Maintaining physicists' biggest toy

When the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN, www.cern.org) announced it had discovered a particle that was at the very least similar to the Higgs boson particle this past July, the world's population of physicists pricked up their collective ears. In fact, Gordon Kane, accolade-sporting physics guru from the University of Michigan, was lucky to have won his $100 Higgs-boson bet with equally decorated British physicist Stephen Hawking, who apparently doesn't like to lose and isn't very good at Words With Friends, at least that's what I heard on TV.

Hawking long believed the Higgs boson didn’t exist and, in fact, was so gracious in defeat as to lobby for Peter Higgs to win the 2012 Nobel Prize in physics, which he did not of course because nominations are due in February and the time machine Higgs had built was being used by Frederick W. Humphries to go back in time and do a few more ab crunches. Yes, Sheldon, that’s sarcasm.

Barring unforeseen scandal, Higgs should collect the prize in 2013.

Further Higgs boson data is being presented this week at the Hadron Collider Physics Symposium in Kyoto, Japan, and the most disappointing news is that the particle discovered in July is nothing more than a standard-model Higgs boson particle. It always leaves me a bit in awe when physicists turn the world upside-down and then lament that the upside-down world is exactly as models predicted it would be.

Ho hum.

All of this is very interesting and all, but what I find even more so is CERN’s large hadron collider (LHC), which was used to find the Higgs boson. It is the world’s biggest machine. We’re talking really big here. Its circumference is 26,659 m, and it contains more than 9,000 magnets. Here’s the one that always gets me: One-eighth of its cryogenic distribution system would qualify as the largest refrigeration system on the planet. The machine uses 10,080 tonnes of liquid nitrogen to pre-cool the magnets to -193.2 °C before they’re filled with 120 tonnes of liquid helium to get them down to -271.3 °C. And you thought your equipment had some precise operating parameters.

So, how do you manage more than 1 million assets, including 500,000+ accelerator components? With enterprise asset management (EAM) software, of course. Pretty cool, eh?

CERN uses Infor EAM (www.infor.com/solutions/eam) to help with critical traceability, radiation compliance, service level, and preventive maintenance issues. "When your assets are as unique as those at CERN, this demands the highest levels of operational excellence including world-class capabilities for mobile asset management, personnel security access, complex compliance requirements and demands for secure data at all times," says Charles Phillips, Infor CEO. CERN has relationships with around 50 external service providers, which means service agreements that include fixed-fee and performance-obligation contracts, task- or component-based agreements, and actual time-basis contracts. Each equipment item and maintenance task must be traced comprehensively from request to completion.

CERN's infrastructure maintenance activities, including heating and cooling facilities, as well as part of its scientific instrumentation activity, are all managed with Infor EAM, which generates more than 180,000 work orders per year, draws up preventive maintenance tasks, provides stock control functionality and organizes maintenance and inspection schedules.

For scientific instruments, Infor EAM has become the heart of a control system that enables CERN staff to view a complete history breakdown for each item. The software is interfaced with an information technology infrastructure library (ITIL) service desk tool, providing a single point of contact to users, no matter what the maintenance problem is. More than 10,000 input tickets and maintenance orders were catalogued in Infor EAM for the first six months of 2012.

A radioactive material traceability project is in development so equipment that requires closer monitoring can be identified after it’s been removed. Monitoring the accelerators is one of the most critical areas for anticipating and preventing faults, says Pedro Martel, systems engineer at CERN. "We are obliged by radiation protection rules to keep our inventory of radioactive material up-to-date,” he says. “This is required for regular reporting to the Swiss and French radiation protection authorities. Maintenance starts as soon as an event has been generated in Infor EAM. If the solution is not available, maintenance cannot be carried out. Only stored data is considered valid and only data entered into the system can be used for payment."