Removing obstructions to your plant’s workflow streams

Tackle moving plant information strategically across departments and locations.


Process manufacturers, power generators, and other plants have many flows of product moving through the production cycle. They can be chemicals, oil, fuel, or something else. In any case, these products come in the plant in one form and leave in another with a higher value. But along with these product streams, certain information flows are just as important.

A process plant represents a highly complex set of physical components, activities, and interdependent information. Among these items of information, there are three fundamental work streams. Defining these works streams is important as it allows identification and mapping of the information feeding each one, thus allowing effective navigation of each stream. Two work streams are well known, with major systems available to address them:

  •  Maintenance management and work order processing: Fueled by information that helps plan and execute preventive and reactive maintenance activities, this information includes equipment details, tag information, and repair procedures. Information is typically maintained in a computerized maintenance management system (CMMS).
  • Plant operations and process control: These real-time control activities require a vast sea of data delivered by field devices to a plant’s digital control system. Once delivered, the control system uses this information along with plant operator input to command other field devices to support efficient and safe operation.

But there is a third stream that plant personnel use every day, called the plant information asset stream, which is often not recognized, yet it is as important as the other two steams. In many plants, it’s not considered separate from the first two, when it reality is should be to create the most effective plant operating environment.

  • Plant information asset: This third work stream depends on a great deal of supporting information as each activity needs operating information (specifications, drawings, schematics, etc.), management of change documentation, procedures, training materials, and regulatory/licensing documentation. The list could go on, but the common element is it is information, and it has to be accessible somewhere and indexed so someone needing it can find it quickly.

Often information for this third work stream ends up spread across numerous repositories including servers, shared drives, USB sticks, CDs, paper, and all forms of personal computers. In many plants, there is no consistent or current view of data, and thus there are significant hindrances to plant efficiency, safety, and compliance.

This supporting information is not housed in a CMMS or a process control system, but instead needs its own repository, namely a plant document management system.

It’s got to be here somewhere

There are times when plant personnel have to hunt for some information asset such as an old email, a website link, or a product manual. It’s frustrating when this information is needed to execute a task and can’t be found. In the worst case, information needs to be located quickly to deal with an emergency, and its whereabouts are unknown.

Imagine you’ve had a chemical spill in your plant because a worker used an outdated procedure that had not moved through the normal management-of-change (MOC) process. This happened because there was an obstruction in the third stream, causing a failure in your plant’s information asset management systems.

What is the lesson learned over and over again from such situations? Having a consolidated set of easily and quickly accessible electronic information flowing through the third work stream is critical. And this information does not come from the CMMS or process control system, but rather through a document management system.

Death, taxes, and regulations

Let’s look at a routine activity among energy and engineering customers common to many industries governed by regulations. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) MOC process instigates action regarding many sets of information and tasks. For virtually every activity performed in a plant dealing with safety related systems, one needs to propose, document, implement, verify, and update documentation—and then advise personnel in order to adhere to OSHA regulations and maintain a safe work environment.

The requisite information to support the third work stream includes all those different kinds of data and documentation mentioned earlier, but it is often scattered across many places and platforms, paper and digital. Finding something when it is needed most can be a challenge.

A real-life example

Here’s a typical task process plants deal with on a regular basis: a valve is leaking and needs to be replaced. The CMMS alerts the maintenance supervisor to allocate repair time, and a contractor technician is called on-site to implement the repair. It all sounds routine, right?

Unfortunately, the technician has no access to electronic documents detailing the current valve configuration schematic and specification. All he has is an old hard copy of a repair manual. Current schematics for the plant are at a different location, too far away to transport to the work site on time.

Nonetheless, the work gets completed, and the CMMS documents an update was made. The job is done, right? Well, no. These useful and critical bits of procedural information never made it to the other work streams:

  • The newer valve model has a slightly different threshold pressure point than the former valve used in this service.
  • The contractor technician learned, through trial and error, that two undocumented steps are required before the valve can be installed; otherwise, it won’t function properly.
  •  The change was never communicated to plant operators for review and sign-off, and no advisement or training was completed regarding the changed operating procedure, all of which is typically required by OSHA.

