The Power Industry
Energy utilities require optimization of asset management as never before. Maintenance personnel bear the burden of sustaining reliability and availability and are personally in the spotlight the instant an interruption or failure occurs. Yet without the right resources and tools at their disposal, one can argue that it is not the staff but the focus on maintenance that is broken. This article addresses some of the challenges faced by utilities today and reasons to recalibrate your maintenance priorities.
Brain Drain: Workforce Knowledge
Experienced maintenance craftsmen are an aging breed and replenishments are not coming in quickly enough. Much of the current workforce is nearing retirement and maintenance is less often perceived as a viable career path by today’s young engineers. The perception of job stability is being hammered by workforce reductions, outsourcing and the export of jobs and entire operations overseas. According to Joel Leonard, president of PulsePointe Technologies LLC, “Analysts currently predict a 40-70% workforce reduction over the next 10 years, while assets continue to age and replacements are increasingly sophisticated.”
A solid enterprise asset management (EAM) solution mitigates the risk of a diminishing skilled workforce and shortens the learning curve for new technicians. EAM solutions secure maintenance expertise in the form of proven job standards and equipment history. They capture critical knowledge and generate key performance indicators so that information can be pushed to decision makers at the right time, as well as a historical repository so that trends are evident and continuous improvement is possible. Analytics are also provided so that downtime and overhauls can be strategically timed to minimize costs and disruption to electricity supplies.
Aging Infrastructure Under Pressure
While global power executives have long recognized that the underlying infrastructure is aging, demand for generation and transmission capacity is unprecedented. Furthermore, utilities are under immense shareholder pressure to reduce costs, increase efficiency and compete for customers. The investment in new transmission lines has dropped sharply and vegetation management is not ideal. The grid is increasingly vulnerable to failures and profits are at risk. In a recent report card by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) on America’s infrastructure, the category of Energy received a grade of D+.
Understanding that wholesale upgrades are not in the forecast, every effort must be made to ensure that existing equipment is correctly maintained and capacity optimized. Leonard notes that, “properly maintained equipment will last 30 to 40 percent longer than poorly maintained equipment.” Also, utilities investing in predictive technologies for their most critical assets require a link to an EAM solution so that precious time, i.e. capacity, is not lost when an anomaly is detected. Early warning of impending failure can automatically trigger generation of pre-planned work, ensuring availability of the right tools, parts, equipment and skills are available to minimize downtime. The embedded best practice maintenance techniques deliver enhanced reliability of power sources, higher service levels and realization of long-term bottom line benefits from capital investments.
Oversight: Regulatory Compliance
Since the August 2003 blackout, FERC chairman Pat Wood has strengthened his stance on mandating reliability standards for the national electric grid. Voluntary standards will likely become compulsory with stringent enforcement through FERC reliability audits. Additionally, utilities must strictly adhere to regulatory reporting and compliance relevant to public and workplace safety and fiscal accounting practices.
Advanced EAM solutions support FERC and PUC mandates, government accounting standards and safety requirements as a natural extension of an IT investment. They provide ready access to current obligations, enable proactive adherence and capture a historical record of compliance. EAM delivers the tools and knowledge needed by today’s energy enterprises to best manage the transparency, reliability, stability and security that oversight commissions and constituencies demand.
ERP: Not the Magic Bullet for Fixing Maintenance
In an effort to solve the Y2K crisis while delivering re-engineered work processes, many Tier One utilities looked to ERP systems as a solution. After years of dealing with complex integrations and managing multiple vendors, the idea of a single vendor solution was very attractive. Most ERP solutions have been the result of the outgrowth of a financial application and/or materials and resource planning systems (MRP). These initiatives were almost always driven by the finance side of the utility, to the extent that maintenance requirements were seriously compromised. Oftentimes the question posed to the maintenance organization was “can you make it work,” rather than “will it deliver the optimum return?”
It only makes sense to center major information technology decisions around the one function that has the greatest impact on production capacity – asset management. Capital assets represent the single largest investment in any utility, and the continued availability and reliability of these assets is fundamental to the bottom line. Accounting-based systems are limited in their ability to truly optimize asset and resource management and their ability to deliver meaningful and timely cost information from an operational perspective. Furthermore, advances in technology and architectures have made the integration argument moot.
EAM solutions provide the rich functionality needed to have maximum impact on operational effectiveness, frequently beginning with capital project management. They are uniquely capable of optimizing your entire maintenance program, including preventive, reliability-centered and condition-based strategies. ERP vendors are unable to place a high priority on supplying state-of-the-art EAM capabilities. Ease of use, accessibility to information, reporting flexibility and a myriad of industry-specific functionality is sacrificed, as are basic work effectiveness and efficiencies. Best of breed EAM vendors now provide productized “hooks” to facilitate rapid integration to a utility’s choice of ERP, GIS, SCADA, CBM, CIS, mobile and other complementary systems.
Conclusion on Fixing Maintenance
Take the time to inspect your maintenance practices. Does your staff have the right tools, techniques and technology necessary to sustain efficient, reliable and profitable energy operations? Or is the process broken? Fixing maintenance is the answer.
Sophisticated enterprise asset management (EAM) solutions address collaborative management needs for work, assets, the supply chain, contracts, operational accounting, reporting and analysis, project tracking, safety and compliance and document control. They reach further with seamless integrations into other complementary mission critical information systems. This holistic approach to asset management provides the essentials needed for true operational excellence. If you’re not using one of today’s advanced EAM solutions, now is the time to consider an overhaul.