Power to the process

Why a standard is needed for work processes related to intelligent device management.

By Larry O’Brien, Fieldbus Foundation; John Rezabek, ISP; and Herman Storey, Herman Storey Consulting

In brief:

  • In many cases, the promise of intelligent field devices in the plant remains unrealized.
  • The argument for using intelligent device management has a strong economic value proposition.
  • Too often, the question of how to take advantage of device diagnostics comes too late in the project.

Intelligent field devices, whether they are based on Foundation Fieldbus, Profibus PA, HART, or other protocols, are pervasive in modern process manufacturing. The original promise of having microprocessor-based devices was that they would transform the way we see the information related to these devices and to the processes they control. Maintenance practices could be transformed so that devices with impending problems could be identified sooner. No longer would field technicians have to go to the device itself to get relevant information. Instead, information would be provided directly to the process automation system, plant asset management system, or indeed any other systems or software in the plant that required it. The technology offers the promise of significantly lowering risk while lowering maintenance costs.

In many cases, the promise of intelligent field devices in the plant remains unrealized. This is not so much a technology issue as a people or work process issue. Too many users are employing old maintenance work processes with new technology. The new devices and applications are installed, but the operators and technicians stick to their old way of doing things, their old preventive or routine maintenance practices, and never really take advantage of the huge amount of information that is available to them. It seems clear that the process industries would benefit from a standard set of work processes and best practices for intelligent device management (IDM). This would give end users an effective blueprint for achieving the significant economic lifecycle benefits associated with intelligent devices.

Current status

The process industries are notoriously conservative and reluctant to change. In many cases, this reluctance is justified. The processes under control are volatile and dangerous, and any misjudgment can result in serious consequences. If you look around today, however, you will see that the process industries have enthusiastically adopted intelligent devices and IDM applications. Purely analog 4-20 mA field devices are being sold less and less. Why then have we not embraced this technology to its full potential?

Current work processes and current standards for maintenance management are built around time honored traditions including run to failure and periodic inspection and testing programs. These work processes were developed for equipment that doesn’t have built-in diagnostics. Pressure vessels and piping can be expected to fail very slowly over decades if operated within their design limits. Inspect and test programs are good work processes for such equipment, especially if they are optimized by risk-based techniques.

Instruments can also be pressure-retaining devices, but their primary purpose is for measurement and control. The measurement and control functions are in direct contact with the process and therefore subject to wear and tear that can degrade very quickly or suddenly compared to typical pressure retaining equipment. Furthermore, microprocessors embedded in these devices can do diagnostic work to identify when components are malfunctioning or degrading. In many cases, testing is unnecessary for these devices, and inspection can be simplified. Instead of test procedures, all that is needed are tools and processes that utilize the built-in diagnostics.

In the real world, however, we are finding that these tools and processes are often implemented incorrectly, and many times not at all. New technologies require new ways of doing things. Look at cars today for example. Any new vehicle sold today is going to contain a sophisticated onboard diagnostic computer that will be able to tell you what’s wrong with your vehicle based on specific diagnostic codes. Mechanics no longer use trial and error to diagnose problems. Just plug in the diagnostics unit and you can find out what the problem is. But this didn’t happen overnight. Mechanics had to be trained in the new way of doing things. New processes were instituted and taught at trade schools.

Better availability, reduced costs

The argument for using intelligent device management has a strong economic value proposition. It’s not just technology for technology’s sake. Detecting problems before they happen reduces unplanned shutdowns. Some in the industry call this a “save.” Depending on the application, one save can pay for your entire automation investment. The potential to cut maintenance costs is also significant. Intelligent devices allow you to implement a more predictive and proactive maintenance strategy.

In addition to saves, routine maintenance tasks can be eliminated because you no longer have to guess if there is a problem with a device. Many maintenance activities for instrumentation result in “no problem found.” These activities traditionally require personnel to enter hazardous areas, climb to areas with poor access, and spend time on unnecessary tests. Diagnostics can confirm proper operation without all of this expense and risk and can lead to a quicker resolution of operational issues.

Complex landscape

Perhaps using the analogy of the automobile is a little too simplistic for the process industries. In today’s process plants, operators, engineers and technicians must navigate an already complex landscape of applications and communication pathways that can often make the problem of using diagnostic data from intelligent devices a herculean task. Multiple databases and interfaces permeate the industry. Digital field devices must interface with a host system, which in turn communicates with a data historian, configuration database, alarm management systems, plant asset management systems, and higher-level computerized maintenance management systems. Enterprise connectivity is a must, since work orders are typically generated through systems like Maximo or SAP. Many users get stymied when it comes to integrating all these disparate elements together. Questions like who gets access to information from intelligent devices and when must be answered, and corresponding data flows must be planned. Workers at multiple levels in the enterprise (in multiple disciplines) must be informed, and coordinating communication between these workers creates a problem in itself.


