The words, “maintenance” and “repair” are so common in everyone’s vocabulary that we use them almost daily, and sometimes we’re not exactly happy about it. Whether it’s our cars and the oil change or tires they need or the washing machine that’s been making strange noises, most of us aren’t happy with the necessity of maintenance or repair in our personal lives. So why is it so different in our business lives? It isn’t. We hear phrases all the time such as: “run to failure,” “budget cuts,” “extended outage periods” that make us shudder. But are there better ways to deal with what’s happening?
The answer is unequivocally yes. Today’s world has migrated to the digital age or as my company sometimes calls it: the industrial internet. We have machines that talk to each other, exchanging information that can help us make better decisions. From smart digital controllers on valves to plant distributed control systems to diagnostic test tools to life-cycle asset management tools, tools and devices talking to each other produce a “digital thread.” This digital thread can then be used to prompt action for maintenance and repair in a simplistic and orderly manner.
So let’s dream a bit and consider the following scenario: You approach an Engineering, Procurement, Construction agreement to engage in an expansion of your plant. In the expansion, a multitude of valves and related equipment are needed and an order is placed. The valves/equipment are sized, configured, built and shipped to the site. Upon shipment, an electronic thread, “welcome package” is sent to the service team about the shipment. The thread is opened and all the information related to this equipment is at the fingertips of that team in a digital format. A click of a button and the information is downloaded to an asset management system to track and maintain all service, test and repair events. That is the start of the digital thread for this equipment. As the equipment goes into service, information is collected via the digital devices, which send alerts on a variety of events (i.e., friction, cycles, response, etc.). The alerts push their way through the asset management tool prompting on- or off-site support to take action. Over the course of time, all the information for this equipment is in a single location and retrievable with any smart device, 24/7 across the globe. In other words, a “medical record” for the equipment has been created and will be maintained as events occur. Data of all sorts is collected and monitored, all in an effort to make maintenance and repair easier and simpler.
So why is this so important? Not so long ago America’s greatest pastime sport—baseball—used scouts to find top prospects. Then along came the Oakland A’s (as noted by Michael Lewis’ 2003 book Moneyball), who learned to use data in the selection process. A data revolution was started in that sport just as it has been started in many other businesses. Today, it’s difficult to find a sports team, a police department or a hospital that does not use data to manage their businesses. Data is analyzed in many directions and ways leading to new metrics that most of us sports fans do not understand. However, look at most successful teams and you’ll see that data and analytics were involved in the success.
In the valve world, data use should reduce barriers in the past to maintenance and repair efforts. The keys to this process are available today.
- The foundation of this journey is a strong asset management tool. This tool needs the ability to seamlessly interface to the cloud for data, which means availability 24/7 across the globe. It should also be agnostic to the equipment and have powerful analytics to manage outages, notifications and upgrades, but be smart enough to run what-if scenarios or calculate a metric such as mean time between failure or some other measurement. (See VALVE Magazine article “Asset Management: Plant Managers Best Friend,” Fall 2011 for helpful tips on this.)
- Second, the company must have the strength and capability to put this digital thread together and manage it—from the application engineering process to product design to the factory build to the service support. Information collected at the key stages of an asset’s life will need to be used in the data analytics stage later. This is an enormous task of integration across devices, tools and software.
- Third, the next generation of tools, devices and technical support must be used to collect and communicate in the digital thread. For example, to test a safety valve or a control valve, we need an off-line diagnostic test device. After running the test, the tool should upload the information via the cloud to communicate back to the asset management platform and show the valve tested in a real-time video. This off-line diagnostic tool integrated back to the asset management tool adds more data on the asset and its digital thread. This is an example of machines talking to machines to produce data and results.
- Finally, one of the critical aspects for making this all happen is highly trained and certified service and support technicians who can navigate the tools, interrogate the data and have the skills to analyze that data in light of how best to repair it.
In summary, what once seemed like something out of a science fiction movie is becoming reality. “Maintenance” and “repair” have been joined with “data,” “analytics,” “tools,” and “the cloud” as everyday parts of our world. But when all these words are integrated together, we have a digital thread that is so powerful to the end user that it will predict the next maintenance or repair point/period so that plant uptime can be optimized to increasingly higher levels.