How Expert Services Are Helping Industrial Plants Improve Uptime and Asset Performance

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The operations and engineering teams in many industrial facilities have already been spread thin. Experienced employees are retiring, while new hires arrive with less experience. The pandemic has increased these challenges: shrinking numbers of personnel are tasked with more responsibilities. In some cases, this is made even harder when teams have reduced access to sites. To overcome these issues, many are turning to expert services to provide an effective and affordable solution.

Expert services combine advanced cloud-based tools with experienced advisors to help augment an onsite facility team. These services take advantage of the data from the facility’s fully digitized electrical distribution system, including connected smart devices, such as sensors, meters, and circuit breakers. Many facility teams may already have local power management software that communicates with these devices, helping them track plant-wide power and asset conditions, get alerts on risks to reliability, and isolate root causes. However, many companies lack the personnel, time, and expertise to act responsively to these insights on a 24/7 basis.

This is when a transition from a ‘self-service’ to a ‘full-service’ model makes sense, by partnering with an expert services team to outsource some of these responsibilities. By delivering power and asset management as a service, an advisory team monitors and manages the continuous data stream being collected from all important assets, shared securely to the cloud-based service hub. Let’s look at the benefits you can expect from this model.


Services Ensure Monitoring System Integrity

Important plant decisions must be made based on reliable and timely data. To ensure data integrity, an advisory partner can employ special techniques to confirm that your power management system has good data quality. This will include detecting any errors in how metering devices have been wired or configured, and whether communication connections are working properly. Our own Schneider Electric services teams have determined that these kinds of problems are quite common and can greatly affect the veracity and credibility of the power, energy, and equipment data you depend on. Advisors will also make sure your onsite power management system server responsible for the data acquisition and storage is operating reliably.

Remote Monitoring and Predictive Maintenance Services

Electrical distribution systems have become more complex, including more power-sensitive loads. Advisors act as a 24/7 service bureau, remotely monitoring power, energy, power quality, and asset conditions across your entire power infrastructure to reveal hidden risks to reliability and efficiency.

For example, advisors can identify risks due to ‘dirty’ power (e.g. harmonics) that can cause nuisance tripping of circuit breakers. Parameter trends may also indicate risks. For example, a transformer at a large US-based industrial site was experiencing a temperature rise in its coils up to 266 °F (130°C) during extended periods. Advisory services identified the potential failure of a cooling system and recommended when to replace the transformer in accordance with its computed health and reliability. Early identification enabled a predictive maintenance approach, saving time and money over more reactive or preventative methods.

Even in cases where access to a plant is restricted, the advisory team can remotely monitor your electrical infrastructure. If a problem surfaces, they will alert all stakeholders and coordinate with your team or contractors to arrange for onsite service. This means trucks roll only when needed, improving efficiency and safety for everyone.

Ensuring Asset Health and Safety

The newest sensor and smart device technologies combined with advisory services now offers a greater scope of analytic capabilities to help you keep your critical assets and operations running safely. For example, circuit breaker aging analysis takes into account every aspect of circuit breaker performance, including electrical and mechanical wear, as well as environmental factors including sensor data for vibration, dust, heat, humidity, and corrosive gases. Using these inputs, advanced algorithms enable predictive maintenance, focusing maintenance where and when it’s needed, avoiding unnecessary work and costly shutdowns.

Another innovative solution is thermal monitoring, which uses wireless thermal sensors to provide early detection of abnormal temperature rises at connection points throughout the electrical distribution infrastructure. Not only is this a more affordable option than infrared thermography, the advisory team will continuously monitor your system to identify issues before they lead to equipment failure, major financial losses or, worse, loss of human life. Advisory services identified overheating on connections within an MV cubicle at a large oil and gas refinery, determining the cause to be inadequately installed fuses. This avoided what could have become a critical issue causing downtime and outage.

Energy Efficiency and Cost Optimization

An expert services partner can help you reveal opportunities to reduce energy waste and inefficiencies. For example, power demand will be tracked. Peak demand penalties on your utility bill can be substantial and sustained for up to a year due to ratchet clauses. In this case, recommendations can be made to reschedule processes to off-peak hours or sequence large motor startups.

An expert services partner will also monitor your plant’s power factor, and analyze your energy bill to identify the cost impact of power factor penalties you may be incurring. If power factor is degrading over time, they will identify the root cause and provide an ROI analysis for implementing mitigation, i.e. installing or upgrading capacitor banks. One of the world’s largest glass manufacturers located in the U.S. experienced a complete failure of a poorly-maintained capacitor bank. The failure went undetected for some time, causing a significant financial loss of utility power factor credits. A complete EcoStruxure Power solution was installed, including software, meters, and capacitor banks. Integral to the solution is a Power Advisor service plan that is helping the plant ensure that the capacitor banks and other equipment are all properly maintained and continue to operate at peak performance.

Ultimately, the greatest value of using expert advisory services transcends the list of benefits above. A typical service team will be working with large numbers of clients, many of whom are companies with plants and processes like yours. Drawing from these sites, data scientists use proprietary algorithms and machine learning techniques to mine data and optimize predictions. This helps advisors offer you a depth of insight not possible using your own team and tools, while ensuring the safety of your plant’s data. This will give you the peace of mind that more risks and opportunities are being revealed, while recommended prescriptive steps deliver the maximum return on investment for your organization.

Learn how EcoStruxure Power can help

The EcoStruxure™ Power platform from Schneider Electric includes our proactive, analytics-based EcoStruxure Power Advisor and EcoStruxure Asset Advisor services, giving you the expert support you need to ensure power management system health, and to optimize power reliability, asset performance and lifespan, and system maintenance.  To learn more, visit our Power and Energy Management Solutions page,  try our services ROI calculator, and read my blog series.

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