Attractive Options in Connecting to the IIoT: Embracing the Hookup

By Walter Walejeski, Meridium

A famous motto in sports claims the desire to win is important, but not as important as preparing to win. This is as true in business as it is in sports. Business, like a great football enterprise, depends on more than just talent and resources; it also depends on strategy and planning.

As the utilities industry transitions from an industry defined by a lack of connectivity to one of distributed energy systems connected through networks and sensors, the importance of embracing the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) becomes more apparent. Whether coming from legacy systems or newer technologies, critical data exists and has the potential to predict and prevent failure situations so maintenance teams don’t have to.

Sensors and Current Operations

Today, nearly every utilities’ operation, whether it be a large-scale electrical plant or a wind turbine, contains sensors that notify cognizant personnel of problem conditions or of failures when they occur, in real-time. These sensors provide the necessary insight into what is happening, what did happen and what might need immediate attention. These sensors are major players in the creation of connected facilities, in which every piece of infrastructure benefits from the same level of monitoring precision and predictive capabilities.

For example, a power company maintains a generating unit that provides power to a certain region. When the generating unit cannot provide the expected power, due to equipment problems or a possible asset failure, all the available sensors provide data to the power company’s operators, notifying them of the conditions along with relevant details that are pertinent to address the situation. All this data is logged in various information systems and ready for engineers to evaluate to prevent the next failure situation.

Traditionally, data collection has been addressed by automatic and manual means and subsequent analysis was done manually. Engineers received various reports and information at specific intervals and then combed through the information in order to make assessments on the equipment’s health. The health assessments and other associated data would lead to actions for addressing problems or create appropriate replacement strategies for aging assets or both. Inefficiencies of these practices has been exposed by increased decision response time and repetitive failure situations.

Eliminating Dependency on People

Operators tend to task engineers with the most basic decisoin making, relying solely on manual data processing to address potential future problems. This strategy is generally inefficient. Engineers can spend extensive time analyzing data and correlating various information all to ascertain what mechanism failed and how it can be fixed to ensure a similar failure does not occur.

Many organizations have the technology to improve efficiency in this process, but still choose to commit time to unnecessary manual analysis of the relevant information. The success of utility companies in the future will depend on whether they leverage the IIoT, thereby making engineers more effective in allowing them to focus on the asset strategies to optimize performance and better manage maintenance budgets to corporate expectations.

Advanced tools help find problems sooner, and analytical tools that leverage the IIoT help identify chronic problems and create strategic corrections for the long term. Asset performance management (APM) systems provide both these capabilities and more. If a facility has continued operation problems or performance concerns, an APM system will identify the bad actors quickly and calculate what chronic equipment failures will cost an organization over time. It also will create recommendations to address the issues for the critical equipment.

On the other hand, analytical tools also can shed light on what equipment can operate past its lifespan. One North American utility company relied on APM to defer an outage on a major generating unit for two years past the standard maintenance window, saving millions of dollars. The unit performed well for the additional two years and data analytics helped the organization confirm outage deferral was a safe and effective strategy.

Vitality of Embracing IIoT

In the future, IIoT will separate the more traditional-minded companies from those willing to embrace new technologies and more importantly, new ways of thinking. The convergence of IT, OT, big data analytics and the cloud on traditional utility sectors provides companies with seemingly infinite resources to optimize their energy operations. All of these technologies enhance monitoring and maintenance activities by delivering critical insight in real-time to the applied operating systems that can automatically analyze relevant data to help mitigate failure scenarios.

Studies suggest, however, that many organizations are struggling to implement IIoT. A recent report from Genpact Research Institute revealed that 81 percent of business executives believe that its successful adoption is “critical to their companies’ futures,” but only 25 percent have a clear IIoT strategy. One common obstacle that holds most organizations back is the reliance on legacy systems. As demand for more distributed energy sources increases, the inefficiencies associated with old technology-mainly the lack of sustainability and inability to perform at their previous capacities-are exposed.

The rise of predictive analytics that defines the benefits of the IIoT will continue to improve asset performance and asset reliability in the utilities industry. As more devices become connected, more information will be available. To be useful, however, data must be organized and integrated. Leveraging the IIoT as it becomes more prominent in the utilities industry will not only reduce operational risk and optimize costs, but it will lead to a more sustainable energy management strategy.

Walter Walejeski serves as Utilities Industry Solution principal at Meridium, a leader in asset performance management software. His main responsibilities include managing the development of Meridium’s utilities solutions and reliability initiatives.

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