The workforce challenge

Anyone in the process industries is aware of the fact that we face a shortfall of workers in just about all roles of the plant. New workers will have to do a lot more with fewer human resources, but a greater range of tools provided by technology. The full realization of the value proposition of new technologies like fieldbus and IDM is often the victim of generations of workers raised in 4-20 mA technology. It can be difficult to change multiple generations of an industry that is steeped in certain practices. In many cases, upper level management does not deem it necessary to invest in the proper level of training needed to fully utilize the technology.

The argument for using intelligent device management has a strong economic value proposition.

In many ways, end user companies and owner operators want it both ways. They want to adopt new technologies and be considered world-class manufacturers, but they don’t want to invest in the training and time it takes to use those technologies effectively. There are exceptions to this rule. Leading-edge end-user companies exist in this industry and are setting examples. Training doesn’t have to be a big investment either. The Fieldbus Foundation has certified training partners that are audited and reviewed, with course programs lasting anywhere from five to 10 days. Suppliers are offering more remote training options that are becoming increasingly sophisticated.

Regardless of their current levels of sophistication, end users will be faced with a new generation of workers that have been raised in digital technology. These are workers that have never known a world without Internet. They are familiar and comfortable with digital networks. They will be able to use a wide range of more sophisticated software tools.

Digital instrumentation in new plants

Too often, the question of how to take advantage of device diagnostics comes too late in the project. In a new plant, IDM considerations should be addressed in the front end engineering and design (FEED) phase to be truly successful. End users frequently focus on reducing startup time, which, while important, also must be balanced with an eye toward operational readiness. People must be trained. If your project is ready but your people aren’t, this will be a serious problem that will prevent you from realizing the economic benefit of your technology investment. The most successful projects also must have buy-in from people at all levels of the organization that will be using it. Perhaps most importantly this includes field and maintenance personnel. With new projects, it’s in many ways easier to implement new work processes, as long as you start with properly trained people.

Even more important than training is the coordination of the various subsystems that must work together to have a successful intelligent device management strategy. Plant asset management systems, historians, DCS host systems and operator stations, all the way up to CMMS applications, must all be coordinated, and their corresponding data flows must be mapped. This isn’t necessarily a difficult exercise, but it is essential, and the timing is even more essential. If you wait until after startup to plan how you will use information from your intelligent devices, it will probably take you twice as long to launch your IDM strategy effectively compared to initiation in the FEED phase.

Digital instrumentation in modernization projects

Many of the fieldbus projects today are greenfield projects. However, we are seeing an increase in fieldbus for modernization applications. Protocols like HART already have a large installed base in many process plants, but HART devices by and large are not integrated with process automation systems or plant asset management applications. There is a large amount of diagnostic data that is stranded in these plants and cannot be put to good use.

Here the challenge is different. You have an existing workforce that is probably entrenched in doing things a certain way. In cases like this, early buy-in is important. You need to convince your maintenance and operations personnel that this will make their jobs better, improve their performance as employees, and give them a better understanding of their plant. With early buy-in, the necessary and corresponding training is also more effective.

A new ISA standard

About the authors

Larry O’Brien is global marketing manager at Fieldbus Foundation. Contact him at larry.obrien@fieldbus.org. John Rezabek is a process control specialist for ISP in Lima, Ohio. Email him at jrezabek@ispcorp.com. Herman Storey is chief technology officer at Herman Storey Consulting. Contact him at herman.storey@live.com.

Standards bodies are a good way to propagate standard work processes and best practices. Today, the industry needs a standard that will outline the work processes and best practices for implementing and using intelligent field device information management systems. Similar standards efforts have taken place in the past with great success. ISA 95 outlined the key work processes in production management applications. Many suppliers now build their production management applications around the ISA 95 work process model. ISA 106 lays out the best practices surrounding the automation of procedures in process plants — which processes should be automated and which should be manual or guided. A large group of us are now launching a standards effort within ISA to outline standard work processes for intelligent device information management.

Complementary standards efforts

There are many standards efforts that are being undertaken in the process industries that revolve around plat assets and even devices, but none of them address IDM for maintenance and operations. NAMUR is an international organization comprised of end users from the process industries throughout the EMEA region that develops recommendation documents for end users and suppliers. The NAMUR NE 129 recommendation specifies “Requirements of Online Plant Asset Management Systems,” and it does a very good job at outlining the purpose of plant asset management systems and their place in the world of plant asset health. The ISO PC 251 effort is part of the ISO 55000 Asset Management standard. ISO 55000 primarily focuses on the inspect-and-test side of asset management. ISO 55000 doesn’t address the requirements of IDM.

The Institute of Asset Management (IAM) is a UK-based physical asset management association. In 2004, IAM, through the British Standards Institute (BSI), published “Publicly Accepted Specifications” (PAS) for Asset Management. These include PAS 55-1:2008, Part 1: Specification for the optimized management of physical assets and PAS 55-2:2008, Part 2: Guidelines for the Application of PAS 55-1. However, the PAS standards’ primary focus is not on instrumentation and again leans heavily toward the inspect-and-test side of the business. These standards tend to be heavily focused on physical assets, not the devices that control them.