Your machines are talking to you. Do you always understand what they are saying?

As equipment gets more complex, plant teams are increasingly turning to OEMs and their analytics partners to understand and manage machine performance.

By Thomas Wilk, Editor in Chief

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The Plant Services 2015 Disruptive Technology series offers a quarterly look at technology innovations that are generating rapid changes in how plant managers and engineers approach their jobs. The series continues this month by investigating ways that OEM-enabled condition monitoring is starting to impact wider machinery health programs and how remote monitoring programs are changing the relationship between OEMs and plant maintenance and reliability teams.

Your machines are talking to you. Do you always understand what they are saying? Who outside your plant would you allow to listen in and help translate?

Remote condition monitoring (CM) technologies enable effective, efficient predictive maintenance (PdM), and some of the most effective PdM programs draw these CM data from a wide variety of assets into the cloud for analysis. These programs can help drive real-time visibility into machine performance at both the asset level and at a higher, plantwide level. However, as systems and machines get increasingly complex, the skill sets required to understand machine performance data also increase in complexity, and gaps can easily emerge between the volume of available machine data and the number of skilled plant workers who have the time and ability to understand and act on it.

OEMs are starting to address this gap by offering remote monitoring services for a wider range of plant assets than they have traditionally concerned themselves with. Often, they're partnering with analytics firms to provide maintenance teams with information about the health of their assets.

"OEM-enabled condition monitoring is in its infancy," says Burt Hurlock, CEO of Azima DLI (www.azimadli.com). "It’s far too early to predict how it will disrupt or change the roles and responsibilities of plant personnel in the long run, but we can already see patterns emerging. Much depends on the OEM’s strategic ambitions – it’s the difference between staying in the capital equipment business and expanding into information and diagnostic services, which requires a full complement of new skills and capabilities."

Much also depends on plants' willingness to share their data or at least to invest in maintenance as a service (MaaS) offerings. In Plant Services' 2014 survey on PdM implementation, only 15% of respondents said that they shared data from their PdM systems more than once per quarter with third parties via remote monitoring technologies, and 71% said they had no plans ever to share these data with an OEM supplier (Figure 1). Furthermore, although 20% of respondents indicated that they were using some form of embedded PdM intelligence from equipment suppliers, more than double that share said they had no plans to deploy this sort of technology (45%).

Plants soon may not have much of a choice in whether to move in this direction, as OEMs may expand into remote monitoring and diagnostics (RM&D) as a practical necessity. For OEMs, it's a matter of either helping fill voids of expertise at the plant level or risking a significant break in business continuity.

Chet Namboodri, global lead for the manufacturing industry at Cisco (www.cisco.com), describes this new facet of the OEM-end-user relationship: "No doubt there’s a return on investment (ROI) for OEMs who invest in RM&D/MaaS capabilities, along with the ROI for end users, who really no longer have the expertise to work the maintenance and reliability of more and more complex equipment."

For this story, the third in our disruptive technology series, Plant Services asked several industry professionals: How quickly are OEMs and plant managers redrawing their traditional business boundaries to take advantage of these condition monitoring trends? What options do plants have to engage with OEMs and their partners?

Moving beyond heavy industry

To get a handle on where OEM-based condition monitoring is going, it helps to know where it has been. Glenn Gardner, business development manager at Fluke (www.fluke.com), suggests that this current trend has its roots in the Internet of Things (IoT) movement.

"What’s great is that in the industrial space, something resembling IoT has actually been happening for more than a decade now," says Gardner. "The OEMs of much larger equipment – for example the main turbine at a power plant or the main compressor at a refinery – those OEMs have been setting up what they call a contractual services agreement (or CSA) for maintenance and repair on those assets over their typical lifetime. A lot of the times, when they set up that CSA, they’re also collecting real-time data and streaming that data to some type of centralized monitoring hub, where they have a lot of expertise on the design and operation of that particular asset type."

This approach took hold first primarily in the heavier industries, such as power generation, oil and gas, and mining, and it was applied specifically to the highest-value assets, such as turbines, compressors, and incinerators.

For example, explains Gardner, "A main turbine OEM could be able to stream data via the Internet about its main turbines, their thermodynamic efficiencies, vibrations, whatever else they’re collecting. They can stream that to their own headquarters and then know what their entire fleet of products is doing. That’s typically a part of that CSA, and that’s been a pretty standard practice for the really expensive high-end equipment. If you’re a big plant, you only have one of those assets, so it's tough to develop a whole lot of expertise in it, unless you want to be an OEM, which means you have exposure to hundreds of thousands of those assets rather than the one when you’re a power plant."

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