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Joining the data dots

Joining the data dots

Power professionals can now answer real-world questions by taking previously disconnected data and putting it all in one information hub, write Sloane Whiteley and Stefan Ceulemans of AVEVA.

A little thought can save a lot of wasted effort is a principle formalised in most project-planning methodologies. But when we try to apply this to plant operations, we encounter significant practical barriers. Chiefly, these barriers arise from the extent and complexity of plant information, which make it difficult to gather usable and reliable information on which to base asset-management strategies.

All this is now changing with the advent of powerful information- management technologies that are transforming the quality and sustainability of the implementation of operations integration management systems (OIMS) programmes.

However, upgrading all the elements of an OIMS programme from conventional methods ࢀ” such as spreadsheets, Word documents, email, paper forms and so on ࢀ” to information management technologies can seem a daunting challenge.

Recognising this, AVEVA recently published a business paper that illustrates the principles involved by taking the implementation of an energy management strategy as an example.

Energy management is a particularly suitable aspect of OIMS for this. Not only is it a hot topic, with the ever-increasing costs of energy and downward pressures on carbon emissions, but it is also amenable to cost-benefit analysis and likely to lead to rapid return on investment (ROI).

The paper ࢀ” Sustainable Energy Management ࢀ” first looks at the various drivers and barriers involved. The principal driver is obviously cost; in the process-intensive industries energy can account for 25″50 per cent of a plant’s total operating costs.

In the power industry, there is relatively stronger pressure in areas such as emissions management and outage reduction. In both power generation and consumption, all sectors face increasingly stringent regulatory pressures and a common business need to tackle inefficiencies.

The barriers are more varied, but their roots lie in a lack of usable information. If an organisation cannot confidently determine and analyse its operational inefficiencies, meaningful conclusions cannot be drawn. In turn, this makes executives reluctant to invest in programmes for which they cannot quantify the ROI.

Worse, sustaining any programme relies on the ability of busy individuals with many conflicting priorities to find accurate, usable action information when and where they need it. Frequently, energy-saving or efficiency programmes are launched as short-term initiatives in response to external pressures, and without the information accessibility required to properly sustain them ࢀ” thus, rarely do such programmes achieve any long-term improvements.

Removing the barriers

Evidently, the answer is to remove the barriers by unlocking and integrating all the many disparate sources of asset information.

Until recently, this proposition was impractical, even for modern plants. Digital information is ‘siloed’ in a range of incompatible formats that cannot be effectively cross-referenced and require the original authoring applications (and corresponding skills) to access them.

Figure 1
Figure 1: Information management technology enables rapid, intuitive navigation of a plant’s entire information assets

Information management technology has now removed ࢀ” or at least dramatically lowered ࢀ” these barriers, with the creation of data-agonistic systems. Such systems are now able to unlock the silos by integrating information from a wide variety of sources. They can validate and cross-reference the information on import, and present the information asset as a readily navigable whole. This enables a user anywhere across the enterprise to view plant information and navigate intuitively between, say, a 3D model view, to a schematic, to a scanned document, to a shift handover log and so on.

The data-agnostic nature of such systems means information can be viewed without multiple software applications ࢀ” or the skills to use them. Importantly, these systems also provide users with almost unlimited ability to configure reports combining different sources of information for different purposes. Such reporting capability is essential to a successful energy management programme, and to all aspects of OIM.

Extracting the value

Seeing this capability demonstrated for the first time, even experienced industry professionals have been heard to describe it as ‘black magic’ ࢀ” but, almost immediately, this reaction is followed by the realisation of the huge practical advantages offered.

It is this ability to answer real-world questions using information that would otherwise be locked in disconnected sources of data that forms the foundation of effective asset-management strategies. It enables meaningful current-state assessments, informed ‘what if’ analysis of alternative strategies, effective programme execution and long-term monitoring of results against expectations.

Building knowledge

It can be argued that this sort of capability already exists within the knowledge and experience of plant operations professionals, and so it does ࢀ” but only to a limited extent. First, a plant’s information asset is now so vast and complex that not even the most capable staff will be able to be familiar with more than a small fraction of it. Second, individuals’ knowledge and experience is difficult to share effectively or reliably across an enterprise. Third, demographics are seeing much valuable experience disappear into retirement.

