Collaborative operations and maintenance

Aug. 28, 2013
How synchronized systems and processes deliver operations and maintenance benefits.

The operations and maintenance (O&M) organizations in industrial plants and utilities are under great pressure to deliver sustained, high-quality production in spite of an aging labor force, an influx of complex technologies, evolving regulations and best practices, strict operational commitments, and cost containment pressure from the C-suite. Their day-to-day decisions and actions directly influence the plant’s results and reputation.

These two organizations have a greater impact on the bottom line than any other departments. There is too much at stake for them to continually operate in silos. (Source: ARC Advisory Group)

 “These two organizations have a greater impact on the bottom line than any other departments,” says Paula Hollywood, senior analyst at ARC Advisory Group ( “There is too much at stake for them to continually operate in silos. They need to work hand in glove.” Sharing information from applications that are in each other’s domain provides the insight necessary for decision-making for the betterment of the entire organization, says Hollywood.

APM solutions provide a broader recognition of operational risks and liabilities, and the interdependencies in O&M activities. (Source: ARC Advisory Group)

 Industrial plants that have taken steps to synchronize operations and maintenance are seeing benefits from their knowledge-sharing processes and technologies. MOL Group’s Danube Refinery in Hungary, the largest oil refinery in the group, adopted reliability-driven asset management practices and systems that enable close O&M interaction. Constellation Energy Nuclear Group (CENG), which operates three nuclear power plants in New York and Maryland, designed and implemented collaborative practices that follow industry standards and ensure regulatory compliance.

Bridge information islands

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 [email protected].
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“When people have access to the same information, in the right context, they collaborate more effectively,” says ARC’s Hollywood. She encourages organizations to adopt an asset performance management (APM) framework for sharing asset information because neglect in this area puts organizations at risk of operational, safety, and compliance violations, as well as cross-functional conflict.

APM systems align O&M with organizational goals. “They provide a broader recognition of operational risks and liabilities, and the interdependencies in O&M activities,” says Hollywood. “Sharing information across all APM stakeholders, whether internal or external to the organization, allows you to better manage issues that constrain performance and avoid the potential costs of non-compliance with new government regulations.”

Enterprise asset management (EAM/CMMS) systems are designed for manipulating data and may be used as an effective information repository for APM data, adds Hollywood. The systems are also important for their planning and scheduling capabilities. “Planning and scheduling work makes it more effective and efficient, and it’s what sets an APM program apart,” she says. “You can do it in a proactive mode instead of a reactive mode.”


Other applications falling under the APM umbrella include plant asset management (PAM), preventive maintenance (PM), predictive maintenance (PdM), operator-driven reliability (ODR), field service management (FSM), mobility, reliability, environmental health and safety (EH&S), sustainability, and many others. “Leveraging the rich information in each of the solutions individually can improve the effectiveness of all of them,” says Hollywood.

A complete APM team extends beyond the obvious engineering, scheduling, and planning functions of O&M. “Participation by a C-level executive, preferably a chief reliability officer, is recommended to maintain focus on corporate objectives, as well as to resolve conflict should that become necessary,” says Hollywood. “IT should be involved from an information management perspective. Risk managers who are trained to evaluate the effect of uncertainty on objectives and how to mitigate risk should not be overlooked.”

Refinery aligns people and technologies

MOL Group’s Danube Refinery in Hungary adopted reliability-driven asset management practices and systems that enable close O&M interaction. (Source: MOL Danube Refinery)

MOL’s maintenance and operations teams align their interaction through personal and electronic means. “Every day we have a morning meeting to prioritize, select, and plan the maintenance notifications appearing in our asset management system and turn them into work orders. All people involved in the notification risk assessment process need to be in the morning meeting. No notification can be executed without assessment,” says Gábor Bereznai, head of control and electrical engineering at MOL Danube Refinery (

“The persons closest to the equipment are the most appropriate ones to make the decisions. There are unit leaders, operations supervisors, maintenance experts, and planners in attendance, and the meetings range from 20 to 50 minutes in length depending on the number of notifications we have,” says Bereznai.

The information in a smart device is like a window into the equipment and process. (Source: MOL Danube Refinery)

“It takes a lot of education and coordination to make this work. In some cases, it might be very difficult to convince a person that something can be done,” explains Bereznai. “It is necessary to get the team’s full support and agreement at the area level in order to get the full benefit of the enhancements.”

