Management has developed a love/hate relationship with the Internet, albeit mostly love. The greatest fear of senior management is cyber attacks that can bring companies to their knees in terms of ransom, unscheduled shutdowns, wonton destruction, industrial espionage, false readings, loss of control of equipment, malware attacks, and nuisance hacks. But all that has been clearly eclipsed by the myriad of benefits that have contributed to our growing dependence on the Internet. Below are some of the more significant ways asset management continues to benefit by the Internet.
Outsourcing CMMS services via the internet
One of the easiest ways for CMMS vendors to jump into the world of e-commerce and the Internet is to offer subscription-based software available remotely via the cloud or a vendor-based host site. Today, companies are looking to focus on their core competencies for maximum competitive advantage and minimal cost. It is expensive to run your own information technology department and what benefit does it provide? It may be more cost-effective to outsource the data processing function to a company for whom this is their core competency, namely the CMMS vendor or their third-party partner. They have the know-how and the economies of scale to provide the service efficiently and effectively.
Companies that go this route access their data from any location via a private intranet or the Internet. The vendor assumes responsibility for some portion of hardware and software maintenance, upgrades, customization, redundancy, back-ups, business recovery planning, security, and so on.
Despite the obvious benefits, the reasons why more companies have not opted for this approach are deeply rooted in misconception. First of all, management pride and a feeling of loss of control translates into that “we can do it better in-house” feeling. Secondly, there is a strong sense that outsourcing is more expensive, but that is usually because total cost of ownership or lifecycle costs are ignored. Thirdly, security of data is always in question. There is a perception that vendors may misuse their data, for example, selling it as benchmarking data, deliberately or unwittingly using the data to help a competitor, and leaving the data open to industrial espionage. This is exacerbated by a constant stream of news headlines featuring big companies that have fallen victim to some sort of cyberattack, despite previous public assurances that everything will be done to prevent such an occurrence.
Internet-based CMMS inventory, requisitions, approvals, and purchasing modules have automated the time-consuming and error-prone manual and semi-automated systems of the past. The process starts with an electronic purchase requisition approved online for content and dollar amount. Then, for stock items, it automatically becomes a purchase order that is sent via the Internet to the vendor. For non-stock items, buyers can get quotations electronically. Upon notification of goods received, the system creates an electronic invoice for certain key vendors, and payment is initiated. This automates the costly process of matching invoice to receiving documents, to purchase order, to quotation, to purchase requisition.
Remote diagnostics and monitoring
All too often companies take for granted the wealth of information and experience provided by more senior employees. When a top resident mechanic in a given area leaves after 25 or even 5 years, he/she takes with a body of knowledge about the equipment that is difficult to replace. Many companies learn the hard way, the importance of simple human resources management through cross-training, succession planning, redundancy, duplication, mentoring programs, and so on.
One way industry has found to cope with the disappearance of experts is to forever enshrine their knowledge in software. Early experimentation with expert systems, machine learning, and artificial intelligence included attempts by the medical profession to computerize the diagnostic skills of the best and brightest physicians of the world. It was during this and subsequent experimentation that we learned just how remarkable the human brain is when analyzing complex diagnostic problems, such as knowing when and how to cross a busy highway without getting killed.
In the field of maintenance, two sources of knowledge-based diagnostics have emerged, each of which can be available through the Intranet or purchased from a vendor via the Internet. These are described briefly below. Bear in mind that these systems, like a CMMS, are one of several tools available to management. They are not intended to replace the need for proper human resources management.
CMMS-based troubleshooting—Long-time coming for CMMS vendors is the development of a troubleshooting database. This is, in its simplest form, the computerized regurgitation of the troubleshooting documentation buried at the back of the owner’s manual for each piece of equipment. The benefit of computerization is that you can do searches, sorts, and filtering of the data to ease finding a solution to a problem. You can also print the portion of the troubleshooting guide that is relevant to a given job and attach it to the work order.
A more sophisticated approach used by some CMMS vendors is to link diagnostic information with problem, cause or failure codes. Suppose the problem code “flickering light” is selected for a given piece of equipment by the originator of a work request. Stored in a troubleshooting database will be a series of possible approaches depending on the cause of the problem. The flickering may be caused by a faulty ballast, loose wire, spent bulb, or electrical problem at source. The CMMS will draw on the troubleshooting database, keyed on the problem code and associated piece of equipment, to supply a prioritized list of possible causes. As well, procedures to determine the cause are provided
Once the cause is identified, action required to solve the problem and eliminate the cause efficiently and effectively is provided by the software. Thus, for a flickering light caused by a faulty ballast, the database may suggest either the repair or replacement of the ballast depending on various criteria. Analysis of historical problem, cause, and action codes can assist in identifying recurring problems for key equipment.
Just as simply as you can add PM tasks to a CMMS, you can also add troubleshooting data, based on field experience. If the database is regularly updated by the maintainers themselves, their supervisors, and maintenance planners, then much of the knowledge gained on the job is retained long after experienced employees are gone.
When the troubleshooting service is purchased from a vendor, you have a larger pool of information about the equipment from which to draw. For example, an OEM can create a comprehensive troubleshooting database using data from companies with the same equipment across the industry and even across industries. Some software vendors have made this kind of data available for purchase for years (eg, facilities, vehicles).
PdM-based Diagnostics—Predictive maintenance software has two components, data collection and data analysis. There are scores of vendors of the software and hardware used in the collection of data such as vibration, viscosity, and infrared readings. Data is collected automatically using permanent, online metering devices, or using handheld or mobile equipment operated by inhouse or external technicians. Data can also be collected and transmitted to a vendor via the internet.
Data is then dumped into diagnostic software for analysis. There are only a handful of vendors of these expert systems. Trends are plotted by the software showing the extent and type of deterioration. Analysis algorithms and sometimes artificial intelligence can assist in making sense out of the complexity and shear volume of data collected, by determining the possible causes of deterioration and suggesting a strategy for dealing with the problem.
Some CMMS vendors have experimented with integrating their software with the data collection and diagnostic components of predictive maintenance packages, in order to generate preventive maintenance work orders. Because the analysis software is so specialized and data so voluminous, very few CMMS vendors have built a successful interface let alone written their own predictive maintenance module. Examples of specialized PdM software include pipeline integrity software for the oil and gas industry, and infrastructure management software such as for pavement, bridge, buildings, etc.
This story originally appeared in the May 2022 issue of Plant Services. Subscribe to Plant Services here.
This article is part of our monthly Asset Manager column. Read more from David Berger.