Asset-Management Strategies Enable Utilities to Optimize

By Richard Vesel and John DuBay, ABB Inc.

Power utilities are closely examining ways they can ensure future reliability and availability. Many companies in the manufacturing and process industry sectors have already established histories of operational excellence initiatives to drive profitable, sustained growth throughout the enterprise. The focus of many of these initiatives is to maximize operational asset performance while lowering costs–specifically maintenance costs.

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Executing an effective asset-management strategy to achieve such initiatives has become central to survival in today’s competitive environment, including the utility environment. Asset management is more than a product feature or a way to manage devices and tasks; it’s a strategy that provides the capability to optimize all aspects of the operational asset to extend the asset’s life, reduce lifecycle costs and ensure availability. It goes beyond simply identifying fault-oriented maintenance requirements.

An effective asset-management strategy combines the needs of the production and maintenance organizations. It increases both equipment availability and production rate by providing insight into asset health, corrective-action instructions and organizational visibility. Its ability to share contextual information to those who need it when they need it reduces time-to-decision and coordinates production and maintenance activities. Asset management is the key component of a comprehensive optimization plan that includes integrating device health with the automation platform and a computerized maintenance management system (CMMS). Successful asset management is deployed on the strategic level.

Following are the best asset-management approaches:

  • Address industry segments across the board,
  • Take a consultative approach that ideally begins with the front-end engineering and design process,
  • Integrate design data with operational and maintenance data,
  • Employ large databases of benchmarking information collected from multiple customers, Allow end users to measure themselves against world-class performance standards, and
  • Effectively illustrate to utility customers how even a small change in overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) operations can have a big impact on profitability.

Asset-Management Benefits

A well-executed asset-management strategy can reduce unnecessary maintenance and downtime, track causes of failures, identify repeat offenders, provide root-cause data and fault diagnosis and recommend actions. It also detects failure conditions in advance, eliminates manual actions, handoffs and paperwork and reduces latent time between problem identification and resolution.

Some of the key asset-management benefits realized by utilities once a strategy has been determined and implemented include:

Record-breaking profits. Many transmission and distribution manufacturers offer performance-based, asset-maintenance partnerships that ensure operational excellence and assume full responsibility for their work. These asset-management partnerships, combined with customer commitment, often result in exceptional operational and financial achievements that have a direct impact on profitability. These asset-management providers guarantee results and take responsibility for maintenance, with a focus on improving productivity in a performance-based manner. Providers share the risk by contractually committing to key performance indicators (KPIs), such as increased OEE (availability x performance x quality) and reduced total maintenance costs. Many also assume full responsibility for maintenance.

For example, one North American utility recently contracted for asset-management and maintenance services at a generating facility. In addition to an improved unit ramp-up, this utility achieved significant performance improvements through incentive-based contracts. Achieving a faster ramp-up, coupled with high operations satisfaction, drove executives to realize commercial power production significantly ahead of schedule and attain an all-time high production level–and record profits. This newly implemented asset-management strategy also included a cost-effective, predictive maintenance strategy to replace a costly, guesswork-based, preventive maintenance plan.

Decreased maintenance costs. By optimizing work processes in an automation system to increase mean time between failures (MTBF), maintenance costs can be lowered. Corrective actions can be implemented quickly and reliably based on actionable knowledge. Real-time monitoring and alarming of asset KPIs facilitates fast, reliable implementation of corrective actions. Unplanned downtime is a major source of production loss and uncontrolled maintenance costs. By nature, unplanned downtime happens at the worst possible time.

A major U.S. power utility recently experienced an issue that was preventing a start-up. Using their SupportLine subscription, they called ABB for technical support late on a Friday night. This site had been resetting several control-system modules. One module continued to report an error. Using a continuous-monitoring program, the service engineer determined that the module had to be reloaded, which he did remotely. Within 30 minutes, a service engineer addressed the issue and the problem was solved on the spot without the cost and wait for an engineer to fly to the site.

