What impact is the cloud having on asset management and condition-based maintenance?

Cloud-based technologies are connecting plants, people, and machine data in new ways – but is the cloud right for you?

By Thomas Wilk, Editor in Chief

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Remote access and expertise

When it comes to cloud-based maintenance tools, one of the common barriers to entry for organizations is having the in-house expertise to do something with the data once it's in the cloud. For example, says Emerson's Boudreaux, "If you're doing statistical analysis of a variety of different forms, where a lot of it isn't new, you may be using existing methods applied to a new domain. Reliability experts often don't have the skills to do that kind of statistical analysis. In general it requires a high level of expertise, and that's not always scalable at the facility level."

Ironically, one of the emerging benefits attributed to the cloud for both asset management and CBM is the ability to tap into a much wider pool of experts and technicians.

"CMMS hasn’t changed a great deal over the years simply based on features and functionality," says Smartware's Lachance. "What has changed is the ability to reach many more people through the cloud. Today more technicians can easily add/edit work orders, look up histories, and other commonplace activities – from anywhere in the world. Organizations have the opportunity to utilize an enterprise-wide approach and stop treating each facility as an island."

Lachance adds that this change for the better also includes reporting and analysis. "Not too long ago, you needed a complex system with time and labor-intensive deployment to have comparative data for 3-5 plants.  You no longer need to do this. Modern development platforms, metrics, reporting, KPIs, and other analysis/reporting tools make achieving high-quality standards a much easier and more attainable goal - even in a cloud/browser platform."

Cloud solutions also can drive safety benefits by making it easier for a safety or compliance officer to quickly review and disseminate information to other team members. "Safety is a priority for most organizations," says Lachance. "Modern CMMS is assisting with integrated Occupational Safety & Health (OSH) solutions to maintain and track safety and inspection programs. At the end of the day, modern CMMS is making compliance easier and more reliable."

On the level of using the cloud for predictive maintenance, most agreed that cloud-based programs will drive increased collaboration across the board. Siemens' Brucherseifer says, "I see this not as much as bringing in new skill-sets as more of a better use of existing skill sets. With data being centrally collected they are globally available to every expert within the customer's company. This means that an expert at one location can provide more value to the company by being able to consult to other facilities as well. This eliminates the company's need to have an expert for everything at every location, and the expertise available throughout all facilities can now be evenly shared."

"In the past you may have had an expert in your plant, but now imagine that expert has retired," says Fluke's Bernet. "Now you have a technician doing that job, and the consultant is the only alternative. With cloud-based systems, the technician – especially with the smarter tools and smarter technologies available – does not have to be the expert to take the measurements and do the analysis. If they run into a problem, sending that information over the cloud is a perfect way to troubleshoot (Figure 2). You have fewer experts or consultants, and they're spread all over the country."

Schneider's Carlson sees benefits from the security side as well, especially when it comes to industrial networks. "A lot of times what I find is that engineers are not trained from an industrial automation perspective to understand cyber security, to understand the threat. They're trained from an HMI perspective and from a process safety perspective to understand when this bar gets this high, or when this number reaches this threshold, lights flash and things blink. If the people are not adequately trained, or the organization does not have the time or funding to train those individuals, then the next best option comes to the cloud, or the managed service, where you have somebody at a generalized security operations center receiving those data feeds from the plant, from the systems, from the cyber security components within that organization, and then is able to report on unauthorized or suspicious activity."

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