Field Systems Strategies
Increasing costs, global competition, and the need to enhance return on assets are prompting manufacturers to consider new investment strategies. These factors will spur manufacturing companies, the users of field systems, to consider capital investments in field systems - provided field system suppliers demonstrate that such investments improve productivity. While field systems have the capability to improve productivity, users of field systems have come to consider field devices as commodities, despite significant differences among countless suppliers and several generations of technologies currently deployed at manufacturing plants. Field devices can and do last for decades. This perceived immortality of field systems is lulling users into a false sense of security. Therefore, plant managers and operators are allowing these devices to work long past their useful life at the expense of productivity. Navigating the way through the myriad of field system innovations undoubtedly taxes user resources. With the multitude of installed technologies from the slew of suppliers in a given plant, users are finding it difficult to tackle updation.
Accurate Measurements Are the Foundation of Sound Business Decisions
Regardless of function, every automation and business system in the plant relies on data generated by the field systems. However, many manufacturers seem to have lost sight of the fact that accurate, reliable production measurements are the foundation for most business decisions. With so much of the focus on the bottom line, few manufacturers have kept abreast of the improved functionality available in today's field systems. Similar to the office worker who uses Microsoft Word on a daily basis yet remains unaware of its full functionality, plant operators are only familiar with the few functions they use regularly and little else. Consequently, manufacturers' outdated perspective of field device capabilities and limitations are fostering inaction and complacency costing enterprises resources and time that for the process and hybrid industries equates to untold dollars lost in productivity.
Manufacturers should take advantage of enhancements in field system technology to extend their leadership positions. Their installed base consists of older devices with questionable performance characteristics. Some users make a gallant effort to calibrate electronic converters and transmitters via annual checkups; however few users
have the inclination to rip-out devices for an independent calibration lab to test, which would be necessary to fully assess device performance. Such lessthan rigorous work processes support the practice that devicesare working well enough and that verification or upgrade would have little impact on productivity. This flawed logic is the reason why millions of aging field systems are still in place. The business case is even more compelling when the benefits of communication protocol enabled smart solutions are factored into the analysis. This includes continuously validating and correcting the real-life measurements while monitoring health of the field systems.
Factors undermining Adoption of New Field Systems
Years ago, when field devices represented a higher percentage of investment, manufacturers dedicated engineering specialists to Pressure, Temperature, Flow and Level as well as control valves and other related devices that comprise a field system. Test facilities and engineers charged with product performance and long-term reliability analysis supported the specialists and provided company-wide strategic direction, design, and standardization of field systems.Today, this infrastructure has effectively vanished.
The mantra of leading corporations, operating faster, better and cheaper, has spawned the unforeseen consequence of a diminished work force. The remaining staff must multi-task to complete the daily workload. Extinguishing fires is the norm, and any type of long-range strategic planning at the field system level is virtually non-existent. Important longer-term issues are forgotten, frequently spawning conflict between required infrastructure and production goals. Decisions made with little analysis are detrimental to long-term health and cannot continue.
Lack of experienced personnel and undocumented work processes are contributing to manufacturers' loss of competitive edge in terms of the field system expertise necessary to enable business systems that drive productivity efficiencies throughout the enterprise. It is no wonder that manufacturers consider field devices as commodities. One look at the increasing number of patents filed by leading field systems suppliers refutes this notion. Assuppliers continue to make hugeinvestments into enhancing currenttechnologies they will undoubtedlyneed to improve field systems.
Manufacturers must realize that the field system is core to gaining control of the production floor operations and that old systems are of no help to them. They should consider resolving factors undermining field system adoption and reinstate dedicated technology specialists to keep abreast of significant field system developments.
Deploy Collaborative Field Systems Management The lack of knowledge of the installed base and unfamiliarity with new solutions are the primary reasons legacy field systems are permitted to operate well beyond their useful life.
Manufacturers have few resources available to assist them in determining field system replacement and upgrade cycles. ARC's Collaborative Asset Lifecycle Management (CALM) asset management model identifies five stages of product lifecycle: Plan, Acquire, Install, Operate / Maintain, and Retire. Each stage requires appropriate actions designed to get the most out of the asset. PAM solutions help manufacturers extend asset availability in the lengthy operate / maintain stage, alert operators of potential problems, and predict equipment failures, but fall short in assisting operators in determining the appropriate time to retire outdated field systems.
Ad-hoc field system management
Lack of knowledge
Lack of dedicated field system personnel
Lack of management support
Lack of field system strategy
Factors Undermining Adoption of New Field Systems
It is infinitely easier for manufacturers to purchase new devices for new projects, but the challenge is when it comes to managing legacy devices. Automated documentation embedded in many PAM solutions can collect smart asset data and provide guidance regarding replacement due to a failing component, but users also need to decide when to repair, re-deploy, or
replace the asset with newer technology. Manufacturers need to develop an internal Collaborative Field System Management solution that analyzes field systems in relation to the internal goals and objectives of the enterprise. With assistance from leading field system suppliers, such a tool will enable manufacturers to launch an unbiased solution independent of supplier and technology.
- Manufacturers should assess the status of their field systems to ensure that current performance, reliability, and other attributes are aligned with the needs of the enterprise.
- Manufacturers should adopt a pro-active Collaborative Field System management strategy in lieu of assuming that operating field systems are operating optimally.
- Nidhi Chakravarthi