The service engineer used ABB’s remote diagnostic services (RDS) technology to optimize the power utility producer’s assets in real time. The module was successfully reset. Delays and uncontrolled maintenance costs were avoided while the start-up stayed on schedule.

Maximized Operations

Effectiveness. Operational workflow can be optimized and streamlined by implementing a facility-wide asset-optimization strategy. Operational costs can be lowered by effectively monitoring equipment degradation.

This asset-management strategy provides:

  • More consistent and complete coverage of monitored items,
  • Migration from a reactive to a proactive maintenance strategy,
  • Amplified coverage and capability of a limited set of resources, and
  • 24/7 automatic monitoring of assets previously monitored manually, or by status, which was manually inferred from multiple pieces of information.

Production Capacity Assurance. The goal of any maintenance strategy is to maintain the highest possible production capacity at the lowest possible cost. Remote-asset monitoring enables continuous tracking and, when appropriate, alarming and notification of status changes.

Capacity is best ensured–and low maintenance costs are maintained–through continuous remote-asset monitoring.

A solid asset-management strategy increases asset availability and performance, maximizes operations and maintenance effectiveness and consistently lowers operational and maintenance costs. Implementing a well-managed asset-management strategy can contribute greatly to a utility’s operational excellence and financial performance.

Finally, these asset-management strategy benefits extend beyond the maintenance organization to all the stakeholders throughout the enterprise. The real value comes from leveraging an integrated asset-management strategy that presents the right data to the right people at the right time so sound operational decisions can be made.

Executing an asset-management strategy to increase OEE and reduce maintenance costs can be a highly effective means to remain consistently competitive in the marketplace for decades.

Vesel is a business development manager for optimization. He has been with ABB more than 16 years in various management roles. Vesel may be reached at

DuBay is manager of remote diagnostic services. He has a strong background in asset-management strategies and may be reached at

The Reliability and Maintainability Plan is Core to Your T&D Capital Improvement Project

By Mike Poland, Life Cycle Institute

With the increasing cost of fossil fuel and the global demand for alternative energy sources, it is paramount that T&D projects are focused on the end in mind: the absolute lowest total cost of ownership with the greatest possible asset utilization. As projects progress along front-end loading methodology, the time to start developing your reliability and maintainability plan is in parallel with, or part of, your conceptual design phase.

Simply, reliability is related to mean time between failures (MTBF) and maintainability is related to the mean time to repair (MTTR). As your reliability and maintainability plan matures, it should allow for comparison among proposed components for a detailed reliability engineering analysis. When making selections based on the lowest lifecycle costs, you must understand the failure modes of these components. Look at the probability, severity, detectability of their occurrence (the risk priority number associated with failure mode and effect analysis) and the required control plan to ensure the forecasted availability.

Let’s consider power transformers, which are both costly and critical to the power grid. In determining the specifications for your particular application, is lowest initial cost meeting fit, form and function the only consideration, or is the total cost of ownership considered? With a robust reliability and maintainability plan, things such as fault rates and controls are key considerations. Take, for example, a 5 MVA transformer with a failure rate much lower than that of a 15 MVA transformer. Determine if the increased number of lower-power transformers increases the likelihood of a failure in the data set above that of the higher-power transformer. Use the controls and risk for each as part of the selection criteria.

Criticality also plays an important role in your reliability and maintainability plan. Does the transformer’s criticality justify the high cost of online dissolved gas analysis (DGA) to better understand the health of the asset and thus ensure improved utility service? Fault tracking and root-cause analysis are also important factors in ensuring a continuous improvement process. Knowing that the predominant failure mode is insulation breakdown and that transformers in the 300 kVA to 10 MVA have the lowest failure rates is great when developing specifications for your project.

Although the example used here is a power transformer, the important takeaway is that component selection and the overall T&D system architecture of a capital improvement project can benefit greatly from a reliability and maintainability plan. This helps create an asset-management strategy that can help you achieve the greatest asset utilization at the lowest total cost of ownership.

Poland is an instructor for the Life Cycle Institute, a learning source for reliability training created by Life Cycle Engineering. More information may be found online at

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