What are the challenges and solutions in asset management?

These are many asset management strategies, and learning from the challenges may be one of the best ways to implement a cutting-edge solution.

By Plant Engineering June 14, 2023
Courtesy: Llumin

Asset management insights

  • Asset management programs need to be proactive, not reactive.
  • By using continuous improvement methods, asset management challenges can be overcome and the process and be improved.


Courtesy: CFE Media and Technology

Courtesy: CFE Media and Technology

  • Andreas Eschbach, CEO and founder, eschbach, Boston
  • Ed Garibian, CEO, LLumin, Springfield, Mass.
  • Paul Lachance, industrial operations technology evangelist, On behalf of Brightly Software, Cary, N.C.
  • Danielle Newsome, global product specialist, repair and inventory services, Rockwell Automation, Sarasota, Fla.

Tell us about a recent asset management project you’ve worked on that’s innovative, large-scale or otherwise noteworthy.

Danielle Newsome: We recently undertook a project to modernize PM services performed on the existing industrial drives of the customer. The underlying technology we used to enable this was proprietary CMMS. The platform is a cloud-based software and supports mobile devices in the field. Using this CMMS solution allowed us to digitize the maintenance tasks and be consistent and repeatable with execution and reporting. The software as a service (SaaS) deployment allowed for easy global implementation of the solution. Developing the solution involved the following roles: global product manager, senior project engineer, project engineer, field service product manager, as well as technical support team members serving as the subject-matter experts for the CMMS tool.

Andreas Eschbach: A deployment of a global manufacturing company to track the production performance of assets at multiple sites in the Americas, EMEA, Asia and Australia. Another customer who was able to get 10% better productivity (in an industry where 1% is amazing). Business unit management is not able to match asset effectiveness with investment and operations management can get visibility of problems tied to production across asset classes.

Paul Lachance: I continue to hear common themes across numerous projects around the difficulties of replacing skilled maintenance and operations professionals once they leave the workforce. During two recent projects, both of which were industrial organizations, the teams lamented that they are down significant full-time equivalents to perform basic PM, reverting them back to a corrective-maintenance environment. This issue is wiping out the historical gains made toward a better PM ratio. In both projects, we leveraged various sensors to act as the eyes and ears when people couldn’t be there. This is especially critical when dealing with harder to reach and remote assets that take quite a bit of time just to get to. Sensors that monitor the condition of these critical assets will alert when maintenance is needed, so when there’s not enough people available to do the work, facilities professionals can still intelligently remedy the most appropriate situations.

When considering your most effective asset management strategies, what are the advantages?

Andreas Eschbach: Making asset management a shared responsibility across the organization by providing the bottom-line production performance of the asset, measuring and downtime and losses and giving a real time view of its performance.

Paul Lachance: It all starts with continuous-improvement mindset and culture. Today’s asset management professionals must adopt a culture that embraces modern Industry 4.0 technologies. The old-guard has tremendous experience, which is valuable and revered, but that experience must blend into a modern operational strategy that embraces IoT, AI/ML and other Industry 4.0 tools. The younger, next generation professionals will demand this. Further, nontechnical best practices such as 5S, 6-Sigma, Gemba Walks and Total Productive Maintenance can really help. Technology compliments solid processes. The key will be to create a better operating environment and then automate.

Danielle Newsome: Incorporating a holistic approach to asset management and focusing on five key areas will transform your plant into a high-performing organization:

  • Repair management: Reduce maintenance, repair and operations (MRO) spend with an effective repair plan that will reduce costs and improve reliability.

  • Inventory management: Reduce inventory costs with proper inventory management that will increase uptime, decrease inventory obsolescence and enable access to critical spares.

  • Storeroom management: Reduce MRO costs and improve processes and maximize productivity by improving stores performance.

  • Identifying and reducing risk: Reduce unplanned downtime by identifying, supporting and planning to modernize aging assets. It is important to understand the asset life cycle and as parts become obsolete to have a plan to either modernize aging assets or ensure inventory and repair needs can be met if not modernizing.

  • Reliability practices: Improve throughput by leveraging data to optimize maintenance processes and systems.

What percentage of your team is focused on asset management? What percentage of your entire operation is focused on asset management? How will this change in the next 12 months?

Paul Lachance: Rather than focus on ERP I feel that this new asset management generation has a variety of fit-for-purpose tools like EAM, quality management, product life cycle management, manufacturing execution systems and asset performance management — all of which are aided by Industry 4.0 tools (IoT, AI/ML, etc.). ERP still serves a purpose, but it’s often more about financial management and less about plant floor operations. Cloud-based platform solutions with fit-for-purpose capabilities will not only keep information flowing to all appropriate parties, but will produce the best results.

Describe how you use enterprise resource planning (ERP) and other systems to provide better data and information flow throughout the company.

Ed Garibian: A solution built on the foundation of interoperability and information exchange will ensure a better data and information flow throughout the company. And two-way data integration with ERP platforms to CMMS is important. Such an integration will equip asset management personnel with a streamlined user experience of a tool built for maintenance operations, while providing the finance and accounting department a level of control and transaction logging that they require for compliance and reporting.

Paul Lachance: We have already discussed the obvious challenges of a skilled labor shortage combined with other uncontrollable headwinds, like inflation and supply chain issues. After working with numerous manufacturing and industrial organizations, I find that everyone remains hopeful that the supply chain has started to return to normal or we will eventually have lots of good candidates to hire. Rather than hoping for the best, it’s better to future proof your operations by working through current challenges and preparing for the next ones. If you can create an operational environment that is efficiently focused and aided by these amazing Industry 4.0 tools, your organization will be able to weather future storms.

