risk is flagged. The system should help a facility to gain a significantly more detailed understanding of problems and failure modes of an asset, allowing them to implement effective asset management programmes that help prevent unexpected failures. Potential failures should also be objectively assessed for risk and criticality and managed with a proactive alert system to ensure relevant personnel are advised in good time to prevent any catastrophic failures.

Data which is distributed across locations in different formats can be brought together to give a complete picture of the business and to guide strategy for optimizing operations. Armed with information from an asset health management solution, maintenance and inspection routines can be optimized using condition- rather than time-based information. This can significantly reduce maintenance costs, and the additional information the system provides can help to improve workforce effectiveness and decision-making processes.

Time- and usage-based maintenance and inspection regimes do not take into consideration all the information available from an asset. To optimize equipment performance and ensure systems continue to run efficiently, the right people need to be in the right place at the right time.

With intelligent prediction and prioritizing of maintenance duties, work schedules can be organized to best efficiency. When a crew is deployed, the system can contain all information about the equipment so they can further make best use of their time.

In this way, an asset can be maintained to optimum efficiency without carrying out unnecessary work. Organizations can anticipate trends, take proactive action before a problem occurs and allocate mobile resources more intelligently. An asset health management system enables a utility company to focus spending on preventive maintenance only when conditions warrant, freeing up time to reduce critical maintenance backlog. Asset replacement choices can also be based on lifecycle management cost factors, incorporating the risk and impact of failure, ongoing maintenance costs and manufacturer obsolescence issues. Overall, the system is designed to maximize equipment and human resource value.

Above and below: the asset health system presents dashboard data in various formats
Credit: Ventyx

Effective implementation

To implement an asset health system a business needs to assess its readiness and ensure the full deployment of such a system will achieve the desired results.

This includes assessing infrastructure and IT environments, looking at the quality and completeness of a source system’s data and taking a static, one-time snapshot of a segment of assets’ health. Once the necessary data is gathered and loaded into the system, an evaluation can be made of the potential savings and a business case formed. Working alongside an experienced and knowledgeable vendor in this area, a power company can gain a clear assessment of its data quality, completeness and the efficacy of deploying an asset health centre on-site.

In the power industry it is not untypical for transformers to be in excess of 50 years old and operating well beyond their expected life. The careful management of these valuable assets is vital and an increasing challenge.

However, even where there are new infrastructures, improving how assets are managed has significant benefits. An asset health management system enables smarter, data-driven decisions that enable operational and maintenance spend to be optimized along with providing maximum return on capital investment. Ensuring assets are well cared for, without carrying out unnecessary work, leads to a longer asset life and increased return on investment.

In the power industry, reliability is a top concern. This sector has an aging and increasingly smaller workforce where retaining expert knowledge is becoming an additional challenge in maintaining smooth operations.

Along with constrained budgets, this makes the ability to continue with purely time-based maintenance regimes neither practical nor cost-efficient. Combined with the fact that many assets are large, costly and difficult to replace, ensuring the best value from them and extending their lifetime becomes an even more critical business target. Increasingly, organizations are recognizing the benefit and need of retaining expertise and knowledge within their maintenance processes.

Assets generate different kinds of data, but it is difficult to turn this data into meaningful insights. New technology uses both IT and OT expertise and is able to aggregate all available data to provide clear and actionable intelligence for engineers so they can be proactive. This enables work to be carried out to ensure a utility is getting the most from valuable assets. Maintenance and inspection routines can be streamlined with a system that gives critical information about the priority of equipment replacement along with the necessary business case data for repair/replace decisions.

Focusing in on the right assets at the right time with the right maintenance can offer a significant saving in maintenance costs. One utility company in the US, for example, has found the implementation of such a system has enabled it to provide effective maintenance without increasing its maintenance budget year on year, delivering millions of dollars in savings even before considering any preserved revenue from avoiding outages and increased asset life.

These modern systems provide a coherent, integrated picture of asset health. They are more than just a point solution that replaces paper systems; they capture data, experience and knowledge and present it in a clear form to enable better decision-making.

Anticipating issues

These systems do not just alert engineers to a failure; they help to anticipate issues before they turn into problems, answering the question of where the highest risks of failure lie within an overall utility. They capture the expertise of experienced personnel and make it readily and clearly available to new staff or even maintenance outsource partners. They reduce the risk of failure, increase the safety of a utility and enable more intelligent and efficient use of resources and budgets.

The return on investment of integrated IT/OT asset health management is easily evaluated with the optimization of operational and maintenance budgets, the avoidance of catastrophic failures and the reduced risk of a major safety incident. It offers an incredibly quick payback period of, typically, three to six months and has an immediately noticeable impact on site operations. Indeed, these intelligent, consolidated knowledge systems may even become the norm to enable increasingly pressurized workforces to do their jobs and for businesses to ensure they remain efficient and competitive for the future.

Steven Hagner is Industry Solution Executive at Ventyx, an ABB company

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