Reap the rewards of an integrated maintenance solution

18 June 2013

Managers of maintenance systems continually strive for leaner, more optimised work flows for asset repair and maintenance services. Gaining access to, and harnessing information, is key to achieving this goal. Suzanne Gill reports on one solution.

Many maintenance management systems still operate in isolation from other systems that contain valuable information. Having the ability to integrate a variety of systems to channel this information can provide a more efficient and effective way of servicing assets.

Greater system interoperability can also benefit other systems and their associated workflow. By having additional information on the maintenance and condition status of assets, for example, system managers can operate their departments more efficiently because they are able to make better informed decisions.

A recent whitepaper produced by Edward Garibian of eRPortal Software Group discusses the benefits of interoperating maintenance with ERP, GIS and HMI/ SCADA systems and presents the different approaches that organisations are taking to address this interoperability challenge.

Commenting on his own solution, the eRPortal, Garibian said: “Our core product is a maintenance management suite which automates the processes and tasks of overall operation of maintenance – both of the facility and machines – physical infrastructure and assets.

“eRPortal is completely independent so it doesn’t matter which MES or ERP systems are sitting at the top end or what HMI/SCADA system is lower down, the system will interoperate. It is an OPC client and also has .NET and ACTIVE X control which can reside inside the customers package of choice to give two way integration.”

The solution is retrofittable, sitting on top of systems already in place and communicating with these systems. It can be a hosted system. Garibian explains: “We offer a choice of the system being either hosted in a secure environment or the software can be licenced in a more traditional way for those preferring to self-host. However, if the system is taken out of this traditional model eRPortal takes over responsibility for maintenance of the system and ensures its uptime, taking away the need for dedicated internal resources.

“We have seen a steady move towards hosted systems over the past five years – going from 10 – 20 % using a hosted model to around 50%.

eRPortal can also offer a mobile asset management solution. Garibian said: “Interoperability can extend to information at the operators fingertips while they are out in the field. If a SCADA tag triggers an alarm or work order ERPortal’s mobile functionality it makes it possible for operatives to react to the incident much more quickly.”

Integration benefits
Integrating maintenance management and ERP, for example can help address the maintenance, operational, and financial challenges of industrial or other physical plant operations. With comprehensive and visible asset management, including reporting of usage, maintenance schedules, and costs, lean operations are achieved, organisational resources are better utilised, and cross-departmental functions are more closely aligned, with data being exchanged between critical functions, such as work requests, purchasing, inventory and preventive-maintenance scheduling.

By incorporating and allocating maintenance costs into the factory operating model, more accurate costs-of-goods-sold values are achieved. In addition, visibility and reporting of costs and incident details related to asset-downtime events and history allow improved communication and information sharing between maintenance personnel and operations.

HMI/SCADA integration
Maintenance management, integrated with HMI/SCADA systems, can provide a streamlined solution for efficient handling of assets. This includes the ability to synchronise with the plant-floor operating model by creating assets and their associated hierarchies each time a new piece of equipment is created in the factory automation system.

Once assets are identified and visible, the next step is to involve the utilisation optimisation of these assets. Maintenance management software that seamlessly integrates with HMI/ SCADA systems enables usage-based preventive maintenance processes.

Interfacing with the SCADA/control system allows the ‘tags’ that monitor the assets in real-time during production to be used to trigger condition or predictive maintenance work orders anytime a value falls out of operating specification. These rules can be setup to capture critical conditions before a major fault occurs. The work order triggered can be pre-configured to align with the conditions that occur and knowledge of the asset being monitored.

Large manufacturing firms will most likely already have a high degree of integration between asset management and other applications and functionality throughout the enterprise. Smaller organisations, however, more often implement point solutions – software that addresses each area or department individually. Due to the lack of integration among the systems, this can result in the need for a spreadsheet and paper approach to be taken in an attempt to fill in the information gaps caused by disconnected applications. The difficulty of this task leads many to simply operate as efficiently as they can with just the information from the maintenance management solution.

Even for organisations with limited deployment, consulting and process re-engineering resources, each department will define and implement a best of breed solution that can help to reduce costs. However, the ability for each solution to integrate with other systems is still critical and software applications that fit within set IT policies and platforms, and that are built upon an architecture of interoperability, can be deployed. A key attribute of the underlying software platform is the inclusion of protocols such as Web Services and XML, which facilitate integration with other systems.

Solutions that deploy a well-supported backend database, such as Microsoft SQL Server are also useful. In addition to facilitating integration with other systems, mainstream back-end databases enable support for additional third-party applications.

Another key attribute is to look for a browser-based front-end. This allows users to access the solution from any Internet connection and provides additional flexibility in adapting the solution to different situations.

A fully-automated maintenance solution should include comprehensive asset tracking and condition assessment, cost reporting, maintenance scheduling and work order management, and tracking of maintenance-related materials. From the all-important integration perspective, the solution should address this full spectrum of maintenance challenges with a web-enabled, open architecture.
(UK & Ireland distributor)

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