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Small and medium sized utilities – whether electric, natural gas, water, or wastewater – have very different operations and budgets from larger utility companies, yet they share a common need…to minimise costs and maximise performance.

This article first appeared in ESI Africa Issue 1-2020.
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Enterprise asset management (EAM) solutions can help utilities manage asset lifecycles, and implement policies and procedures to optimise asset utilisation while minimising costs. However, until recently, comprehensive, super-powered EAM systems were only financially feasible for large-sized utilities.

Now, thanks to recent advances in technology, all the benefits that the larger utilities have gotten from EAM solutions are accessible for the midmarket budget. With a world-class EAM system, mid-market utilities are just five actions away from optimising performance and profitability:

1. Manage assets based on operational criticality

2. Optimise MRO supply chain

3. Enable decision making at the point of performance

4. Drive safety assurance at the point of potential incidents

5. Standardise on ISO 55000/01/02

Action one: Manage assets based on operational criticality

The utility must manage assets based on risk and criticality to operations, and systematically prioritise maintenance work to improve asset availability and performance. When assets are ranked this way, maintenance becomes a strategic component of proactive asset management. As more consumers and electricity-hungry devices connect to the grid, it is not uncommon for maintenance organisations to have more work to do than they can handle.

Implementing a risk and criticality assessment of assets not only places a priority on critical assets but also identifies the essential parts within those assets.

An EAM system purpose-built for asset-intensive industries enables complete visibility and management of assets enterprise-wide. Further, it helps utilities apply maintenance policies and strategies that maximise asset value, including proactive programmes such as condition monitoring and reliability-centred maintenance.

Action two: Optimise MRO supply chain

It’s imperative to take the guesswork out of the maintenance, repair and operations (MRO) supply chain. Utilities should start by analysing why certain spare parts are kept in stock in the first place – accurately assessing the criticality of components and accordingly adjusting stock levels can free up valuable capital. Additionally, having easy digital access to parts manuals at the point of maintenance via mobile devices, expedites parts identification, ordering, and maintenance processes.

It’s also important to remember that the supply chain extends beyond the utility’s operation. Monitor vendor performance with vendor score carding, lead-time metrics, and vendor performance history. You can’t control your vendors, but you can decide which vendors you do business with and how best to work with them to ensure you have the supplies you need when you need them.

Action three: Enable decision making at the point of maintenance

Field maintenance productivity often suffers from its own set of challenges, including:

• Lack of real-time management visibility

• Insufficient automation tools for workers

• No real-time planning and tracking

Mobile field workforce solutions provide real-time visibility into what workers are doing and drive collaboration and effective operational decision making. This action includes enabling a productive flow of timely, accurate information to and from the field, more effective service planning and scheduling, and streamlined field operations. Mobile applications allow workers to identify any potential issues and begin the work planning process where the asset resides. This means specific parts or tooling required to rectify a problem can be determined upfront, minimising wasted trips to perform maintenance with the wrong parts or equipment.

Action four: Drive safety assurance at the point of potential incidents

Remote operations, although critical, can intrinsically magnify new and existing challenges. Fieldworker safety is a prime example – what can line managers do to protect workers once they’re out in the field? Requiring field workers to pass a context-sensitive personal risk assessment before they receive a work task can ensure they are well prepared for the job.

In the case of a utility worker performing maintenance at a substation, part of the personal risk assessment could be to ensure that all isolations have occurred before receiving the actual task. Other strategies include providing information that ensures that assets are available and safe for maintenance work and providing monitoring credentials.

These practices work best when streamlined by putting information and best-practice safety processes in the hands of on-site maintenance workers through mobile technologies. Doing so protects workers, assets, and profit margins.

Action five: Standardise on ISO 55000/01/02

The International Organisation for Standardisation’s (ISO) 55000/01/02 is a framework for best practice asset management for all types of physical assets across their lifecycle.

Standardising on ISO 55000/01/02 can help utility managers make more explicit connections between strategic organisational plans and the day-to-day realities of asset and work management.

An EAM system can make it easier for utilities to more readily embrace ISO 55000/01/02 mandates by:

Managing risk before it becomes a problem, including building risk assessment and management into alarms, inspections and defects, and work requests and work orders.

Understanding the condition of every asset, including automatically calculating the current state of each asset based on inspection data.

Standardising the Asset Registry business process, including registering assets according to ISO 55000/01/02 guidelines while ensuring that asset registers avoid becoming too complicated. ESI