Danielle Newsome: A comprehensive ERP system would encompass five key components:

  • Asset tracking: Track location, usage status and maintenance history of an asset to optimize use and reduce downtime.

  • Maintenance management: The ability to schedule and manage PM tasks, reducing the risk of failures/breakdowns.

  • Procurement management: Can help manage the entire procurement process for assets

  • Financial management: Track the financial performance of assets, including depreciation, amortization and ROI. This helps organizations make informed decisions about asset investments and divestments.

  • Reporting and analytics: Report generation and analytics related to asset performance, maintenance costs and other key metrics can assist organizations to identify areas for improvement and optimize their asset management strategies.

ERP systems can allow organizations to optimize their asset use, reduce costs and improve their overall asset management strategies.

What are some of the key challenges for improving asset management at your facility?

Paul Lachance: COVID-19 taught us many things, both good and bad. The first is that cloud-based software with mobile capabilities and tools are essential. Next, we now know that we can never take the supply chain for granted. Intelligent supply chain management, aided by software, is essential. And finally, we learned to think differently and shed our old-school operational mentality. Using technology to better manage our assets is not only smart, but there is a great ROI.

Danielle Newsome: Skilled workforce shortages continue to impact manufacturing facilities, who struggle with the ability to allocate the resources needed to improve their asset management practices. You have the data, now what do you do with it? Lack of resources or bandwidth to review and use that data to make informed decisions is a challenge for many.

Quality data and access to the data can also hinder the ability to support effective asset management. Organizations can lack effective technology and system integration making it difficult to evaluate several tasks related to asset management, such as storeroom/inventory management, repair history and life cycle management.

Llumin asset management and predictive maintenance computerized maintenance management system software example. Courtesy: Llumin

Llumin asset management and predictive maintenance computerized maintenance management system software example. Courtesy: Llumin

Did COVID-19 accelerate implementation of an asset management plan and if so, how?

Paul Lachance: IoT or a fancy way of saying sensors, is becoming table stakes. There are numerous methods for deploying sensors or harnessing available supervisory control and data acquisition, building automation system, programmable logic controllers and other sources of data from the plant floor/facilities. Assets that can tell you when they need maintenance is making predictive maintenance easier than ever. Combine that with AI/ML and you get even more intelligent predictive maintenance. The holy-grail — and not as far off as some might think — is the concept of prescriptive maintenance. This promising technology doesn’t only tell you what is going to fail, but it suggests specific adjustments to your operations to prevent the issue from happening in the first place. Beyond these, there are numerous promising technologies on the near horizon including assisted or augmented reality, 3D printing (imagine printing the spare parts you need? Say goodbye to supply chain challenges!) and others.

Danielle Newsome: COVID-19 accelerated the need for remote asset management and adoption of digital technologies. In addition, there has been increased attention on supply chain management as downstream effects from COVID-19. Implementing a more effective asset management plan that includes repair and inventory management has proven to help mitigate the effects of supply chain issues.

What new or advanced technologies do you plan to implement at your facility?

Paul Lachance: Always starts with the culture. You cannot cram Industry 4.0 technology down anyone’s throat by screaming “it’s the future, get on board!” You first need to show the amazing benefits and abilities that this technology has to offer. Ease into it and get everyone on board — from management to the shop-floor team. Once the entire team understands the value of asset management aided by Industry 4.0 technology, digital transformation will come easier and the return on investment will come faster.

Danielle Newsome: Implementing a comprehensive CMMS using advanced technology can provide numerous benefits. While each component below provides their own benefits, an organization would vastly improve operational efficiency using a CMMS that adopts all the following:

  • Remote access: By providing remote access to the CMMS, technicians and maintenance staff can access work orders, view asset information and update asset data in real time from anywhere. This can improve maintenance efficiency and reduce downtime.

  • Integration with IoT: By integrating the CMMS with IoT sensors and devices, maintenance staff can receive real-time alerts and notifications when assets require attention. This can help prevent equipment failure and reduce maintenance costs.

  • Predictive maintenance: By using advanced analytics and machine learning, a CMMS can be used to predict when maintenance is required on assets. This can help maintenance staff proactively address issues before they cause equipment failure.

  • Data visualization: By using data visualization tools, a CMMS can help maintenance staff understand asset performance and identify trends or patterns. This can help optimize maintenance schedules and improve overall asset efficiency.

  • Cloud-based deployment: By deploying the CMMS in the cloud, maintenance staff can access the system from anywhere and collaborate on maintenance tasks in real time. This can improve maintenance efficiency and reduce downtime.

What tips would you offer to someone newly tasked with asset management duties?

Ed Garibian: Work in stages, starting with assets or the infrastructure that would deliver the most impact high output to operations. Build a proactive maintenance strategy around those, based on the type of asset entity they are and determine what attributes of those entities must be closely monitored in order to mitigate risk. Maintenance plans should be developed by operational priority in combination with proactive actions based on monitoring parameters that pose the most risk to a machine or asset. In some cases, especially for assets that are exposed to harsh elements — time elapsed in weeks or months, regardless of actual use, may increase risk of fault or failure. In many other cases, the parameter that matters is actual use or use time. And there are those cases, where consequence of failure is high, where multiple parameters, especially those relating to health and condition, should be monitored and triggers for predictive and proactive actions put in place.

Andreas Eschbach: Make sure your asset management is not closed by transparent to the organization

Danielle Newsome: Effective asset management programs require a proactive approach. Knowing your critical assets and having a plan in place for those assets before failure is the foundation of a successful asset management program. You should know how to address and prevent these critical failures by:

  • Using proper inventory/storeroom management.

  • Having a repair plan in place.

  • Using a CMMS to allow for data analysis and MRO process optimization.