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When condition monitoring meets management systems, the concept of condition-based maintenance (CBM) becomes possible.

By Bob Sperber, editor at large

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Across asset-intensive industries, top management’s demands for lower costs and higher profits have driven increasingly sophisticated maintenance strategies. Reliability and maintenance professionals are making great strides toward shedding calendar-based maintenance activities by using  vibration, fluid analysis, thermography, motor circuit analysis, ultrasound testing and other services and technologies.

Condition monitoring is a mature discipline with robust solutions resulting from decades of development. But while developers of computerized maintenance management system (CMMS) or enterprise asset management (EAM) packages are steadily adding capabilities for handling condition-monitoring tasks and opening their technology platforms for greater connectivity, CMMS and condition-monitoring systems still aren’t capable of being plugged directly into each other. To fill the gaps, end-user organizations have turned to a cornucopia of solutions, from database and analytical software solutions to real-time controls, to improve efficiency and reduce risk. When condition monitoring meets management systems, the concept of condition-based maintenance (CBM) becomes possible.

The concept traces back decades in military applications, and represents an ideal that some might say has never been realized. Even the definitions of CBM — and updated “CBM+” — are varied enough to defy an accepted standard. But a simplified, serviceable definition is “Tracking the condition of equipment and assets to perform maintenance activities only when the variables of an asset or piece of equipment indicate the risk of an impending failure.”

Consultant Alan Johnston says, “Historically, CBM has had greater emphasis in aerospace and defense, in the process industries and at utilities, where there’s an extremely high cost related to an unpredicted failure. People can die ... aircraft can crash ... nuclear subs can go boom.” But how are we doing at bringing CBM to bear on the more prosaic problems in typical manufacturing plants?

Figure 1
The MIMOSA architecture supports CBM by facilitating integration of reliability, maintenance and condition management.

Open O&M: Standard of standards

When he’s not at his desk at Alabama’s Redstone Arsenal, Johnston is active as president of the Management Open Systems Alliance (MIMOSA), or chairing Open O&M, a superset of standards groups promoting integration between the worlds of reliability and maintenance with enterprise computing and risk management. Open O&M is an amalgamation of standards groups (ISA, OPC Foundation, WBF and OAGi) whose mission Johnston defines as “a group of standards organizations that have agreed to work with each other to make their standards interoperable, so their products and systems based on those standards will also be interoperable.”

Why is the scope so broad? Because, he explains, “The corporate guys don’t generally come down to the maintenance department and ask those guys for their viewpoint on interoperability standards.” It’s up to maintenance leaders to “step up and be true peer partners with their enterprise systems counterparts in the organization ... If they don’t, decisions will be made without their input.”

The core MIMOSA architecture might well provide the best backbone for CBM by facilitating the integration of three major components: reliability management, maintenance management and condition management (Figure 1). Each of these is broken into pieces. For example, “open condition management” starts with sensors, data input and manipulation, alarms and events, diagnostic health assessment and prognostic assessments.

The current state of automated condition-managing tools, according to Johnston, is at the level of diagnostic health assessments, where vibration tests, portable data collectors and other means are used to collect data, plot trends and analyze the deterioration and usable life span of assets. This is akin to a doctor who knows what’s wrong. But that doctor can’t give a prognosis without a broader knowledge of what’s going on. In a CBM context, even if systems are capable of coming close to root-cause analysis, integration is generally insufficient to close the loop with automation. So, the next frontier for maintenance technology is in this area of prognosis assessment.

Communication and context

Operations and maintenance used to be separate, but management philosophies and advances in technology are bringing them together. Business standards such as industrial Ethernet and Microsoft-based connectivity standards have been adapted for industrial use, and computing intelligence has been distributed down to the lowest levels so that motors and pumps – any asset with a microchip – can be put to work in a CBM
environment.

So it’s no surprise that automation engineers have been broadening their solutions to include maintenance modules. For example, GE Fanuc (www.gefanuc.com) in April announced the addition of a Maintenance Gateway module to its Proficy automation software suite. The system can reside on the plant floor, in the maintenance department or in both places. “It doesn’t matter,” says Mike Yost, Proficy product marketing manager, adding that “the same performance OEE [overall equipment effectiveness] number is seen across the entire platform” for quicker identification and correction of problems.

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