Overcoming the Challenges of Legacy Asset Management
Arturo Buzzalino, Director of Software Products at Gecko Robotics, Inc., a robot enabled cloud-based asset inspection platform for the power industry and other industrial settings, navigates a path forward for the industry when it comes to improving and digitizing legacy asset management
Just like countless other industries, the COVID-19 lockdowns exposed the fragility of existing asset management and inspection regimens in many power plants. With asset management and inspection data often stored locally within plant IT networks - or in some instances still within filing cabinets - off-site engineers and management, unable to travel due to stay-at-home orders, had no easy way to access these.
What’s more, swathes of senior engineers and inspection managers in the power industry are approaching retirement. Once they leave, plant managers risk losing vital knowledge of current inspection regimens and how the data is being processed and stored.
More urgency, therefore, is required within the industry when it comes to improving and digitizing legacy asset management.
How We Got Here
The problem doesn’t arise from the fact some plants are still operating assets from the 1960s or 70s. The problem is how the industry has responded with piecemeal solutions for different use cases. This has created enormous data silos coupled with repetitive and laborious work that takes time away from analysing the data and making data-driven decisions.
Charting the evolution of legacy asset management is like charting the evolution of technology over the last half a century. Originally, asset data and inspection findings were written down onto paper, then stored away in filing cabinets on site. These documents still exist in large part - with some plant operators better at digitizing them than others.
As computing became affordable in the 1980s and early 90s - plants began to invest in desktop computers, to store and process asset management data. Back then, the software was pretty basic. Operators either used early versions of Excel and other office software, or first generation Asset Performance Management (APM) software.
While this provided a step up, the major limitation was connectivity. Data was stored at the device level, with floppy disks and their limited storage capacity used to transfer data to other devices.
The internet and modern enterprise networking enabled asset management data to be stored centrally and APM software to be accessible across numerous devices. However, with many operators relying on a multitude of software for their asset management, enterprise networking did not overcome the issue of data siloing and the interoperability of data.
Too much faith was also placed in APM software, as a magic bullet that would fix the mess of legacy asset management. While it made analysis and data management simpler, it didn’t remove much of the burden of data collection and entry, nor did it help with the next steps of organizing and planning the execution of the reliability program.
We’re now at the next big transformation in asset management and inspection technology as we transition towards Industry 4.0. This is being driven by cloud storage, SaaS subscription models and integrated data collection hardware.
Navigating a Path Forward
With the industry moving into the next chapter of asset management and inspection, we need to ensure we design-out all the existing shortcomings that operators face and design-in the hallmarks of cloud and collaboration
One of the most significant issues to overcome is data siloing and interoperability. The next generation of solutions must include APIs and scrapers to pull data from existing applications and databases. This will need to handle both structured data stored in databases, and unstructured data stored in files.
Once a plant’s entire asset inspection history is stored in the cloud, a true centralized repair depository becomes a reality. This gives instant access to data and reporting both on site for plant operators and off site for management. This unlocks metrics that are no longer tied to just a specific asset, rather it gives plant-wide and company-wide visibility.
We also need to move beyond the paradigm of viewing asset management technology as an interface for engineers to manually input data into. Large parts of the inspection process, which is costly, error prone and hazardous for workers, can be replaced by hardware. This includes inspection robots and drones that can be deployed in hard to reach areas. These devices can then transmit inspection data in real time, using IoT connectivity, to integrated software. This leaves the interpretation to the experts and the repetitive data collection to robots and sensors.
The final challenge that maintainers face is the last mile of taking all the data and doing something useful with it. Hours are wasted moving information out of these systems back into project management systems, at best, or whiteboards and sticky-notes, at worst, to plan day-to-day activities. Future software tools must evolve from just “Systems of Record” to “Systems of Action” thereby achieving the expectations created by Industry 4.0.
Ultimately, by utilizing machines and platforms that aggregate and activate their data and insights, plant operators will be able to plan outages more effectively eliminating downtime, provide transparency across the business, and enable a tighter execution loop with inspectors and third parties.
This will equip operators to transform their businesses by putting together a more confident digital view of the asset and unlock centralized use cases and initiatives.