Critical National Infrastructure is vital to the successful functioning of society and the economy. Effective asset management is fundamental to keeping the Critical National Infrastructure running and ensuring availability of assets and limiting downtime. What happens when normal maintenance schedules are difficult, or impossible to complete?

Covid-19 and the Utilities and Energy Sector

In times of emergencies, such as extreme weather, lack of available staff or in a pandemic - as we are currently experiencing, normal maintenance regimes become difficult or impossible to complete. Over the past 100 days, Covid-19 has already radically changed the world. With much of the world’s population in lockdown, many office workers are now working from home and a large percentage of the workforce is in isolation or off sick.

Tony Turner, Innovations Director, Vetasi says “Remote working is not an option for maintenance personnel, as technicians need to be at the location of the asset to fix it. As the virus is most devasting to the older male population, this has exacerbated the aging workforce dilemma. It is this group that has the greatest knowledge and experience in maintaining the assets. This situation is presenting Utilities and Energy companies with a major challenge.

They need to keep the assets operational in order to provide essential services such as water, electricity, fuel and gas to the population, and they must do it with a reduced and restricted work force. Now is the perfect time to review maintenance strategies, not only for the current situation, but also to future-proof."

So, the service providers are faced with the usual dilemma – provide the same level of service with less resources. The answer seems simple (if you say it quickly enough):

  • Do less work, whilst maintaining the same level of service.
  • Make better use of the resources you already have.

Do less work, whilst maintaining the same level of service.

There are many different maintenance strategies available, these include;

There are many different maintenance strategies available

Many companies still carry out their preventive maintenance task on a time-based frequency, this often leads to over maintaining the asset. There are a number of steps you can take to reduce the level of preventive maintenance, whilst maintaining the asset reliability.

These include:

  • Change from a time-based regime to a meter-based regime. For example, circuit breakers wear when they operate, and the amount of wear depends on the electrical load at the time of the operation. By swapping to a meter-based regime, the intervals between maintenance can be dramatically increased.
  • Increase the periods between preventive maintenance. For example, a large electrical utility company changed their inspections of overhead lines from a 4 -year cycle to an 8- year cycle, whilst still maintaining annual inspections for the high- risk assets. This led to a reduction of pole inspections of over 200,000 inspections per year.
  • Move to a Condition Based Maintenance approach. Replace or refurbish the assets that are in poor condition and leave the ones that are in good health. The electrical Distribution Utilities are now using Asset Decision Support Tools (for example Maximo Asset Health Insights) that allow the operator to target those assets that are presenting the most risk to the network, based on the asset health and its criticality.
  • Adopt a Predictive Maintenance approach. By monitoring the assets closely, the maintenance engineer can identify when a failure is likely to occur and carry out preventive maintenance before the failure occurs. This can be automated by using tools such as the Internet of Things but works equally well where regular manual inspections are carried out and the results are then analysed.
  • Carry out a Reliability Centred Maintenance study so that asset maintenance strategies can be correctly applied to the assets you own. For example, low criticality assets may be run to failure (avoiding Preventive Maintenance entirely) whilst high critical assets can be monitored closely and use predictive analytics.

We understand that a number of the technical staff at UK utilities companies are currently working from home or in isolation and this may prove to be an ideal opportunity to leverage their skills and experience to reset the approach to maintenance within the Utility. Having a pool of skilled workers to hand, without the demands of their normal day job, would be perfect to carry out this exercise under the guidance of a reliability expert.

Make better use of the resources you have

The implementation of Enterprise Asset Management solutions, such as Maximo, was seen to be a major step in addressing the aging workforce problem. The technicians gain experience from working on the assets and the older they get, the more knowledgeable they become. Eventually, these key employees retire, leaving the job to younger engineers who do not have the legacy of 40 years of working with those assets.

By capturing the experienced technician’s knowledge into a database of standard job plans, failure codes, etc. the intention was that newcomers could draw on the experience of the long serving experts of the plant. This approach has proven to be somewhat successful but has not yet been fully adopted in the workplace. With Covid-19, the aging workforce problem has suddenly become a lot more acute.

Technology can help here in several ways:

  • The use of Artificial Intelligence tools, such as Maximo Assist can identify problems in the asset base and advise on the best solution to the problem.
  • The use of Virtual Reality headgear means that the technician can have a hands-free view of the asset manuals and instruction videos, whilst actually working on the asset.
  • The use of the IBM Dial an Expert means that a junior technician can drive to the site, isolate the asset and then call in an expert worker who can guide the technician to identify the root cause of the problem and advise on how to fix it. By use of this technology, the expert can work from home and support several field technicians at once.
  • The use of spatial optimisation for scheduling work. This assigns work to the technicians and optimises their travel times, allowing them to make the best use of their working day. Our studies have shown that an improvement in productivity of 20% and a reduction in travel costs (and carbon) of some 25% are readily achievable.

Some of these approaches can be rapidly implemented in order to help you with a quick start. Other techniques, such as the IOT integration will take longer but need to be started now, in order to provide the benefits later. With many more people working at home and reduced site work, it provides the perfect opportunity to review and scope out new ways of working for longer term benefit. Why not email or give us a call to help you understand the options available?

About the author

Tony is a qualified engineer and project manager.  He has been working with Maximo for over 25 years and was part of the PSDI Management team back in the 1990’s.  He relocated to the Middle East in 1997 and delivered some of the largest and most successful Maximo projects in the Oil & Gas and Utilities sectors. During this period, he helped establish Maximo as the leading EAM solution across the Middle East. He also gained a deep experience in the Defence, FM and Transportation business sectors.  On returning to the UK in 2010, he joined Vetasi as Projects Director and is committed to delivering on the vision created during the Sales process.

Tony is a natural consultant with a vast range of industry experience.  He fully understands Maximo’s capabilities and can translate the customer’s specific business requirements into a practical working solution.

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