Remote diagnostics improve safety and efficiency

April 12, 2005
Remote diagnostics can assist you in picking up some efficiency in your plant. Read Contributing Editor Sheila Kennedy's piece on this innovation.

Instrumentation and control devices that you can monitor and configure remotely can produce substantial efficiencies in labor, operations and finance. Rather than physically transporting oneself to an instrument, the technician can perform system diagnostics by punching buttons on a keypad or keyboard from the safety of a control room or maintenance shop.

“At a time when two-thirds of trips to the field by maintenance personnel result in no corrective action and nearly one-third of dollars spent on maintenance is wasted, companies clearly need better tools and procedures,” says Rustin Ekness, director of AMS Suite marketing and sales for Emerson Process Management.

Practical innovation: Monitoring and controlling from a remote workstation virtually eliminates the need to travel to isolated or geographically dispersed devices. It’s also ideal for hard-to-access field instruments and devices located in hazardous environments.

An increasing number of tasks can be conducted from a distance. Not only can technicians view an instrument’s status, but some field devices can be adjusted, configured, tested and calibrated from a distance. Any changes made to a device are documented automatically, saving time and increasing accuracy. Online access to historical asset or device information improves decision-making.

Productivity improvements: Less time is required to complete a job when remote access is available. For example, rather than sending teams of technicians to collect temperature, vibration or measurement data, these process variables arrive at a central location all by themselves. Polling times are reduced from hours to just seconds. Emergency response can be immediate, and failures can be prevented without delay. On-call technicians can even troubleshoot and adjust instruments from home.

When indications point to the need for on-site maintenance, corrective action can be planned and scheduled carefully to make the most of the trip. Technicians with the right skills, parts and tools can be dispatched during a scheduled outage or planned downtime, and complete the task in a single visit.

Operational efficiencies: Not only can the physical effort of data gathering be substantially reduced, but accuracy will be higher. Minimizing the need to keystroke data reduces the possibility of human error. Remote diagnostic technologies can help plants transition from a preventive maintenance approach to a more predictive, need-driven model based on the actual condition of the device. For example, a transmitter can be corrected before it drifts too far out of calibration, or an alarm can warn of an impending machine failure in time to prevent an outage. Technicians can focus on more essential, value-added tasks rather than time-consuming, systematic assessments. The result is improved productivity, reduced downtime and extended run times.

Financial benefits: Labor and operational savings translate directly into bottom-line enhancement through reduced maintenance costs and increased plant revenues. Actual benefits depend on the where and how well the application is implemented. Remote diagnostics can be used at startup and commissioning, or for valve diagnostics, turnaround planning, loop testing, ongoing calibrations or wide-scale predictive maintenance.

To help companies forecast potential savings, Emerson developed the AMS Work Process Calculator. Available from the company’s Web site, this spreadsheet compares your hourly rates and typical labor hours against Emerson’s AMS Device Manager cost to calculate potential productivity improvement. According to Ekness, the operational benefits of using tools such as AMS Device Manager provide even more payback from effective use of remote diagnostics. The AMS calculator is an accompaniment to the AMS Work Process Guide, which further explains the savings potential and provides customer examples, such as the following:

  • “An average savings of $200 per field device was reported for the installation and commissioning of about 70 instruments.”
  • “By being able to automate our calibration procedures, we are now able to reduce our calibration time by one hour per device. We typically calibrate about 8,000 devices per year, which represents an annual savings of $264,000.”
  • “Summarizing the last three turnarounds, valve maintenance costs have decreased $100,000 per turnaround by using valve diagnostic technology.”

Progressive technology: Better reliability in wireless technology is accelerating the proliferation of remote diagnostics. Wireless applications slash device installation costs by eliminating the need for cable and conduit. Emerging wireless communication standards such as ZigBee are likely to drive further innovation in remote monitoring and control applications.

For more information, see:

Contact Contributing Editor Sheila Kennedy, managing director of Additive Communications, at [email protected].

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