Improve the management & maintenance of production-critical utility assets to increase equipment reliability, reduce costly outages, and maximise your utilities output.
By providing services such as water, gas and electricity, companies within the utilities sector keep the population of households and businesses running smoothly. So much so, that in 2018 alone the power and energy industry created £86.6bn in economic activity. As well as supporting 620,000 jobs across the UK.
But, the utilities sector continues to face multiple challenges that set to derail its smooth operations. And, one major challenge, is the lack of effective asset management.
In this article, you’ll discover how the effective management and maintenance of mission-critical assets in the power and utilities sector can help to increase equipment reliability, and maximise efficiency and output. While aiming to reduce large maintenance expenses and avoid costly outages caused by ageing infrastructure.
In a world of on-demand services and instant access, the ability to obtain utilities is no exception. Households up-and-down the UK expect their access to water, gas and electricity to be instantaneous and without fault. And, as long as utility processes are running smoothly, there is no need for concern.
But, when issues do occur and disrupt output, it has a major impact. Not only does a disruption affect the use of services for paying customers, but, through payouts and maintenance to infrastructure, it also takes a toll on a company’s bottom line.
For instance, from 2014-2018, gas and electricity utility providers paid out a huge £29 million for failing to meet guaranteed service standards.
There are a variety of challenges that can affect the production of utilities, including:
Adhering to constantly-changing government law and regulations
Switching to clean and renewable energy sources
Upgrading ageing infrastructure
Operating with an ageing workforce
Integrating IoT and AI within existing processes
Support for the electrification of transport
Although all of these challenges are harmful to the production of utility services, the management and maintenance of assets is one issue that should not be overlooked.
Assets are essential to the power and utilities sector; gas pipelines, substations, storage wells, electrical grids, dams, distribution and transmission lines – the list goes on. That’s not to mention the data, facilities, buildings and fleets, either.
If a production-critical asset fails then so does the production of services, which subsequently affects overall profits.
When implemented into industries and organisations that rely heavily on the usage of their assets, an asset management tool can help to better manage and maintain mission-critical equipment across entire operations.
Among various features and tools, an AMS will provide organisations with many benefits, including:
Tracking asset performance data in real-time based on different KPIs
Building proactive and preventative maintenance programs
Tracking asset life cycles from procurement to disposal
Gaining an accurate ROI for each asset
Accurately managing inventory control
Managing and tracking field workers
Prioritising and scheduling work orders
One major benefit of installing a form of asset management into your utilities operations is being able to collect and store real-time data in a centralised system. Having this data available to workers, managers and technicians not only speeds up the workflow process but also produces a holistic overview of all valuable assets. Making it particularly useful for your field-based workers.
The real-time performance data an AMS collects can be achieved with the use of IoT (Internet of Things) devices and can include:
Usage (hours, days or weeks)
Work order history
Latest compliance and license information
Maintenance and repair history
Field workers are responsible for call-outs to your most critical assets in the field, such as transmission lines and towers. They’re the technicians that are suitably qualified to maintain and repair your ageing infrastructure, effectively minimising the chance of failure and outages. But, without the right data, field staff can only be reactive in their response. This reactive approach can cause high costs in repairs, interrupted service delivery and delays to operations.
By having access to real-time performance data, however, that reactive response quickly transitions into a more proactive approach. Not only does access to asset data provide more visibility, but it also connects your field workers with employees back at head office. And, similar to field service management, the system containing the performance data can be accessed via a mobile device.
As well as improved time management, access to real-time performance data will drive down the operating costs of each asset. For example, you’re able to schedule proactive maintenance work during the working week instead of reacting to a failure outside of work hours. This means costly out-call expenses are reduced and reliability is increased.
The collection of real-time data is beneficial in other forms, too:
By tracking each of your assets from procurement to disposal, you begin to get an idea of their worth to your operations. Knowing each asset’s ROI, by considering operating and maintenance costs, you can understand if, at the end of an asset’s life cycle, it’s worth replacing or disposing of.
By collecting large amounts of useful data, you can begin to analyse trends that are going to affect your output. One example of this is the demand for utilities during different months and seasons throughout the year. You may notice that gas and electricity is demanded more in the winter period, allowing you to prepare for ramping up production and asset usage. This also allows you to plan for maintenance and repairs during off-peak times, meaning delivery of services isn’t compromised when needed the most.