The refinery also relies on electronic enablers to synchronize O&M. For example, it performs control valve and instrumentation diagnostics of its field instruments using distributed control systems and wireless communications, and it monitors vibration, lubrication, and thermography data for rotating machines and corrosion data for static equipment. “The information in a smart device is like a window into the equipment and process,” says Bereznai

“With the growing number of threats, pressures, needs, and demands, we asked ourselves, ‘Do we really want to run around to escape the challenges, or do we want to strive to soberly interpret these internal and external requirements as guidelines to determine the path that we want to pave and follow?’ We voted for the second scenario and decided to fully exploit our existing technologies such as HART for wireless communications,” explains Bereznai.

Nuclear plant operator uses standards-based procedures

Constellation Energy Nuclear Group, which operates three nuclear power plants in New York and Maryland, designed and implemented collaborative practices that follow industry standards and ensure regulatory compliance. (Source: Constellation Energy Nuclear Group)

CENG developed its approach based on AP-928, Work Management Process Description from the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations (INPO), according to Bob Scampton, fleet operations general supervisor at Constellation Energy Nuclear Group (

“Urgent work is communicated directly to the work week manager. Plant issues that require priority maintenance due to a significant technical or operational challenge have an issue response team assembled to understand and develop resolution plans. The functional areas represented on the issue response team normally consist of representatives from operations, maintenance, engineering, and integrated work management,” says Scampton.


Emergent issues are identified using a corrective action program. Equipment that is degrading or failed during the shift is entered into the system. “For conditions that require immediate action, operations is notified, as well as our work week manager, who will become the single point of contact and coordinate all of the crafts to start work as soon as possible. If the issue does not require immediate attention, it will be evaluated by our Condition Report Screening Committee, categorized, and added at the appropriate time in the schedule,” explains Scampton.

Data in the shift operations management system taken by operators during rounds as well as plant process computer data are available to the system engineers. (Source: Constellation Energy Nuclear Group)

Work scheduling is based on priority. “Scheduling for our work weeks starts 26 weeks prior to the actual working week. T-week meetings are used when work is required but must be scheduled sooner than the T-26 timeframe, such as T-16 or T-10,” says Scampton.

“We have multiple meetings during the T-week process to develop work schedules. The crafts represented include operations, engineering, on-line scheduling, planning, maintenance, projects, radiation protection, and more. The individuals in attendance vary based on the T-week being scheduled,” adds Scampton. “Priorities are established based on input from the crafts who consider items such as personal or nuclear safety, entry into a limiting condition of operation (LCO), plant risk, and operator workarounds or burdens.”

Collaboration tools abound

Example collaboration enablers include integrated software and technology, reports and electronic dashboards, analytics, and sit-down meetings. According to ARC’s Hollywood, the overriding goal is to improve asset availability and utilization within the collective operational constraints of an organization. For a utility, this includes risk, efficiency, costs, quality, safety, security, carbon footprint, energy consumption, and toxic releases. “What’s really required are tools to better manage the risks,” she says.

“Visualization tools are all very helpful, but there must be a single version of the truth on which to base all of this information, and most of the time that’s coming from devices on the plant floor that relay equipment condition and performance data,” explains Hollywood.

MOL’s smart instrumentation and equipment condition data is integrated with its CMMS system. “Integrating the subsystems gives more people, including the unit leaders, fresh information about the state of the field assets, and it provides early warning of condition degradation in order to reduce the risk of failure,” says Bereznai. “The intelligent field signals trigger notifications in the CMMS, which are discussed at the morning meeting. The less important events are filtered out automatically, and our PAM systems send just the high-priority alerts to the CMMS for decision-making,” he adds.

CENG likewise relies on centralization. “Data in the shift operations management system taken by operators during rounds, as well as plant process computer data, are available to the system engineers,” says Scampton. “This information can be placed on a graph and trended, and the engineers can monitor performance over a specified period of time. If the parameter data is outside its limit, an alarm is generated. This alarm is available to the operators taking the shift watch data as well as from the plant process computer screen,” he adds.

Face-to-face meetings, key performance indicators, and reports further promote collaboration. “Operations will generate a condition report when service or modifications are needed, asset degradation is suspected, or a failure occurs. The priority of the condition report will be determined during its committee review,” says Scampton.

“Information needs to be presented to the individual in the context of the role,” says Hollywood. Deploying smart, role-centric information portals for maintenance, operations, reliability, and engineering can provide timely display of pertinent information without hindering core work processes.

