Monday, October 31, 2011

Finding Gold in Asset Health Management

Last week was the Focal Point Users Group Meeting in Atlanta where I gave a presentation on smart grid technologies and my thoughts on how utilities are making investments to modernize their T&D grids. One of the areas that I discussed was asset health since Focal Point is the business intelligence platform that ABB and Ventyx use for asset health solutions. On the flight to Atlanta for the meeting, I was reading a book on social media by Ron Ploof titled Read this First and he had a comment regarding data collection and analysis. “Collecting data without performing analysis is like buying a gold mine without extracting the gold. You may own property worth billions, but without mining it, it’s just another mountain.” I am quite sure that the author was not thinking about the health of electric utility assets, but the comment is applicable to the approach that many utilities are taking today regarding their assets. Assets such as transformers and high-voltage breakers are monitored, inspected, or both, but rarely are the data routinely analyzed.

Why is asset health important? Utilities are usually interested in asset health for two reasons. The first reason is that utility infrastructure is aging and aging assets can challenge utilities in achieving performance and reliability metrics. The utility workforce is also aging with many employees becoming eligible to retire over the next five years, taking valuable asset knowledge and expertise out the door.

The second reason is that utilities have limited resources and personnel and there is always pressure to reduce operations and maintenance expense since this line item directly impacts the utility bottom line. Asset health solutions that can be capitalized and that drive savings providing a return on investment can be attractive to utilities.

The asset health solutions that utilities are implementing today are end-to-end solutions that support the business process of maintaining assets to meet reliability, performance, and compliance goals. The end-to-end solutions include asset knowledge and expertise; sensors and monitors; communication gateways; data integration, archiving, and storage; equipment performance models and algorithms; analytics and dashboards; and integration to asset and work management for supply chain management and work execution. Many utilities have sensors and monitors in the field and most utilities have enterprise-level systems for asset and work management, but there are often gaps in the end-to-end work integrated workflow.

The most frequent gap is the business intelligence module which is essential for asset health decision support and managing asset data. This module processes data from multiple sources such as sensors, SCADA historians, and test and inspection reports. The performance models and analytics assess the health of the assets and provide the information that: triggers alarms, initiates condition-based work orders, feeds asset health dashboards, and drives the decision support processes. In addition to alarms and the information needed to determine the health of assets for condition-based maintenance, this BI module also enables a transparent process for life-cycle management of assets – determining when to retire and when to refurbish or up rate assets.

I keep thinking about the comment from one utility executive. With a bit of frustration, he stated that his wife’s car has better health monitoring than his transmission system assets. Going back to the quote from Ron Ploof, we can improve how we mine the asset data gold that we have.

For additional information on asset health, here are a couple of links. The McDonnell Group did a study on utility asset health and their whitepaper can be found here. An ABB article on life extensions and safety upgrades for aging distribution equipment can be found here.


  1. Gary,

    I can confirm that I was NOT thinking about the health of electric utility assets when I wrote that, yet, I agree that it is very applicable to the problem that you outline.

    Glad to see that I could play a little role in sparking a very interesting discussion.

  2. Thanks for sharing! This page was very informative and I enjoyed it.Asset health

  3. Thank you for sharing. Condition Based Maintenance is the process of monitoring a certain aspect of the condition of a piece of machinery and is a major component of Predictive Maintenance (PdM) and asset health.