Maintain moving targets with asset management

Agility and insight pave the way for mobile asset management.

By Sheila Kennedy, contributing editor

In brief:
  • Mobile assets often represent a significant capital investment, and their performance can directly impact the bottom line.
  • A higher degree of visibility is required to manage assets that are mobile rather than stationary.
  • Meeting these needs with the right software, technology, and best maintenance practices will enhance your fleet’s reliability, efficiency and lifespan.

Virtually every organization operates some number of mobile assets, whether it’s lift trucks, haul trucks, executive cars or air compressors. Regardless of whether mobile assets represent a fraction or majority of your asset pool, the maintenance challenges are the same.

Properly managing portable and drivable assets requires all the usual work, asset, and inventory management capabilities. Unique to this asset class is the importance of location awareness and knowledge of equipment condition and energy consumption. Meeting these needs with the right software, technology, and best maintenance practices will enhance your fleet’s reliability, efficiency and lifespan.

High value, high importance

Mobile assets often represent a significant capital investment, and their performance can directly impact the bottom line. “In certain industries, there is much higher concern about equipment uptime and condition. If a mining truck goes down, for example, it causes severe productivity loss with obvious revenue consequences,” explains Ralph Rio, research director for ARC Advisory Group (www.arcweb.com).

Close to $1 billion in mobile and facility assets is maintained at the Des Moines Metropolitan Wastewater Reclamation Authority (Source: DMMWRA)
Close to $1 billion in mobile and facility assets is maintained at the Des Moines Metropolitan Wastewater Reclamation Authority (Source: DMMWRA)

Close to $1 billion in mobile and facility assets are maintained at the Des Moines Metropolitan Wastewater Reclamation Authority (DMMWRA, www.dmmwra.org), says Reliability Manager Bill Miller. Examples of mobile assets maintained on-site are compressors, process air blowers, mowers, and equipment trailers.

It also has a 160-plus vehicle fleet maintained by the City of Des Moines Fleet Services Division at a central garage downtown. Included are end loaders, tandem dump trucks, over-the-road tractor trailer trucks, crane trucks, service body trucks, paneled vans and Gators, plus three TerraGators used to spread treated biosolids over farm fields, which alone are worth $500,000 each.

When it comes to operating and maintaining mobile assets, MTA New York City Transit is in a league of its own. It moves roughly 2.3 billion riders throughout the city annually. Its revenue service is provided by “rolling stock,” which includes 6,400 subway cars, 5,900 buses, and 2,300 paratransit vehicles. Its non-revenue mobile fleet includes trucks, cars, cranes, cherry pickers, generators, and other mobile equipment. In total, three quarters of a trillion dollars worth of assets are managed.

The transit system operates around the clock, every day of the year. “Our highest priority is to keep our service levels up to meet customer expectations,” says Michael Salvato, asset management program manager for MTA New York City Transit (www.mta.info/nyct). “A big challenge in planning and scheduling maintenance is matching the work to available service bays, labor, and materials,” he explains.

Software drives insight and action

A higher degree of visibility is required to manage assets that are mobile rather than stationary. Software for asset management, condition monitoring, location monitoring, and energy consumption monitoring provide a more complete picture.

Asset management software: DMMWRA matched its asset management software to its business objectives. “We implemented maintenance best practices here a few years back, and we set up and configured our enterprise asset management (EAM) system around those best practices,” says Miller. The EAM solution is sustainability-focused and incorporates reliability-centered maintenance (RCM), condition-based maintenance (CBM), energy consumption monitoring (ECM), facility condition assessments, root cause failure analysis (RCFA), and geographic information systems (GIS). DMMWRA also integrated its EAM, process control system, and data historian, allowing reporting of integrated data.

The maintenance organization is paperless, says Miller. Employees either use a smartphone or iPad to access EAM information or go back to the storeroom or to one of the zero-client computer centers located throughout the site.

“Our storeroom is picture perfect,” says Miller. “All assets and parts are barcoded and have priorities and criticality ratings, and they are broken down by type. The asset parts list shows all quantities in the storeroom and whether we need to order more.”

