Integrate maintenance, automation for success

Engineering solutions are important to preserving capital and productivity.


Successful systems management requires the right blend of people skills, work management, leadership, and technology integration.

Control Engineering magazine content manager Peter Welander moderated the panel of speakers, which included Sloan Zupan of Mitsubishi Electric Automation and Augie DiGiovanni, vice president of Asset Optimization Services for Emerson Process Management, compared plant reliability to the health of the human body. “All of us have similar parts—hearts, lungs, livers, kidneys. Without those, the asset—called the human body—doesn’t work very well,” he said. “Imagine if the reliability that you prescribe only came out when one of those fails.”

DiGiovanni discussed four common maintenance strategies: reactive, preventive, predictive, and proactive. He explained that reactive maintenance means repairing equipment after it breaks. Preventive maintenance is time based. Predictive maintenance involves making decisions based on the actual equipment condition.

“Proactive is when you engineer maintenance out of a certain process,” DiGiovanni said. “For example, when taking vibration readings on a piece of rotating equipment, you notice the bearings need to be replaced every three months. Most engineers understand that bearings are designed to last longer than three months. Replacing it with the right size bearing solved your reliability issue just by proactively engineering a change in the equipment.”

Maintenance strategies have not changed much during the past two decades. DiGiovanni said the results of a 1988 survey of 600 plants revealed that 55% of their assets were being maintained reactively. Only 10% of the assets in those plants were being maintained with a predictive maintenance approach. The survey was repeated recently. There was very little change in the results. However, the proactive level dropped from 5% to 2%.

“It dropped from 5% to 2% because these plants don’t have engineering staffs and now when someone wants to engineer a proactive solution, they have to contract with an engineering firm to do it for them. That’s another expense,” DiGiovanni said. “If you’re in a fiscally driven environment, the last thing you want to do is pay an outside firm to do root cause analysis of why something failed.

“I’ve seen numbers that suggest companies have cut their engineering staffs by as much as 80% to 90%,” said DiGiovanni. “I personally think that industry went a bit too far. I’d like to see some of that come back. If it does, I think we’ll be able to start to push more proactive strategy back into these plants where it really belongs.”

Making the transformation

Changing from a reactive to a proactive approach requires a transformation. “The companies that have made this transition did it by identifying the work, approving and prioritizing the work, planning the work, and scheduling the work,” DiGiovanni said. “You have to have very solid asset information. You have to have a solid technology base using the data.”

According to DiGiovanni, preventive maintenance; inspections; predictive technologies such as oil analysis, infrared thermography, and ultrasonics; planned overhauls, and reliability centered maintenance (RCM) contribute to an asset strategy. Facilities can develop these asset strategies in a number of ways. “You can do it with RCM; you can do it with failure modes and effects analysis,” DiGiovanni said. “Focus on the major assets; keep them healthy. You have to know which failures are more important than others.” An asset strategy is critical in preventing production loss, increased costs, higher risks, and intervals of interrupted production. “These are things that will shut you down,” said DiGiovanni.

In many organizations, asset management systems include enterprise software; root-cause analysis, risk-based inspection, or RCM software; and many types of portable tools for collecting information. “They might have any or all of these things,” said DiGiovanni. “They’re trying to pull all this information together to make assessments on the health of their plants. What they really find is they have system overload—way too much information. Everything just comes to a screeching halt.”

DiGiovanni thinks asset management is the next frontier in plant performance. “Asset management capabilities in the future will drive system selections,” he said. “A reliability-driven organization is doing true life cycle management. They are getting the maximum value from their existing software.

“These four categories—people skills, work management, leadership, and technology integration—have to move in a homogenous way. If your people aren’t making a change, you can buy the greatest technology in the world and be fully integrated to every business system, but if the people don’t use it, then it will take a lot longer to achieve success—that becomes leadership.”

Integrating manufacturing, business

Sloan Zupan, marketing manager of controllers and HMI for Mitsubishi Electric Automation, focused his presentation on integrating manufacturing processes with business systems. “The manufacturing environment is under a great deal of stress,” he said. “We’ve seen a lot of outsourcing of facilities to emerging markets.” Zupan said that companies can stop this erosion by deploying better solutions that ease integration of manufacturing assets with the information systems. Automation and maintenance should work together to maximize uptime, extend asset life, and reduce maintenance costs.

Manufacturing facilities must deal with their most knowledgeable workers retiring. “Most of the knowledge they have about the processes and equipment is kept in their heads,” Zupan said. “We have to find ways of providing less experienced people with important information relative to what’s wrong with the machine, what caused the machine to fail, and what they can do to resolve the issues quickly.”

Information technology is guiding maintenance activities. “Machine interfaces can provide ways to identify root causes of machine stoppages,” Zupan said.

He said that new innovations are enabling maintenance people to repair machines quicker. As an example, Zupan described a scenario involving a sensor connected to a failed PLC input card. To keep production moving, the sensor can be rewired to an available input and the input card repaired later. The sensor’s input number has changed, necessitating a ladder logic change. New technology allows simple ladder logic changes to be made directly on the production HMI instead of taking the machine down. The result is the equipment is unavailable for minutes vs. an hour.

Dealing with asset management integration presents a second set of challenges, according to Zupan. The definition of asset management varies by company. “The meaning depends on how you’ve been doing it and how well manufacturing is integrated with IT,” he said. “Some companies consider asset management to be running the machine until it fails, firefighting to identify the problem, and fixing it as quickly as possible. To others, asset management is changing parts on a machine every 30 days.”

Best-in-class companies leverage service-oriented architecture technologies fueled with asset management business systems with real-time information from the manufacturing assets, according to Zupan. “In order for companies to be able to compete in the emerging markets, they must improve asset utilization,” Zupan said. “New innovations are available today that weren’t several years ago. Take advantage of new technologies to better equip your operators and maintenance people with as much relevant information as possible. Take the next step to further integrate the manufacturing processes with the business systems.”

Talking points

Beyond being a supplier, Mitsubishi Electric Automation is also a manufacturer and faces many of the same issues its customers face. Sloan Zupan pointed out some of the key issues and questions the company wrestles with on the production side:

  • Scheduling of maintenance to minimize impact to production
  • Timeliness and accuracy of work order entry
  • Prioritization of new work orders into the backlog
  • Does the maintenance organization have the needed skilled resources available?
  • Are the work orders properly closed for future analysis?

Using an asset management system, according to Augie DiGiovanni of Emerson Process Management, can create benefits such as the following:

  • Generate condition-based maintenance recommendations
  • Shift maintenance spending from reactive to predictive while improving uptime of as much as 10%-15%
  • Performing valve signatures and machinery baselines prior to turnaround and scheduled outages
  • Reduction on OT Labor as much as 50%
  • As much as 30% reduction in overhaul costs
  • Increase to uptime and availability of as much as 10%
  • Reduction in spare part consumption of as much 5%


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