Plant asset information plays key role in operations and maintenance (O&M) and procurement processes that Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), material management and maintenance management (MRO – Maintain, Repair and Overhaul) systems run. The systems became part of ordinary business life more than 20 years ago. The processes themselves existed long before the systems. Formerly, plant owner-operators received plant asset information in paper documents that were created by engineering companies and equipment manufacturers according to their own internal instructions. Owner-operators developed and maintained their own competence to take care of the related business processes. Lots of experts were needed.
Plants had in the past and will always have different ways for building and running production processes when seeking their own competitive edge. This means that solutions in engineering and equipment selections will typically be unique. Even standard components must be selected individually to fit the requirements of the corresponding functional locations. Individual equipment requirements define the properties of delivered equipment regardless of the uniqueness of the equipment. This is the core of the business for supplier, equipment vendor, engineering and other subcontractor companies that serve production plants in investment projects (CAPEX) and in operations and maintenance (OPEX).
During the last decades lot of expectations have been placed on automatization of the business processes – not only at the companies on the owner-operator side, but also at companies that serve them. All companies have strong focus to improve their internal processes and utilize internal systems as well as possible. However, the external intercompany business processes have mainly remained untouched over 20 years.
As companies started to have systems that require digital data, Microsoft Excel took its current place as a standard information exchange tool and pdf-format as standard document format. If vendors have now sophisticated Product Data Management (PDM) systems, engineering companies have advanced design systems, service providers have service systems and everybody have ERP systems, why information exchange is still often based on Excels and PDFs? Why no improvements have happened? Do these three issues give the explanation?
The block diagram below illustrates the challenges of proper asset information management and exchange. Rectangles describe different organizational bodies (in the same or separate companies). The numbered hexagons describe communication and information exchange subjects (in OMG Business Process Model and Notation standard they are called as conversation node elements) between organizations. The conversation nodes include business processes and information content of the information exchange, but do not define about how it has been implemented technically. In that sense the diagram is timeless – it has been valid a long time before any business process standards.
Plant owner-operators need advanced asset information to take properly care of operations and maintenance over the plant lifecycle. The plant lifecycle starts in an investment project. When the project is ready, the project organization gives the responsibility away for O&M organization. The project organization performance measures are often based on costs and schedules, not on needs of the future O&M organization. That means poor information handover after the project, which has long lasting impacts to operations and maintenance. The block diagram is valid also at the project phase, when the O&M organization doesn’t exist yet. During the project the project organization replaces it on the upper right hand side block.
The project creates the plant model, all the functional locations and defines the functional requirements for equipment, machines and process units. The related information exchange is represented in the hexagon 1. This information exchange typically happens internally within the owner-operator company over the entire plant lifecycle. In spite of that it looks like in many cases the related equipment requirement information is not maintained systematically, as O&M organization may not have proper engineering information available whereas engineering partners do have it.
Asset information handover is typically considered as plain one directional data upload from suppliers, vendors and engineering companies to O&M organization (hexagons 1 and 2). This is misleading, as in practice it is always bidirectional. Before receiving any asset information a lot of functional location specific equipment requirement information is given to supplier (hexagon 4). Moreover, plain data handover gives an impression that the information will be handed over once, in reality it will be given over and over again over the entire plant lifecycle because of continuous production changes that impact engineering and equipment requirements.
As all asset information exchange is triggered by commercial transactions (request for quotation, quotation, order, etc.) it is especially crucial to organize the intercompany information workflow in an effective way. Information exchange won’t happen without commercial triggers! Focus only on information handover means that the triggers are not taken into account. Is this the reason that the multifaceted process industry environment so far hasn’t been able to utilize effectively emerging e-procurement procedures? I think that it is. Advanced information exchange requires that workflows are built to support commercial transactions. Collaxion has brought a brand new solution that has already been successfully tested by few multinational companies. Ask more from Collaxion Oy.