Information management technology overcomes this by augmenting a range of human skills ࢀ” such as insight, creativity and problem solving ࢀ” with the ability to make complex information assets easy to use. It makes knowledge a true enterprise asset.

Figure 2
Figure 2: Practical questions demand clear, specific and accurate information to answer them

Implementing the solution

An effective implementation strategy for a sustainable energy- improvement programme has the same general building blocks and methodologies as any other aspect of OIM. These methodologies define how information will be managed and flow across the organisation, so the first priority must be to take a step back and compare what you are doing currently with what you should be doing.

To do this, it helps to view the asset-management solution as a set of layers. Many of these layers already exist within an organisation. You don’t need to build them all from scratch, but you probably do need to understand them better and be able to identify the incremental work required to bring them up to date. There are five key layers:

1. The systems layer: This comprises the sources and means of capturing asset information ࢀ” the input data. This will typically include the DCS or SCADA systems, business systems such as ERP, document management systems, and any energy-related data sources such as demand profiles, climate data and so on. It is important not to disregard an information source as being irrelevant; plant interactions can prove to have quite unexpected causes.

2. The functional and technical layer: This provides tools for extracting and conditioning the data necessary for maintaining optimal plant operations. This might include more sophisticated monitoring of operating thresholds for, say, flue gas parameters, so that fewer but more meaningful alerts are generated.

3. The business process layer: This comprises the business processes that act upon the captured and conditioned information, and might include other processes such as energy profiling and control, inspection and repair management, capacity planning and so on.

4. The services layer: This comprises the many services involved in asset management, such as maintenance request services, work order fulfillment, and so on. At the assessment stage, the definition of this layer is built up by identifying the process steps involved in meeting the needs of various stakeholders, establishing who needs access to what information, in what form, and specifying the means of providing that information. It is at this level that the power of data-agnostic Information Management technology becomes apparent.

5. The governance layer: This is concerned with stewardship ࢀ” who is accountable for the ownership and use of asset information. It embraces areas such as reporting (managerial and regulatory), incident management, policy setting and so on.

Tying it all together

Every effective asset-management programme, large or small, will comprise all of the above layers, but it is not necessary to attempt an entire enterprise-wide programme in one go. Success is more easily achieved in a step-wise manner, populating each layer as one builds up, say, an energy or emissions management solution, and then expanding the layers over time to extend the solution over more aspects of asset management.

This is where information management technology enters the picture. It enables the individual layers to be tied together from the outset, and creates a sustainable solution that can be grown and developed at a rate that corresponds to business needs. More importantly, it represents a long-term business asset that is far less vulnerable than, for example, maintaining a dedicated team of staff to perform an equivalent function.

In practice

The principles described above are already being put into practice in the power industry. AVEVA technologists have provided specialist support in this area to the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) within its Greenhouse House Gas Pollution Prevention (GEP) Project.

The above project included the provision of technical assistance in improving the efficiency, reliability and overall performance of India’s coal-fired power plants. Crucial to this project’s success is a 24/7 access to ‘knowledge silos’ of specialised institutional expertise and experience, and to the development of a real-time Strategic Monitoring and Assistance Remote Terminus (SMART) system.

Together, these facilities provide asset monitoring of disparate generating facilities, and capture knowledge and experience into a virtual ‘centre of expertise’ to mitigate equipment failures that could lead to unplanned plant outages.

In conclusion

Using a clearly defined goal such as energy management when embarking on an overall asset-management strategy makes such a project easier to plan, communicate, gain support for and execute. It could be considered as a workable example that makes it easier to extend the solution across other aspects of asset management.

Sustainability, however, requires information management technologies, which are available now as proven, off-the-shelf solutions. Here, AVEVA’s concept is of a digital information hub, which integrates non-invasive access to, and validation of, an enterprise’s entire information asset.

It is easy to visualise how such a platform can support every aspect of the most advanced asset-management strategy. Leading companies in the plant industry are already taking advantage of this.

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