“Presenting the opportunity costs in monetary terms or in time or units, and providing other measures such as overall equipment effectiveness (OEE), gives workers a sense of criticality for the issues and empowers them to act. When results are presented in a common measure that has the same meaning throughout the organization, it helps to resolve conflicting priorities,” explains Hollywood.

APM solutions that plot actual utilization to actual availability can help to identify constrained asset resources. They may also provide the evidence necessary to gain approval for capital investment to increase asset availability in order to meet a rising utilization forecast, according to Hollywood.


Practical application nets positive results

Tips for O&M alignment

From Robert Scampton, Constellation Energy Nuclear Group:

  • Over-communicate with each other.
  • Have a strong preventive maintenance program to minimize equipment downtime. All groups, not just maintenance, can support the equipment.
  • Take ownership of your responsibilities, especially safety. 
  • You control the plant. Don’t let it control you.
  • Find the error. Don’t let it find you.

From Gábor Bereznai, MOL Danube Refinery:

  • Use a condition monitoring system for O&M and improve upon it continuously.
  • Implement control valve diagnostics because, in most cases, it is the low-hanging fruit.
  • Take risks with new field instrumentation technologies and processes (first in a small scale or as a pilot).
  • Think more in terms of processes, not just in tools and assets.
  • Create standards for your investments and be consistent in their implementation.

From Paula Hollywood, ARC Advisory Group:

  • Be of the mindset that people want to do a good job.
  • Looking at the whole picture can cause analysis paralysis. Start with low-hanging fruit, chunk it, and show some success. Success becomes infectious. 
  • Provide the infrastructure to facilitate APM for information sharing and conflict resolution.
  • Develop role-centric information portals with a common presentation format and standardized information architecture.
  • Avoid focusing on maintenance or operations alone, because it will give you an incomplete view of performance. 
  • Reduce O&M costs, hazards, and risks by incorporating EH&S and sustainability-conscious strategies.

“Our reliability-driven asset management approach provides timely insight into the technical condition of equipment and a systemized framework for arranging daily work,” says MOL’s Bereznai. “As a result, maintenance is more predictive and the risk of emergency shutdowns is reduced. In our case, the implementation of an integrated, HART-based system paid back in about two years.”

MOL can carefully select the control valves that really need attention during a turnaround, which allows them to significantly reduce the scope and duration of turnarounds. “The savings achievable ranges from $20,000 to $70,000 for one turnaround. At the same time, we are maintaining the desired safety and environment protection level, and avoiding production losses from bad-actor control valves,” adds Bereznai.

CENG’s current generation of asset management software promotes collaboration through automation. “When I first started in the nuclear industry, all of the permits to support the work were on paper and they were usually thrown away following completion. The schedule was a high-level list of items to complete that week, and we had to re-invent the wheel every time we did work,” says Scampton.

“Now, we have an EAM system. Maintenance work planners write the details into the work management module, schedulers enter the work into the scheduling software, and operators develop the clearance boundaries to support the work. They all communicate together and have ties to each other. What a time saver it is,” explains Scampton. “You can review the work, how it was protected, prerequisites, risk evaluations, you name it. And, you can copy a work order, use what was already completed and build from it, or change it as necessary.”

Collaboration provides operational as well as safety benefits. “Operators develop the clearance boundary for the work, but maintenance should own their safety for the conditions set up by the clearance to perform their task,” says Scampton. “Maintenance planners should flood the work description and instructions with information, because it helps the operators to know which systems and interfaces need to be blocked to provide the necessary protection. No clearance writer ever wants to make a mistake.”

Sound advice

Synchronizing business systems and processes provides O&M specifically, and the plant as a whole, with untold opportunities for improvement. Industry professionals who are embracing this trend offer the following closing thoughts.

“Stand-alone solutions are a good starting point, but they may be insufficient to meet the objectives of an organization,” says ARC’s Hollywood. “To be successful, organizations have to provide an effective infrastructure for all of the applications to work together and share information.”

“The best alignment between operations and maintenance is achieved when the two organizations understand each others’ needs, be it through cross-training or intensive communication,” suggests CENG’s Scampton. “The communication between operations and maintenance needs to be open and honest.”

“Implement a maintenance strategy with buy-in from every related department and from every level in the hierarchy,” recommends MOL’s Bereznai.