Operating plants as economically as possible plays a crucial role in industry. For this it is important that all components are coordinated with each other optimally, operating conditions and workflows in the plant are understood properly, and downtimes are kept as low as possible. Here, the last precondition, especially maintenance of plant components like valves is an influential factor.
Each simplification in workflow, in documentation and management as well as possible support to error avoidance is decisive here and can contribute to reducing unplanned downtimes and thus increasing the availability and process safety of a plant. In this case, simplification means reducing documentation and management expenses and therefore saving time. Support for maintenance means delivering all information relevant to maintenance directly at the place of occurrence in digital form.
Gemü has developed a system to achieve this. Using Conexo the valve components – valve bodies, actuator and diaphragm – and also the valve as a total resource, are provided with RFID chips, and thus, equipped with a permanent electronic ID. This enables not only unique electronic traceability, but also better identification of the components and wear and tear parts in the field. All the information assigned to the valve or the components can be imported on-site with an RFID reader, the Conexo Pen, and viewed on a tablet via the Conexo App. Documentation and factory certificates of the plant components are therefore available digitally at all times. The plant operator can also call up information about the last maintenance on-site.
Digital maintenance support
Further, the app also offers the option of digital maintenance support. The technician receives the maintenance order electronically on his tablet, he can then identify the valve to be serviced and carry out the maintenance job. Who carried out the maintenance and on which date is also recorded automatically in digital format. During the maintenance, the technician is guided by the app through the maintenance process sequence. The old and the new diaphragms are scanned separately with the help of the integrated RFID chip. Here too, the characterisation is unique, which ensures that the correct components are used. The diaphragm remains uniquely traceable – even after being dismantled. The condition of the diaphragm can be documented finally. The system requests the technician to evaluate the old diaphragm, and he can, if necessary, shoot an image of the diaphragm with the tablet, with the help of the ‘Photo Documentation’ feature.
Evaluation of the wear and tear parts also takes place electronically and can therefore be conducted systematically. Pen and app communicate via Bluetooth and all the information collected during the maintenance is stored offline in the tablet. This information is then transmitted via WLAN to the Conexo portal, a portable server application, and can be recorded and analysed here. This portal is the central management unit of the system and is ideally installed at the operator premises. All relevant information flows into this unit. All the maintenance logs can be compared to each other with the help of a ‘Histories’ function. Locations, plant sections, components and maintenance orders can be managed, analysed across locations and data can be transmitted to maintenance software via interfaces. Even direct communication with the ERP system is possible.
Avoiding error sources during maintenance
For plant operators, Conexo offers not only simplification of process and documentation, but also avoidance of errors via the supporting functions. Although all process sequences are technically optimised, defined and validated in pharmaceutical production, the frequently still analog world of maintenance often encounters potential sources of error.
Errors may occur during manual transfer, spare parts may be mixed up, the maintenance plans and logs can be damaged and sullied, the technician can make a mistake in the resource centre or carry out maintenance twice, or not at all. Even if the manual maintenance log is filled in properly, it may not be possible to process or evaluate it electronic-ally. All these problems can be overcome with the new option of traceability, unique identification in the field and maintenance support. Moreover, there is the option of calling up and viewing installation guides and installation videos of appropriate valves on-site. This option can reduce the possibility of maintenance errors. Maintenance will become safer, more transparent as well as electronically recordable through these functions in the future, so that plant availability and process safety will be enhanced.
Use in the pilot plant
Not only plant operators but also plant manufactures will benefit from this overarching system if FAT, SAT and IQ are involved. Expenditures will be reduced considerably, because all the required documents of the valve – qualification logs, works certificates and other relevant documents – will be available digitally and can be managed; valves can be identified easily in the field and information can be called up on-site. With an eye on the age of industry 4.0, one of the biggest concerns is to offer to customers new options for digital management and intelligent networking, so that surplus value may be generated. Innovative and holistic solutions that provide support through the total lifecycle of a plant are the foremost service idea.
The biggest advantage of such a system lies in the traceability and documentation of components and the planning as well as documentation of service instances. The combination of process data from the process guidance system Bioscada with Conexo in particular, offers many options in the area of preventive maintenance and increases plant availability. The documentation of maintenance and the planning or control of maintenance jobs can be saved electronically in the future. The decisive factor is that other components of a plant like agitators, probes, motors, pumps, hoses and manometers can be integrated in the system.
Intelligent and variable even in the future
Conexo was designed as an open system. Therefore, not just valves, even other components and wear and tear parts of a system which are provided with a RFID chip can be managed in it. In addition, interfaces with all common ERP, scada and maintenance systems can be created. This way, all processes involved in maintenance management, status-oriented maintenance and spare parts management, as well as procurement, can be interlocked effectively. As plant components are becoming more intelligent and they communicate with one another more intensively, factors affecting the shelf life of spare parts can be determined more accurately. This offers new perspectives to steer a plant towards optimum operation.
This article was first published in Process World.
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