New maintenance and procurement strategies will be needed for open systems

Assembly Automation

ISSN: 0144-5154

Article publication date: 1 June 2000




(2000), "New maintenance and procurement strategies will be needed for open systems", Assembly Automation, Vol. 20 No. 2.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2000, MCB UP Limited

New maintenance and procurement strategies will be needed for open systems

New maintenance and procurement strategies will be needed for open systems

Keywords: Systems development, Automation

The development of open systems changes not only the products and systems used in the automation and process control environment, but also the way they are designed, delivered, maintained and paid for. According to a new report from Datamonitor, Opportunities & Threats in an Open Automation Market, in order to be successful, open systems vendors will require fundamentally new strategies, rather than just new products.

The major drawback to open systems, and specifically the use of different vendors' products in one system, is the danger of reducing plant reliability. Although the future of open systems is now assured, this factor has not been resolved, and the use of one vendor's products in an automation solution is still the norm. In order to circumvent this, plant owners will need to develop partnerships with systems integrators, plant contractors and automation vendors to ensure that their open automation system is both best of breed and high-availability.

Two of the major conclusions from the report include:

  1. 1.

    To ensure plant reliability, open systems plants will require sophisticated, performance based maintenance strategies;

  2. 2.

    As open systems develops, the risks of reduced plant availability will be passed down the value chain to automation suppliers.

1. Sophisticated, performance-based maintenance strategies will be required for open system plants

Having more components from different vendors in an automation system will inevitably lead to higher servicing and maintenance costs. The engineers that carry out maintenance will need to be familiar with more system types and vendors and this will require more resources. This will inevitably increase costs, but benefits other than managing and maintaining the automation system can be accrued through this investment.

There are several types of maintenance. They start with the "fix it when it breaks" strategy, which although low-cost, reduces plant availability and interrupts production. This is in contrast to periodic or preventative maintenance (where each system component is maintained regularly no matter what its condition), where maintenance costs are high but availability improves.

The two strategies which offer the best availability, however, are condition-oriented and risk-based maintenance. These strategies both require some form of asset management system as they rely on an understanding of what condition the components of the system are in.

With an asset management system the problem of multi-vendor responsibility vanishes - users know which part of the system has a problem before it occurs and can take action before any part of the system fails. Performance-based maintenance involves reducing costs through penalising or rewarding third-party maintenance suppliers depending on their performance and the availability of the plant.

2. As open systems develops, the risks of reduced plant availability will be passed down the value chain to automation suppliers

The advent of open systems and performance-based contracting (such as risk-based maintenance) will mean that a closer link between client, contractor and automation vendor will be required. As competition increases in end-user industries such as oil and gas and power generation, pressures on plant availability will also grow. In order to maximise plant availability it is essential that the goals of all clients, contractors and automation vendors are aligned, and to do this, availability risk will have to be passed through the chain from the client through the contractor and down to the vendor.

This means that contractors will have to guarantee a certain level of performance for the plants that they construct, operate or maintain. The structure of such an agreement involves the plant owner and contractor setting a performance target that there is as much chance of hitting as missing. Penalties are paid by the contractor for missing the target and bonuses for exceeding it. These risks and rewards are then passed on to the contractor's sub-suppliers such as automation vendors.

Competition in end-user industries will also increase the tendency towards modularised plant components where possible. This opens up the possibility of closer contractor-vendor relationships, and procurement by contractors on a centralised, rather than project-by-project basis. This would provide automation vendors with guaranteed revenues at the cost of higher risk: a necessary trade in a more competitive world.

For further information please contact: Russ Milburn. Tel: +44 (0) 171 316 001; Fax: +44 (0) 171 372 0130; E-mail:

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