As GE Digital unveils the latest enhancements to its Asset Performance Management (APM), Connected Technology Solutions spoke to Linda Rae, General Manager, GE Digital Power Generation and Oil & Gas, about the importance of APM to the energy sector and the new functionality and reliability on offer from GE.

Asset Performance Management (APM) systems act to improve the reliability and availability of physical assets while minimising risk and operating costs. APM typically includes condition monitoring, predictive maintenance, asset integrity management, reliability-centred maintenance, and often involves technologies such as asset health data collection, visualisation, and analytics.

According to Gartner, in asset-intensive industries, asset management is moving from simple maintenance to a business operation’s core competency. APM is at the heart of this change. The interest in the technology is increasing with the global APM market size expected to grow from $3.3 billion in 2020 to $6.7 billion by 2025, according to a report released in May by MarketsandMarkets. It predicts that the major factors driving the growth of the market include the rising need for risk-based maintenance, need to maximise economic return on assets, and increasing adoption of cloud-based applications.

It foresees that the energy and utilities vertical industries will account for the largest market size in 2020. Energy and utility companies have been challenged repeatedly by changes that have been brought on by globalisation and new environmental policies. Among utility and energy companies, operational excellence means getting more from the assets that serve their customers.

One of the leading advocates of APM is GE Digital with its Predix Asset Performance Management suite (Predix APM). This suite of software and service solutions is designed to help optimise the performance of assets by connecting disparate data sources and using advanced analytics to turn data into actionable insights while fostering collaboration and knowledge-management across an organisation.

Why APM is important?

APM is important because it provides a view for customers into the health of their assets that allows them to improve the reliability of their plant and their equipment, reduce their operating and maintenance costs and ultimately helps them make money.

What are the challenges that the oil and gas, and power generation sectors face that makes APM so important to them?

If we think about oil and gas for a moment, one of the consequences that we are seeing in the whole COVID pandemic situation is that customers are looking hard at understanding the value of the digitalisation of their plants, and in many cases they are accelerating their digital journeys. They are deeming their digital investments to be more strategic than before. They are recognising that the more they can provide insights into the health of their assets and better predict what is going on with their assets, the easier it is for them to manage deployment of maintenance personnel. It makes it easier for them, in many cases, to work with reduced staff on site, and it makes it easier for them to protect the health and safety of their employees.

Even with the lower price of oil today, we have seen several customers continue to protect their planned investments in digital solutions, including APM. In some instances they have even accelerated because they understand that now is the time to make some of these changes and the fact that many of them have been working remotely has given them a better appreciation for the value our solutions can provide for them.

It is the same scenario with power generation. Many of our customers are working with skeletal staff on site, with most of their employees working remotely. The benefits of solutions like APM, along with monitoring and diagnostic centres, have become more appreciated as they have had to monitor the health of their plants and the equipment in those plants on a remote basis. Customers like Sonelgaz in Algeria are a great example of this shift to using APM to enable remote working.

What are the primary benefits of APM?

The more that you can understand the health of an asset, the better able you are to decide when it requires maintenance, to decide what type of maintenance it requires and to enable the right maintenance for improving the overall reliability of that asset. One of the things that we do to improve the reliability of our customer’s plants is give them a window into the health of the key assets to that plant. This gives them an early indication of when that asset may be starting to degrade, with specific information about what is happening, or why or where that degradation might be happening.

This allows our customers to pinpoint the type of maintenance that is required. It helps them improve the reliability of the plant, but it also helps them manage their operation and maintenance costs and allows them to deploy maintenance personnel more efficiently when and where they are needed.

Most importantly, it helps them prevent unexpected failures and unexpected outages. An unexpected outage in an oil and gas refinery is hugely expensive, so the more that we can help them get on top of their maintenance requirements and help them better manage the environment will lead to improved reliability of their assets, which adds tremendous value to their business.

GE Digital recently announced APM 4.4. One of the main advancements is that you’ve added 30 addition asset digital twin blueprints to your catalogue of more than 300. Can you tell me why this is significant and the benefits for customers?

Creating Digital Twins of assets is the main way we can provide predictive analytics on an asset. It enables us to understand how that asset is going to perform, or what might be happening regarding the degradation of that asset’s performance over time, based on input that we see in signals from the sensors.

It is important to have these Digital Twins because that is what enables us to connect those statements together; to understand that if we are seeing certain signals in certain patterns that could lead to this type of outcome. That is the early information that we give our customers to help them improve the reliability of their assets, help them manage their maintenance schedules, or avoid unscheduled outages. The announcement of 30 new Digital Twin blueprints to our library just provides our customers in oil & gas, chemicals and power generation with a richer set of predictive information for detecting degradation performance across an asset base. It helps them get to value much, much quicker.

When we talk about Digital Twins are these individual assets or entire systems and processes?

Right now, we still focus mainly on asset specific Digital Twins, although we can and do create system digital twins and processes as well.. A lot of these leverage our extensive domain knowledge that we have and the rich experience and subject matter experts that we have within GE. It is one of the ways that we distinguish ourselves from other software vendors. We have this specific physical understanding of how these assets work, married with the digital capabilities in predictive diagnostics.

 Aside from the Digital Twin footprints what else can we expect from APM 4.4?

