Data Feeds Improvements in Physical Asset Management

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New book highlights asset information ability to assist Asset-centric organizations throughout to increase the economic value they are able to extract from their physical asset base.

Asset-centric organizations face many and varied challenges throughout the world. These include competition from low wage countries, regulatory and legislative changes, demand outstripping supply, (as in the mining industry), as well as increasing difficulties arising from reductions in capital investment and increases in automation and unit sizes. The new book, The Maintenance Scorecard, explains how asset managers can make the most of their IT investment in these areas.

Responding to these challenges over the past five years has forced many companies to continue the cost reduction drives that were commenced during the eighties and nine-ties. However, the ability for large-scale asset-centric companies to continue to derive benefits through traditional methods of rationalization is limited at best, and counter-productive at worst.

These companies are looking for other, more sophisticated means of reducing direct costs, raising unit efficiencies and improving asset yields throughout their economically useful life. These are significant challenges that will require a dramatic change in thinking regarding how they are going to power decision making in the coming years.

Currently, most organizations are either working with or planning to work with, large-scale enterprise asset management or enterprise resource planning systems for driving inefficiencies out of their administration functions. Yet many of these systems are yet to realize the full benefits offered by such data capturing and analyzing systems.

One of the, as yet, untapped areas is in the area of asset reliability and performance management. While some organizations excel in this area, others will need to strive hard to catch up within the very near future. When managed correctly asset data can power such decisions such as how and when to extend asset life, determining the re-turn on investment of asset acquisitions or interchanges, analyzing whether risk pro-files are being adequately managed, and determining which assets are not being maintained or operated in a manner that supports the minimum whole-of-life cost profiles.

However, by itself computer generated data can only ever deliver part of the answers that are required. Even using sophisticated modeling tools the fact remains that data will always contain areas of integrity deficiency. In managing assets, for example, decisions taken on failure data need failures to occur before first, not the most ethical or effective way of managing asset failures!

To produce valuable asset information there is a need to take into account both sides of the equation. That of asset data, and that of asset knowledge, which is contained within the experience of the workforce, the manufacturers, and similar equipment users throughout the industry. Once these two sides of the equation can be gathered then the organization can look towards powerful uses of asset information such as knowledge engineering and other modern techniques.

The process to capture both sides of the asset information equation, data and knowledge, is where the challenge commences for asset centric organizations. Particularly those with distributed asset bases such as electricity distribution, water networks, rail infrastructure and gas pipelines. Capturing data means ensuring that all processes are in place to ensure that all failure, routine and ad hoc tasks are captured in a manner that will allow it to be managed effectively initially, and analyzed comprehensively later. For this work there is a need to focus very thoroughly on what asset information will be needed to support corporate goals, not merely to make current processes electronic. This is a key failing of large-scale enterprise asset information systems.

Once the processes are in place then the focus needs to be on data-capture. “Feeding the beast” is not something that most technicians particularly enjoy having to do, even in the modern age. Solutions such as mobile data collectors, barcode solutions and other mass data capture technologies can drive improvements through this area dramatically.

However the problem of knowledge capture remains. This requires a more comprehensive process. This process needs to enable people to contribute their experience, understanding, judgment, and suggestions in a structured and controlled manner.

Even though the benefits of doing so are immense, particularly for newer plants and those in hazardous environments, the techniques aimed at doing this often falls through the cracks of asset-centric organizations. Squeezed between IT initiatives and capital spending planning, the value of knowledge gathering and use does not strike many executives as the obvious choice for powering improvements.

Yet the fact remains, without a focus on knowledge as well as data the asset information portfolio will always be deficient and will always be focused on what has happened, rather than managing asset performance in a proactive manner.

If structured correctly, a knowledge gathering process could become a valuable improvement initiative in itself. Creating benefits as it is being rolled out, not least of which is the transfer of knowledge from within those involved as well as to the organization as a whole.

Within modern asset management there are a range of initiatives that support this form of knowledge collection. Methods such as reliability-centered maintenance, whole-of-life progression management, problem elimination logic and technical change management processes are all examples of collaborative working practices.

If companies are not including these techniques, or similar improvement initiatives, within their asset management strategies then they are facing the very real possibility of missing a large potential area of increasing economic value from the physical asset base. And in the modern industrial environment, this could be a fatal flaw.

Daryl Mather is a specialist in asset management, risk and reliability. This article is based on his new book “The Maintenance Scorecard” ISBN: 0831131810. He currently assists asset-centric companies to achieve strategic advantages throughout the world.

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