Intelligent, Networked Equipment Optimizes Assets

By : Jim Pinto,
San Diego, CA.

This article was published by:
Automation World, November 2003

In today’s fragmented market environment, there’s a gap between equipment manufacturers and their customers. Many suppliers try to optimize products, pricing and sales channels. After equipment is purchased, service is provided at additional cost, and management of the assets becomes the end-user’s responsibility. That’s a disconnect that can be profitably bridged.

Imagine every piece of equipment monitoring its own operation, including uptime, downtime, dwell-time, energy usage, malfunction and repair-time. Usage can then be reported with an Internet connection. Operating return on investment (ROI) on all plant equipment would be available all the time, any time. Technologies exist right now that can do that in order to help end-users manage their assets.

But, it’s not just end-users who have a lot to gain from equipment networking—it’s suppliers too. Which is why, rather than let end-users add those capabilities as expensive retrofits, suppliers should build self-monitoring and networking capabilities into new equipment.

Self-monitoring benefits

Equipment self-monitoring and connectivity allows suppliers to provide increased benefits for their customers, and increased competitive value. An Internet connection would allow a manufacturer to communicate directly with its equipment, without imposing a burden on the end-user. Both suppliers and end-users would benefit significantly.

Networked equipment can continue to generate valuable information over its lifespan. The manufacturer can track where the device is located, when it was installed, environmental measurements, critical specifications, diagnostics, availability of spares, replacement alternatives, repair instructions and other measures. This information can then be used to enhance sales and marketing efforts, product upgrade modifications and customer service.

Equipment manufacturers can use their connected products to develop customer service relationships that ultimately recreate the nature of revenue growth and customer management in an information economy. For end-users, networking technology can reduce, or even eliminate the hassles of ownership. For suppliers, it can reduce costs, achieve revenue growth, and bring opportunities. Today, equipment networking is not only possible—it’s essential.

Consider the information that relates to typical factory equipment: how to use, history, location, part numbers, where purchased, when installed, key characteristics, specifications, diagnostics, availability of spares, replacement alternatives and repair instructions. In the past, this information would reside in printed documentation.

In the future, the equipment itself will contain all required knowledge, embedded within it and always accessible. Embedded intelligence will allow adaptation to operator characteristics: simple and relatively foolproof for the casual user, and more features and capabilities for those who need or wish to utilize more complex features. Adaptation includes functional changes as the user progresses from basic functions to more advanced features at a later stage. The equipment will essentially be capable of providing "self-training."

In the future, all equipment will have self-diagnostics—not only after failure has occurred, but also predictive (before failure), preventive (precautionary and deterrent) and advisory (providing maintenance instructions). For example, if a valve appears to be “sticky,” then the process can perhaps continue to operate, with some precautions. On the other hand, a different kind of “stickiness” might demand immediate remedial action.

In today’s competitive business environment, manufacturers and users should collaborate to ensure that all assets and equipment include self-monitoring intelligence and networking capabilities. Internet connectivity provides optimized equipment management for the supplier, and enhanced ROI for the end-user.

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Copyright 2003 : Jim Pinto, San Diego, CA, USA