Collecting accurate asset performance data is achievable with the use of IoT-enabled devices. These devices, in the form of smart sensors and trackers, talk to each other and relay information back to an asset management system where data is collected and stored.
Before organisations introduced IoT technology into their operations, the process of collecting data was based upon observed judgement and intuition. But, thanks to innovations, data is more accurate and instantly available. This type of digital transformation to help modernise and build smarter infrastructure is expected to cost the utilities sector $14 billion per year throughout 2023.
Introducing IoT alongside asset management solutions can have many benefits for the production of utilities, including:
Proactively approaching maintenance
Reducing downtime of essential assets and infrastructure
Decreasing environmental impacts
Minimising risks and safety concerns of assets
Helping to grow the use of renewables such as wind turbines and solar panels
Providing a more holistic customer-centric approach
Using low-cost sensors in your energy production can also benefit your workers in the field. The ability to instantly access real-time data from a mobile device can have both financial and time-management benefits. By installing IoT devices on essential equipment and infrastructure, you are able to provide each field worker with a real-time view that helps them to determine a proactive approach to repairs and maintenance.
This approach is achievable with data such as an asset’s condition, age and location. All of which is stored in your centralised AMS, with the aim to offer a more realistic view of each asset’s health and determine the impact it has on safety, reliability and risk to your bottom line.
IoT technology is also essential for companies who are reliant on the efficiency of their assets and who are looking to reduce their skyrocketing expenses.
Like other IoT devices used in the quest for better asset management and maintenance, smart metres were introduced to drive smarter electrical grids. As well as having a long term target of providing greener energy and improving customer relations.
By providing smart metres to households and businesses, power and utility companies were able to gain a better insight into how public utilities are exploited. The use of gas, water and electricity by consumers is sent back to the service provider enabling them to build a database to improve future operations. This data then allows them to build a more efficient and reliable production of utilities, among other factors such as:
Gaining direct consumer feedback
Being able to offer flexible energy tariffs
Providing more intelligent energy distribution
As the demand for energy increases year-on-year, such as the electrification of transport and increasing mobile connectivity speeds, collecting accurate data is essential for all utility service providers.
By now, you’ve determined how important the introduction of asset management is for your utilities operations. Now, it’s time to embark on the journey of finding and implementing the right solution that matches your needs.
There are many different forms of asset management solutions on the market that are geared towards different processes. By following our quick guide, you’ll be able to highlight what it is you require and how to find the perfect AMS.
Taking a short approach, the process of finding the right software can be broken down into three sections:
Identify the gaps in your management and maintenance of assets
Highlight the essential features you need to close the gaps in your operations
Shortlist, compare and evaluate the products and vendors you have selected
To help improve asset efficiency and reliability, the first place to start is to identify where in your current operations do your greatest challenges arise. Once you have a solid idea of the areas you need to improve on, you’re able to look for the right features and tools that can directly rectify these challenges.
To get a better understanding, ask yourself the following questions:
Are you losing time and production due to unplanned downtime of assets?
Are your customers experiencing outages due to failing equipment and infrastructure?
Is your reactive approach to maintenance and repairs costing too much?
Are you paying-out huge amounts to customers by not providing the utilities services you guaranteed?
An easy way to understand what features you require from an asset management solution is to divide your needs into two groups: Essential and Non-essential.
Essential features: These are made up of the core requirements needed to close the gaps in your asset management and maintenance activities.
Non-essential features: These are features that are nice to have, but do not directly affect your current issues.
By using this method, you will then have produced a list of your core requirements. This list is essential to have when going into the final stage of your journey.
Once you’ve scanned the marketplace and decided on the right tools that are going to improve the management and maintenance for your utility assets, you’ll want to find the most suitable option.
The best way to do this is to shortlist, compare and evaluate each vendor and product against one-another based on factors that directly affect your operations. A great way to do this is to draw up a list of questions that you can correlate with each option, such as:
Does it provide the mobile access needed for field workers and technicians?
Does the vendor have experience dealing with other companies in the utilities market?
Is the product able to integrate with existing software and IoT devices?
Will the tool be easy to use for you and your workforce?
For a more detailed look into choosing the right asset management software, read our Asset Management Software Buyer’s Guide.