DMMWRA also has full visibility into the records of assets maintained at the downtown garage. “We pay the garage for parts and service. The garage maintains all records and does an excellent job of maintaining the fleet,” says Miller. “We have access to its software, so we can monitor monthly costs for parts, repairs, and fuel. We can see the work orders, total vehicle cost reports, asset reports by unit, equipment inventory reports, vendor lists — everything that helps us to optimize costs,” he adds. The garage’s reporting tools are used to create efficiency charts and graphs, which help to trend asset performance and maintenance in order to forecast budgets.

The DMMWRA maintenance organization is paperless (Source: DMMWRA)
The DMMWRA maintenance organization is paperless (Source: DMMWRA)

NYC Transit is in the process of upgrading its asset management solution. “We currently use a computerized maintenance management system (CMMS) to manage the maintenance, inspections and warranties of our rolling stock,” says Salvato. “Our inventory is not directly tied to the asset management software, but we are resolving that by moving from the CMMS to an EAM system,” he adds.

“The EAM solution will give us a fuller understanding of the complete asset lifecycle, including the maintenance and capital investment over the lifecycle to optimize the total cost of ownership. It will allow us to meet the needs of higher levels of management and create a line of sight from the maintenance manager to the investment planner to the CFO, for example,” Salvato explains.

Condition and location monitoring software: Condition and location monitoring software applications are separate from, but can be integrated with, asset management solutions. “Condition monitoring software and location monitoring software acquire their data from sensors attached to the mobile assets,” says ARC’s Rio. “In many cases, condition monitoring is integrated with the EAM/CMMS, so when a sensor sees degradation, a flag is raised in the asset management system to notify the planner to create a work order so the asset is fixed before it fails,” he explains.

“So far there has been fairly low adoption of condition and location monitoring of mobile assets, according to our research, but there is huge potential for growth because the technologies are maturing and there are now case examples where success has been achieved,” adds Rio.

Energy consumption monitoring software: For vehicles, energy consumption is a concern. How much fuel has been used? When should the battery be recharged? “There are fuel usage monitoring applications for fleets. To date, I have not seen fuel management integrated with EAM, but this would be good to get a fuller picture of what’s going on with the fleet,” says Rio.

“We have identified over $200,000 in savings since we turned on energy consumption monitoring last year,” says DMMWRA’s Miller. “We have not only saved 20% on our utility bills by running at peak efficiency, but we have extended the average asset lifecycle by 20%,” he adds.

The benefits extend beyond cost savings and reliability. “Because of the innovative, cutting-edge things we do here, we get DOE and grant funding capabilities that other companies can’t take advantage of yet,” explains Miller.

Navigating with supporting technologies

Knowing the whereabouts of your mobile assets is simplified with the right technology. “GPS, of course, is useful for isolating the locations of assets, for fleet and mining equipment especially,” says ARC’s Rio.

Communications decisions depend on individual circumstances. “For instruments that move within a hospital, for example, it is fairly popular to track their location using Wi-Fi,” explains Rio. “With fleets, both location and condition data are needed. Cellular networks may be used to locate the driver and vehicle, and to receive mileage data and any adverse motor conditions,” he adds.

NYC Transit’s location monitoring needs vary by asset category. “We don’t need a GIS for our trains because an automated train supervision and signaling system lets us always know where the train is on the rail circuit. For buses, we are introducing a GIS-based system to track the location and number of passengers,” says Salvato.

GIS is most important for the transit system’s paratransit fleet, which serves people with disabilities on an as-needed basis. “We dispatch 5.7 million unique paratransit trips per year, and each trip must be individually optimized. This fleet uses a fully functional scheduling and dispatch system with integrated GIS,” explains Salvato.

Best practices set the right course

A proactive maintenance strategy and active use of analytics is recommended to maximize asset reliability. “Condition-based maintenance is much more efficient and a better usage of labor and material resources than reactive or preventive maintenance. As a result, condition monitoring reduces maintenance expenses. It also delivers improved metrics, such as higher uptime and better asset longevity,” says ARC’s Rio.

