An Asset Management Solution focused on your Automation System Can Reduce Downtime

If you are involved in the engineering, operation, or maintenance functions of your company, you probably have heard the term Asset Management System (AMS), often associated with monitoring and maintaining the equipment up and running, and helping a plant reduce downtime.  This article describes how AMS software focused on your Automation System does that, find better use of available resources, and also improves other processes, including operational security.

Industrial automation utilizes dozens and even hundreds of smart machines and devices that are either configured or programmed—such as PLCs, HMIs, variable frequency drives, robots, managed switches, and instruments. These devices are often connected to an Ethernet network. Also called automation assets, they are critical to keeping your facilities running. Sometimes, things happen to these assets that disrupt operations, and quick recovery is important to reduce downtime and product loss.  Some of the most common problems include:

  • Operators changed multiple parameter values on a machine during the week and didn’t log the changes. It’s difficult to determine the optimum operating settings after a process upset.
  • A maintenance engineer is troubleshooting a failure and changed the program in one machine during the weekend. The machine started up properly but through the week starts behaving poorly. Nobody knows what the engineer did and what version was running before the changes.
  • Managing authorizations and privilege settings across the workforce for the myriad assets is a challenge. Giving the right people access while restricting others is a cumbersome activity.
  • Devices need to be reconfigured after an emergency shutdown or replacement after failure. But your backup system was not automated, and the last good configuration file is not well identified.
  • Also AMS releases Automation Engineers from tedious tasks, allowing them to focus on more productive activities. There is a constant challenge of doing more with less and an AMS can help you with this.

An Asset Management System can solve these problems and more.  One example is the FactoryTalk AssetCentre that is part of Rockwell Automation’s FactoryTalk software suite.  Other companies such as Schneider, Siemens, and MDT Software offer similar solutions. What software to use depends on the end user most common brands and the specific functionalities offered for those platforms.

An AMS provides the following capabilities to manage the automation assets.

Archive critical files and documents. The system provides an electronic repository with version control for configuration files, program files, recovery plans, Word and Excel files, CAD drawings, and pdf manuals. When edits are made to any of these resources, a version history tracks the user name and the edit date.  The most recent revision is saved, and the user sets the number of backup versions that are kept.

Automate “disaster recovery”.  The AMS software makes it easy to schedule automatic backups of configuration files.  Those files are compared to the device’s master file.  When the uploaded software is different, any revised files or new versions are stored, the master file can be updated, and an event is registered in a database.  The differences that were detected are assembled into a report that can be automatically emailed to a list of users.

Track or audit all changes to operating settings.  Whenever a user changes a parameter value or a setpoint in a controller, for example, that event is automatically captured in a centralized audit log showing the device, user, time, and action taken.

Centralized security across the assets.  Users can be allowed to view certain devices in the plant or resources in the archive based on their responsibilities and need to access certain information.  While maintenance personnel may be able to get a configuration file to restore a machine, only Engineering would be able to actually edit the file.

Other perks of an AMS. It’s possible to scan the operations network and add new assets to the AMS automatically.  Software packages for workstations can be tracked and uploaded easily.  Security scans can be run across multiple devices.  Assets can even be tracked from a mobile device.

Some of the clients that Matrix Technologies has helped with AMS

A food manufacturer had excessive downtime because unauthorized people were making online changes to the controllers. They implemented FactoryTalk AssetCentre to manage access and provide disaster recovery with automatic backups. These measures allowed them to reduce unplanned downtime events by at least 5% , and reduce waste product from equipment stoppage by 7%.  As a bonus, management had better audit reports and an archived repository that helped them develop a more formal change management process.

A chemical manufacturer had multiple plants, over a hundred controllers per site, multiple OEMs, and over 20 engineers. They had multiple multi-year startup projects, and had to track the versioning of the projects through commissioning and production. Their AMS solution eliminated the manual backup process, and they now had an audit trail to report non authorized changes.

A pharmaceutical manufacturer already a Factory Tack Asset Centre and wanted to incorporate the Calibration Management Agent to its system. By implementing this functionality, the plant was able to reduce the time related to keeping the instrumentation validated by approximately 20%. Just going from paper to electronic records represented a big improvement. On top of that, to be able to generate a report on the GMP status of each instrument offered a great advantage during audits. For the regulated industry, an ASM is a must.

Matrix Technologies has experience with helping manufacturers establish Asset Management Systems. The benefits include reduced downtime, better use of resources, better security, system auditing, and automatic backups.  Let us know how we can help you with your manufacturing needs.

Matrix Technologies is one of the largest independent process design, industrial automation, engineering, and manufacturing operations management companies in North America. To learn more about our industrial automation solutions, contact Victor Bertorelli, Senior Control System Developer, Industrial System Division.

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