We want to accelerate our customers’ time to value from APM. One new feature to APM 4.4 is the sensor health reporting and predictive diagnostic coverage that helps us get better diagnostic information earlier in the asset life. The earlier that we can predict degradation and failure, the earlier we can provide users with information that they can act on and the earlier that they can prevent unnecessary expense.

It’s important that APM software is as easy to use as possible. That’s why we have enhanced our visualisation capabilities, providing richer dashboarding and reporting. This makes it much easier for our customers to understand the information that is being collected and to understand the analytics that are then being displayed.

We want our customers to get as much value as possible from APM across their entire organization. So, we have introduced new sister asset charting capabilities for predictive diagnostics that allows us to directly compare the performance of similar assets across the organisation. This allows the user to better understand whether assets are performing in the same way under similar conditions, or whether one asset’s performance is deviating from expected performance or expected behaviour.

Finally, specifically for our process-oriented customers in the oil and gas space, we have delivered new compliance functionality, specifically related to mechanical integrity, and to the integration of our capabilities with asset management systems.

One of the other modules in the APM package is The Generation Availability Analysis Wind (GAA Wind). Can you tell me a bit about this module?

In North America, utility companies that own one or more wind plants report their wind performance and sub-group data to the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) using the Generating Availability Data System (GADS) Wind Reporting application. The Generation Availability Analysis Wind (GAA Wind) module uses the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) event data from the GE Renewables Digital Wind Farm suite to help them record generation and loss data for each wind plant in their fleet.

One of our key customers, Exelon, has several wind plants under their control. This new module allows them to report the performance of those turbines, maintaining compliance with NERC requirements. It is a specific reporting application that allows wind farm operators to generate compliant reports.

In the APM Integrity module there are some capabilities to meet European Regulatory Inspection Management requirements and Risk-Based Inspection re-certification. Can you tell me about these?

Compliance is critical to the viability of their business. There are tremendous safety risks associated with an oil and gas refinery so there is a lot of compliance that they must abide by, with a lot of regional specific compliance requirements as well. Whenever we are providing information on specific assets, one of the benefits of that information is that it enables those facilities to prove their compliance.

For example, the risk-based inspection functionality that we have for oil and gas customers allows them to show to regulatory bodies that they have prioritised and inspected the high-risk areas of their plants. This gives them better management of their resources but is the most compliant means by which they can prove to regulatory bodies that their plants are safe.

APM has been spoken about as an important tool for some time but how has industry adopted it?

APM is still new for many industrial companies but it is a proven technology.  We have satisfied and moved past the early adopters, but we are certainly not at the stage where every oil and gas refinery or every power generation customer has fully digitised their operations and is fully leveraging the capability of an APM solution.

What we are expecting is that the current COVID-19 situation will help us accelerate and move beyond some of those leading adopters to companies that maybe thought it was not as much of a benefit to them or maybe thought they didn’t have the time or the resources to invest in a digital solution. That movement has picked up a little bit of momentum in the current environment. I think we are on the path towards full penetration of digitalisation.

How well does the industry understand and trust APM?

Different customers are in different phases of their journey. One of the things that we are focused on is getting customers to see the benefits faster. We talk to them about time to value. Getting our customers to recognise the value of APM by improving the speed of deployment, by improving the level of simplicity in their ability to visualise the information, by improving their ability to tie that to automated workflows.

All of those are ways in which we can get customers to start recognising the value of their solution more quickly and then to be able to monetise those benefits and report those benefits. But, to some degree it can be hard to quantify because you are working to prevent issues from occurring. That means you must extrapolate a bit at times to connect the money you have saved by preventing something from happening. Some customers struggle with that more than others, and that is something that we help them with – whether it’s by managing their assets on their behalf, training their teams to integrate the solution into their workflows directly, or any combination in between.

Aside from quantifying the value, what are the other barriers to APM adoption?

The change to the workflow is the other big challenge. When you think about the changes required to move from time-based maintenance to condition-based maintenance, for example,many companies are used to sending a maintenance crew out on a time basis to check all the various pieces of equipment in a power of plant.

Getting them to understand that that time-based maintenance does not make sense and is not needed can be difficult. They need to learn to trust the information that the APM system is giving them that says these particular assets do not need maintenance right now, but these assets that maybe you had not been planning to spend time with do.

There is a change to workflow and to maintenance patterns that sometimes takes customers time to grasp. There is definitely a change management process that many of our customers go through as they get workers to change the way in which they do their work by relying more on the data and insights that the APM system supplies.

What are the biggest drivers currently for adoption of APM systems?

It is reduction of operating and maintenance costs, improvement of reliability and, in many cases, improvement of the overall efficiency or production of the facility. In power generation, for example, the more that we can help our customers optimise the operation of their plants the better. They can produce energy when it is needed and scale the plant down when it is not needed. In oil and gas, it is about reducing maintenance costs, improving reliability, and reducing risk to their employees.

APM is becoming an established and mature technology. Where next for the solution?

We want to continue to broaden the footprint. APM is a proven, mature solution and more companies can benefit from it – it’s faster, easier than ever before to reduce operational and maintenance spend with this software. We want to continue to broaden the coverage of our predictive analytics, both within specific asset classes but again, moving more towards the process that is being run within those plants and the predictive maintenance of other aspects of the plant.