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Effective management

15 September 2009

As plant communications advance and diagnostic information becomes evermore accessible, the idea of implementing asset management systems has spread and the systems themselves provide increasing benefits. Anna Mitchell caught up with Emerson’s Johan Claassen, business development manager of PlantWeb Services for Europe the Middle East and Africa.

Problems with production at a process facility, such as a petrochemical plant, represent huge financial losses making an asset management system very attractive
Problems with production at a process facility, such as a petrochemical plant, represent huge financial losses making an asset management system very attractive

Claassen says the implementation of asset management systems has changed dramatically in the past few years. “Initially at Emerson we only sold the software,” Claassen explained. “But we learned valuable lessons with these early projects. A lot of the customers bought the software but then did not use it. So now we provide a full software and service solution.

“In some cases we actually sell it as a mandatory part of our software because customers were getting really angry with Emerson when they did not see the deliverable value that was promised with the software,” he added.

So now, when Emerson rolls out an asset management system, it is in two parts. “One part is the software,” says Claassen. “But the other part is the service component where we focus on changing the culture in the organisation.” Within the service part of Emerson’s offering Claassen says part of his company’s job is to change the customer’s business processes. “If you apply three things; software, change of culture in the organisation and a change in the processes – then you have successful asset management,” he asserts.

Emerson has been offering this package for the last three years but, within Europe has only rolled it out comprehensively in the last two years. It’s a part of the company’s business that has really started to pick up and Claassen claims that customers are starting to realise that it’s necessary. “It’s a huge education drive for us to convince customers this is the way to implement an asset management system,” he explains. “A lot of customers were only used to paying for the software part and all of a sudden they had to pay for the service component as well. We found a lot of them were really not keen on doing that. It’s a slow change but where we’ve done it we’ve got brilliant results and you really get the improved benefits in implementing asset management.”

As for the benefits, Claassen says it’s largely about cost reduction and reducing a maintenance budget. “But on the other hand,” he continues, “I think the biggest advantage is to improve your plant’s reliability and availability”.

Cost reduction, according to Claassen represents a saving of anything between 10 and 20 per cent on a maintenance budget. And from a reliability point of view he says you’re looking at about two per cent. “If you calculate two per cent, that’s about eight or nine days a year,” he points out. “That’s quite a business case and represents a lot of money. It’s a very short payback. Just on those eight days, based on the normal cost of an asset management system, payback will be less than a year. In most business models that is normally a very acceptable payback. Companies will normally look at two years or so, so less than a year is really a good proposition.”

Claassen covers asset optimisation in Europe, the Middle East and Africa and says that if you compare Europe to the regions of North America and Asia Pacific then it seems to lag behind the rest of the world in implementation of asset management systems. He says that customers are less accepting of the technology in Europe. “I know the reason why,” he adds. “They are in a very difficult cost position, costs are higher in this region. For example, you’ve got higher salaries than the rest of the world. I think this plays a huge part.

“The most advanced markets I’ve seen are North America and the Middle East. I think the reason for this in the Middle East is because these customers have a huge amount of capital to spend, so it’s easy for them to write a fairly big cheque and implement a system.” Back in Europe, Claassen says people watch their bottom line a lot more. Whilst there isn’t a huge difference in attitudes from country to country within Europe, he adds that he sees the UK as one of the top five countries in the region with regards to uptake of asset management systems.

It does seem slightly odd, that in a region that has to deal with high wage bills there is a reluctance to implement systems that could potentially reduce manpower. “It does, it does,” agrees Claassen. “But, like I say it’s an educational process, we have to demonstrate the benefits.”

He also thinks the systems will continue to get more advanced and maintenance will become more and more predictive. “There will be less and less people intervention and more and more self diagnosis of assets,” he says.

At the moment a well-run plant should aim for 40 per cent of its maintenance to be predictive, 40 per cent preventative and about 10 per cent reactive. Claassen predicts that in the next five years predictive maintenance will increase to 50 per cent and in the next 10 years to 60 per cent.

As markets continue to get ever more competitive and cost pressures grow, successful businesses will have to turn to technologies that will reduce labour costs, boost plant availability and cut maintenance costs. A well implemented asset management will do just that and, if Claassen is correct, will continue to do it more and more effectively as time goes on.


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