An e-fficient approach

The frequency at which performance indicators are updated depends on the contract between e-fficiency and the subscriber, but is typically every two weeks
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In June this year Emerson Process Management unveiled e-fficiency, an internet-based service that enables operators of power and process plant equipment to monitor the performance of their equipment.

The uptake of e-fficiency by the power sector has so far been relatively slow – the service is proving to be most popular with the upstream oil and gas industry. Nevertheless, MDC Technology, the Emerson subsidiary that has developed e-fficiency, believes that its experience in the power industry, for example the deployment of its on-line performance monitoring systems for power plants, will spur the uptake of this new service in this sector.

In fact MDC Technology has just received its first order for e-fficiency from TransAlta, the largest non-regulated electricity generation company in Canada. TransAlta will use e-fficiency to monitor the performance of equipment at its Poplar Creek cogeneration plant, which supplies power and steam to an adjacent oil sands facility owned by Suncor Energy.

As part of a major plant expansion, TransAlta has overall responsibility for the maintenance and uptime of all utilities equipment at this site. E-fficiency was chosen by TransAlta to improve economic performance, availability and reduce outages caused by unexpected equipment failure for gas and steam turbines.

Accurate performance

Because the results are viewed via a web browser, subscribers can examine the performance of their units any time and from anywhere in the world
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The e-fficiency service is just one example of how internet technology is enabling power industry players to improve their competitive edge in today’s power industry. For operators of power plants, this type of service addresses the growing demand for reliable and accurate equipment performance monitoring technology.

Power plant operators today are moving towards predictive and targeted maintenance programmes for their equipment, and away from routine programmes. Targeted maintenance allows operators to maximize the use of their assets over the plant lifetime and to improve maintenance planning. The result is improved reliability and availability, and reduced cost of ownership.

“We believe this new approach will revolutionize current methods and set new standards for performance monitoring,” said Ross Smith, CEO of Emerson Process Management’s MDC Technology division. “E-fficiency will soon be seen as the industry standard, providing easy to use, accurate and reliable performance monitoring information to customers striving to increase the utilization of their assets. [E-fficiency] has allowed customers to make savings in the range of $1 million to $8 million per year by making informed decisions on poorly operating equipment.”

Emerson’s new service uses model-based technology together with data reconciliation and parameter estimation software. Equipment operators that have signed up to the service send equipment and process data from their plants via the internet to e-fficiency, where performance information in generated. The output is a comprehensive set of performance results, customized reports and graphical representations which the operator in question can view via a web-based browser.

E-fficiency is also a key element of Emerson Process Management’s Asset Utilization offering, a suite of services and innovative products aimed at improving reliability.

The service can be applied to many types of plant equipment, including gas and steam turbines, boilers, compressors, pumps and heat exchangers. It can, says Emerson, be rapidly deployed and is easy to use, allowing operators to:

  • Track equipment degradation and cost
  • Compare equipment performance across multiple plants
  • Access equipment performance data remotely over the internet
  • Produce accurate reports against performance targets
  • React quickly to changes in equipment performance
  • Optimize cleaning and maintenance cycles
  • Increase operating performance at plant level.

A structured approach

Emerson’s e-fficiency service is just one example of how internet technology is enabling power plant operators to improve their competitive edge in today’s power industry.
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E-fficiency gives plant operators the opportunity for a structured approach to plant maintenance and the ability to improve plant performance in today’s competitive power generation markets. Condition monitoring techniques – such as vibration, oil analysis and visual inspection – are just part of the solution to efficient plant performance; performance monitoring is also important.

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In competitive power markets, maintenance is now viewed as being critical to operating results, rather than just a necessary expense, and can give generators the edge over competitors. The timing of maintenance schedules for major plant equipment has a major impact on profitability as all plant equipment degrades with time. Not only does performance degrade between overhauls, but also with each successive overhaul the performance gains may be fewer.

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A structured approach to performance monitoring can improve decisions over maintenance planning.

Emerson’s e-fficiency service follows the Application Service Provider (ASP) model that has emerged through the convergence of IT infrastructure and the internet environment. This approach allows plant performance data to be made available via the web and removes from plant operators the burden of analysing complex information and data.

E-fficiency deploys, manages and remotely hosts the performance monitoring software application and facilitates a remote, centrally managed ‘rent-an-application’ service for multiple users (plant operators). Users subscribe to the service by paying a fixed monthly fee, and do not need to make any capital investment in software or hardware. The monthly fee will vary depending on how often the user wants the performance results to be updated and the contract length.

The ASP model also means that as information is delivered via the internet and read using a standard web browser, data for any authorized asset from any location in the world can be accessed at any time, and from any place.