Imagine the safety hazard of running an oil refinery with the wrong valve pressure point information, not to mention the potential regulatory fines and subsequent maintenance issues lurking in this scenario.

Plant operators thought they were maintaining the plant. They thought the CMMS was enough to guide their efforts. But it takes knowing what information is flowing through your organization and how it interacts with your critical work streams before safety can be improved.

And to reemphasize an important point, it is critical to have a consolidated set of electronic information flowing through the third work stream to manage the plant information asset, and this is not the CMMS or process control system, but rather a document management system.

<< First < Previous Page 1 Page 2 Next > Last >>

The Top Plant program honors outstanding manufacturing facilities in North America. View the 2015 Top Plant.
The Product of the Year program recognizes products newly released in the manufacturing industries.
Each year, a panel of Control Engineering and Plant Engineering editors and industry expert judges select the System Integrator of the Year Award winners in three categories.
Doubling down on digital manufacturing; Data driving predictive maintenance; Electric motors and generators; Rewarding operational improvement
2017 Lubrication Guide; Software tools; Microgrids and energy strategies; Use robots effectively
Prescriptive maintenance; Hannover Messe 2017 recap; Reduce welding errors
The cloud, mobility, and remote operations; SCADA and contextual mobility; Custom UPS empowering a secure pipeline
Infrastructure for natural gas expansion; Artificial lift methods; Disruptive technology and fugitive gas emissions
Mobility as the means to offshore innovation; Preventing another Deepwater Horizon; ROVs as subsea robots; SCADA and the radio spectrum
Research team developing Tesla coil designs; Implementing wireless process sensing
Commissioning electrical systems; Designing emergency and standby generator systems; Paralleling switchgear generator systems
Natural gas engines; New applications for fuel cells; Large engines become more efficient; Extending boiler life

Annual Salary Survey

Before the calendar turned, 2016 already had the makings of a pivotal year for manufacturing, and for the world.

There were the big events for the year, including the United States as Partner Country at Hannover Messe in April and the 2016 International Manufacturing Technology Show in Chicago in September. There's also the matter of the U.S. presidential elections in November, which promise to shape policy in manufacturing for years to come.

But the year started with global economic turmoil, as a slowdown in Chinese manufacturing triggered a worldwide stock hiccup that sent values plummeting. The continued plunge in world oil prices has resulted in a slowdown in exploration and, by extension, the manufacture of exploration equipment.

Read more: 2015 Salary Survey

Maintenance and reliability tips and best practices from the maintenance and reliability coaches at Allied Reliability Group.
The One Voice for Manufacturing blog reports on federal public policy issues impacting the manufacturing sector. One Voice is a joint effort by the National Tooling and Machining...
The Society for Maintenance and Reliability Professionals an organization devoted...
Join this ongoing discussion of machine guarding topics, including solutions assessments, regulatory compliance, gap analysis...
IMS Research, recently acquired by IHS Inc., is a leading independent supplier of market research and consultancy to the global electronics industry.
Maintenance is not optional in manufacturing. It’s a profit center, driving productivity and uptime while reducing overall repair costs.
The Lachance on CMMS blog is about current maintenance topics. Blogger Paul Lachance is president and chief technology officer for Smartware Group.
The maintenance journey has been a long, slow trek for most manufacturers and has gone from preventive maintenance to predictive maintenance.
Featured articles highlight technologies that enable the Industrial Internet of Things, IIoT-related products and strategies to get data more easily to the user.
This digital report will explore several aspects of how IIoT will transform manufacturing in the coming years.
Maintenance Manager; California Oils Corp.
Associate, Electrical Engineering; Wood Harbinger
Control Systems Engineer; Robert Bosch Corp.
This course focuses on climate analysis, appropriateness of cooling system selection, and combining cooling systems.
This course will help identify and reveal electrical hazards and identify the solutions to implementing and maintaining a safe work environment.
This course explains how maintaining power and communication systems through emergency power-generation systems is critical.
click me