“We are moving toward a higher degree of analytics to do predictive and risk-based maintenance rather than schedule-based maintenance,” says NYC Transit’s Salvato. “Analytics deliver the business intelligence needed to make optimum business decisions about these very expensive, and, in the case of trains, very long-life assets,” he explains.

The transit system’s newest rolling stock has condition monitoring sensors installed, for example. When one of the buses pulls in for fuel, three tasks are performed: it is fueled, all fare revenue and information is retrieved, and on-board diagnostics are performed. “With on-board diagnostics, the equipment can identify its own health and communicate it back to the asset management system,” says Salvato.

DMMWRA, likewise, is actively turning data into business intelligence. Reliability engineers perform facility condition assessments, evaluating each asset based on its performance history and a visual inspection, and its consequences of failure. The results are entered in a spreadsheet that automatically calculates the asset’s risk index rating. If it meets the criteria to be replaced, it is put in the budget.

“Our goal is to get a minimum of 10 years of life or 100,000 miles out of each vehicle,” explains Miller. “When a vehicle with low mileage approaches 10 years, we’ll do a reliability study and look at the maintenance records over its lifespan to see if it still has value. We can increase its life expectancy by 20% if we can get it to last another two years,” he says.

“We developed a ‘quad report,’ which is a dossier that trends each asset’s energy consumption and efficiency over time, its operations and maintenance (O&M) history, its predictive maintenance findings such as oil or vibration analysis, and its condition rating. We’re the only ones doing this that I know of,” says DMMWRA’s Miller.

DMMWRA can report on the cost per hour to run a fleet of peer assets and instantly switch to the most efficient asset. O&M history is used to analyze why one asset runs better than others. Is it using a higher grade of oil? Was a component changed? “If, for example, we can lower our operating costs and increase efficiency by changing to a synthetic oil in all of the 2,000-hp process air blowers, we’ll modify the PM task to include this oil type in all future oil changes across the system,” explains Miller.

Possibilities down the road

Today’s warehouse automation hints at what the future may hold for mobile assets. “In a few years, I expect to see mobile assets becoming more autonomous,” predicts ARC’s Rio. “Some warehouse environments already have mobile robots picking and moving material. It’ll require the convergence of several software and sensing technologies to vastly reduce the price point and technical complexity,” he explains.

With a proximity sensor offering a 3D picture of what’s happening around an asset as it is moving along, giving you more control of the environment, you’ll have the potential to take the movement outside of the building for a wider range of applications, says Rio.

“It’s tough to mine ore autonomously, because it requires the intelligence of the operator, but it’s conceivable that some day a truck could drive itself back to the shop for maintenance, especially in open pit mines or very large yards,” says Rio. “The potential for autonomy is probably higher in industrial sites than on the public roadways,” he acknowledges.

The best route to take now

Sheila Kennedy is a professional freelance writer specializing in industrial and technical topics.Sheila Kennedy is a professional freelance writer specializing in industrial and technical topics. She established Additive Communications in 2003 to serve software, technology, and service providers in industries such as manufacturing and utilities, and became a contributing editor and Technology Toolbox columnist for Plant Services in 2004. Prior to Additive Communications, she had 11 years of experience implementing industrial information systems. Kennedy earned her B.S. at Purdue University and her MBA at the University of Phoenix. She can be reached at sheila@addcomm.com.

There is a consensus that people, processes and software drive reliable, efficient asset performance. “Give the workforce the tools they need to be more active participants in your maintenance practices,” recommends NYC Transit’s Salvato.

“It is important to follow good, effective maintenance practices, both preventive and predictive, with RCFA and ECM,” suggests DMMWRA’s Miller. “Look back at the trends so you know when performance will degrade, and set up work orders to occur in time to keep the assets operating at peak efficiency levels.”

ARC’s Rio encourages using software that offers ready visibility into the physical location and condition of mobile assets. For vehicles, fuel consumption should also be monitored. “There is huge room for improvement in software adoption, especially condition monitoring,” he says.

Rio also recommends choosing mobile asset management solutions that are tailored to your particular situation. “Think through the important benefits, make a rational assessment of payback, and develop a financial justification,” he says. “One should not gloss over the initial justification; it is the leading reason for successful project implementation.”