According to Emerson, independent research indicates that the costs associated with using remotely-hosted internet-based applications are 30-70 per cent less than traditional applications where the customer runs and manages the application locally.

Emerson believes that in addition to reducing the costs associated with operation and maintenance of power plant equipment, e-fficiency can make this process easier and more accurate; the web-based interface enables the customer to take advantage of the latest technology innovations without having to upgrade their own systems. E-fficiency also takes on the responsibility of managing and storing data in a secure environment.

Performance parameters

Plant operators using the e-fficiency service submit data which is then fitted against the appropriate model to give a mathematical representation of the equipment. E-fficiency can be used with any make of plant control system, provided that it includes a mechanism to record and make available key process measurements. In the absence of this capability, Emerson can install OSI Software’s PI system.

E-fficiency subscribers can send their data by using a secure internet connection, an FTP site, by e-mail or by diskette. Alternatively, e-fficiency can extract the data automatically and on a regular basis from the plant site using a direct communication link, such as via a modem or secure ISP. The data is then used for performance calculation.

E-fficiency uses design or equipment acceptance data to uniquely characterize how each piece of plant equipment should perform. This data is used to construct a detailed mathematical model of the equipment which is used in the calculation engine to generate the performance indicators under current operation.

Process data typically submitted to e-fficiency includes pressure, temperature and flow measurements. Bad or missing data is eliminated using data reconciliation and parameter estimation technology, and the conditioned data is then applied to the calculation engine to generate the performance indicators and provide the equipment results.

Elimination of instrument bias is achieved by a number of techniques including normal least squares, weighted least squares, minimum variance and X2 distribution.

The performance monitoring results are then made available via a secure custom web area which requires log-in.

E-fficiency customers are assigned permissions to access their results, and can allocate different authorization levels for different personnel within their organization.

Once a customer logs in, an overview screen displays all plants and associated units. The e-fficiency user interface is designed to be intuitive and therefore simple to use and navigate. Indicators provide an overview of the status of each item of plant equipment – normal, warning or beyond warning.

A full report for each item of equipment can also be accessed, and typically includes:

  • A summary screen providing an overview of performance calculations made against the design data
  • Graphical representation of overall performance results. These typically include (depending on the equipment) efficiency, deviation from design and operating costs
  • Equipment performance results for specific months or for longer-term trends
  • Tabular series analysis for easy comparisons
  • Sections to add customer comments or notes for examination by colleagues
  • The original design data (where applicable) is made available as an easy mechanism for reference
  • On-line help for all results.

Graphical representations are available and results can be downloaded as Excel for use in management reports. Users can also submit customer comments against any unit or operating period for inspection by colleagues.

The frequency at which the performance indicators are updated depends on the contract between e-fficiency and the subscriber, but is typically every two weeks. Subscribers are notified by email when updated indicators are available.

The modelling of plant performance data is carried out using RTO+, Emerson’s model-based performance monitoring and optimization suite of programs. It has comprehensive plant modelling and data reconciliation capabilities and is able to solve extremely complex and large optimization problems.

The e-fficiency system has been developed specifically to minimize security risks, according to Emerson. Dedicated servers are monitored 24 hours a day all year round within a network access point (NAP) based in the UK. The company has a stringent service level agreement with its NAP hosting service which guarantees a minimum 99.5 per cent up time for the servers. In addition, file systems are backed up on a daily basis.

Customer data is protected by using industry-standard Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) technology, providing robust encryption of potentially sensitive information. Encryption ensures that third parties cannot access critical information passed between a subscriber’s PC and the web site. All passwords are stored in secure databases in encrypted format and are therefore unusable to anyone that does not have the decryption keys.

Critical components

According to MDC Technology, plant operators using e-fficiency initially apply the service to one or two critical plant components. They can then add on other parts of the plant, for example pumps and heat exchangers, later on.

The e-fficiency service has several benefits over conventional performance monitoring techniques, according to MDC Technology. One of the major differences is the use of advanced modelling techniques which eliminates bad data, instrument errors, drift and noise from performance calculations. The results to the end-user are therefore highly accurate.

E-fficiency also allows the user to refer back to how the equipment would be performing at design conditions, and in addition takes into account the ambient conditions. The service presents the cost of this deviation in terms of lost revenue due to the degradation of equipment performance.

In addition, the use of continuous process data – i.e. data collected at regular intervals – on which to base equipment performance calculations improves the accuracy of the calculations and enables the user to observe a trend in equipment performance over time. The use of actual thermodynamic performance data from the equipment also provides an advantage over condition-based monitoring techniques.

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