IIoT and Remote Assets: Changes to the EAM Landscape
How will the IIoT change how organizations monitor and maintain remote assets when granular data can be pulled from machinery tens, even hundreds of miles away from "home base?"
The Industrial Internet of Things has experts buzzing about the implications of a more connected, interoperable asset network. With greater insight into machinery on the plant floor, businesses more capably predict production, understand the technical limitations of their equipment and plan repairs long before their assets go belly up.
That said, does the IIoT conversation change when it comes to maintenance for remote assets? And by remote, we mean remote. How will the IIoT change how organizations operating in fields like energy transmission or ground logistics monitor and maintain remote assets when granular data can be pulled from machinery tens, even hundreds of miles away from "home base?"
"More than 30% of assets owned by companies qualify as remote."
What to expect from IIoT remote asset monitoring and management – and what not to
According to a recent Aberdeen Group study, more than 3 out of every 10 assets owned by the average company qualify as "remote." From the perspective of a business adopting or expanding enterprise asset management strategies like proactive maintenance, ignoring nearly one-third of assets would be an outright waste of investment. After all, it's not uncommon for on-site asset performance to depend heavily on remote assets. As such, utilization rates for remote asset tracking, condition monitoring, data capture and predictive analytics aimed at asset failure have risen dramatically between 2014 and 2016.
However, as is the case with all big data acquisition and analysis, it's not what you glean from your assets that counts. What really matters is how business leaders convert that raw data into actionable intelligence. In what ways can companies with remote assets use operational data more effectively – as well as the sensors and telemetry technology harvesting that data – to extend the best EAM practices from headquarters into the field?
1. Devise a stratification/prioritization system for remote assets
We already know mapping asset dependency without the inclusion of remote assets would constitute a sizeable gap in EAM, so big the given business could hardly claim to practice EAM at all. Master asset lists are a first step for any organization hoping to take asset management to the next level and every noteworthy piece of equipment, component or subassembly must make it onto that MAL for it to be of any use in criticality ranking.
Asset criticality for remote technology requires a slightly different approach than to on-site assets. Moreover, while managers might look for similar factors when deciding criticality rank or maintenance prioritization parameters, they may weigh them differently than they would when dealing with equipment within a facility. For instance, does failure history for a particular remote asset usually involve software (potentially resolved wirelessly) or hardware (requiring a visit)? Since travel expenses to remote assets can eat away at maintenance budgets, the decision to visit should factor into the criticality equations, as well as work order prioritization for maintenance. Businesses should also invest in ways to perform automated operational diagnostics to reduce the number of incidents where maintenance crews are sent out.
Additionally, remote asset management strategies can borrow and refurbish tactics used in on-site EAM to further reduce travel costs. Maintenance teams equipped with innovative EAM solutions like IBM Maximo or Infor EAM can leave locational information regarding remote assets as they would with ones on site, thus optimizing resource spend devoted to hunting down assets and rooting out the offending component.
2. Never underestimate nature
The biggest, most obvious difference between remote assets and on-site assets is environmental. Remote assets typically don't have the kind of protection afforded by a state-of-the-art warehouse. Depending on location, remote assets may also experience a completely different climate and weather than its base of operations deals with – think about long oil pipelines or a fleet of vehicles owned by a logistics provider. Thorough remote asset management not only involves monitoring the effect the elements have on equipment but acting on maintenance data in a timely manner to mitigate repair costs.
One humorous example of how nature impacts remote asset maintenance comes to mind: In 2011 Level 3 Communications, a multinational telecommunications provider, reported about 1 out of every 6 fiber optic cable cuts the organization dispatched maintenance teams to repair were caused by squirrels. Yes, squirrels. In fact, that figure represented an improvement over the previous year, when squirrels were behind 28 percent of all cut cables. In a separate blog post, the company estimated parts and labor for fiber optic repair costs around $2,500 per cable severed.
At what point did Level 3 Communications technicians look at their data and say, "You know, we better do something about these darn squirrels?" These sorts of problems happen to all remote asset owners – birds make nests where they shouldn't, freezing rain falls at inopportune times and who knows what sorts of damage broken tree branches could do. The ability to differentiate an anomaly and a trend through greater operational awareness, however, could make a significant difference in resourcing for remote assets, more so than for assets on site seen every single workday.
"Supervisors, operators and maintenance teams should maintain an open dialog about data capture."
3. Discuss data capture with asset operators
Even in industries like logistics where asset operators spend most of their time in and around equipment still considered "remote," remote asset management will play an evolving role. However, it will be important for supervisors, operators and maintenance teams to maintain an open dialog about data capture.
Controversy surrounding electronic logging devices and other emerging telematics have soured many truckers as this technology further bridges the gap between monitoring operators and monitoring machinery. ELDs, for instance, primarily focus on hours of service reports to ensure drivers get the rest necessary to deliver goods over long distances. That said, the same sorts of devices also record driving habits like speeding and heavy braking. While it's no secret this form of data acquisition feeds into driver performance records for safety reasons, organizations can also justify collection of this nature as necessary for consummate proactive maintenance. And they're not wrong – sensing vehicle wear can optimize scheduled maintenance and give logistics companies a clearer picture of asset availability in the near future.
But to prevent drivers from feeling obsolete or like telematics violates their privacy, always involve them in discussions around remote asset initiatives. Explain what the technology monitors – and what it won't – and why it's necessary to collect that data to reduce maintenance costs and potentially invest more in drivers. After all, while sensors might catch minute thermal or vibrational changes, ultimately, drivers can be valuable when it comes to reporting. Honesty could mean the difference between a driver being at odds with asset managers and maintenance crews and working together to create an actionable perspective on vehicles.