Digitalization represents another evidence of improvement in maintenance optimization

Like any other sector, the generation of renewable energies is continuously evolving, from a technological point of view as well as from a business perspective. If we look back, the circumstantial situation in which it was necessary to grant premiums and preferences in generation has changed towards a completely opposite scenario, since now renewables take part as one more agent in the electricity market.

The near future is also considered to be an opportunity, since the new energy model includes in its objectives the maximum integration of renewable energies in the electricity mix, among others. Only at the national level, in Spain there is a target of 74% participation of renewables in electricity established for 2030 (according to the Spain’s integrated National Energy and Climate Plan for 2021-2030), with 42% of renewables on the energy end-use, which is over the 32% in the EU.

In view of this situation, it is necessary to be even more competitive, since the sale of energy will depend on the price at which it can be introduced on the market, which is unavoidably linked to efficiency when generating it. Moreover, in this increasingly complex market, it is required to try to balance the profit obtained, for which there are only two clear ways: by reducing costs and maximizing income.

In this sense, it is possible for any element or innovation that offers a competitive advantage to become a distinctive aspect if it is correctly used. This is where digitalization and specific tools that improve productivity become an opportunity. Now is the time to focus on a key process in plants: maintenance.

«In relation to maintenance, digitalization can provide an important difference in the management and operation»

The maintenance concept consists of a long history. The starting point occurred a little over a century ago, when the pressure of a world war made it necessary to maximize serial production. It is from then on when teams of people focused on maintenance emerged.

The engine room has not stopped since that starting point and the process has been renewed from time to time. Periodically, every 15 or 20 years, the dedication of resources, as well as the focus and the way of acting have been improved. This time horizon responds not only to a dynamic of technological/ conceptual learning, but also to the maximization of the production capacity associated with it. When a new praxis is exploited to the maximum, innovation occurs and thus a new period takes place.

In this way, maintenance has been optimized since the last century in several stages: the corrective maintenance was improved in the 20s, the preventive one in the 40s, the predictive one in the 60s, the comprehensive management that includes aspects such as quality, risks and costs, among others, in the 80s and now, as the penultimate link, the CMMS.

By analyzing this trend, we can predict that maintenance should soon go one step further, and this additional optimization adjustment must come hand in hand with technological innovation. Aspects such as digitalization, the exploitation of information, machine learning, mobile technologies or even augmented reality must gradually make their way into a new stage.

In the case of renewable energies, this qualitative leap is also coinciding in time with a conceptual change that, in this area, is undergoing maintenance too. In this type of facility, actions have been limited on many occasions in order to comply with the schedule of preventive processes and act in response in the most effective way to corrective measures. This effective perspective must become efficient, by moving from a simple aspect to be fulfilled, to become a strategic advantage of the operation of the plants.

However, this new approach cannot be reached without a skilled partner. Although monitoring and control tools have been aligned with the renewables business, maintenance tasks are not, so that these have sometimes been relegated to the background. Nevertheless, nowadays actions are already being taken to have specific tools oriented to this area of the business, in order to boost plant operations, reduce operating costs and increase profitability.

This is one of the action points in which Isotrol is currently working. For this, there are already some applications that focus specifically on all management associated with maintenance (GO&M), tools that in turn can be supported by the monitoring and analysis capacity of the Bluence® system or other external ones. Moreover, the developed application considers the evolution of the performance indicators associated with the plants linked to the energy efficiency as well as their conditions.

«Although monitoring and control tools have been aligned with the renewables business, maintenance tasks are not, so that these have sometimes been relegated to the background»

Obviously, the optimal decision-making process is based on the recording data and the analysis of correct information that covers all areas of the business, and, specifically, the digitalization of information is a key element in this area of action.

In relation to maintenance, digitalization can provide an important difference in the management and operation in the four stages that define an action: identification of the action, work planning, its execution and, finally, a subsequent analysis.

In the first stage, early identification of action is key for the subsequent management of incidents and risks. Therefore, advanced information systems are able to carry out automated analysis of all available data, allowing the detection of problems and anomalous patterns of the operation. On the basis of those, the root of the anomalies can be identified and thus take specific actions or recommendations.

Regarding the task planning, the key difference is not addressing them from a reactive perspective in the face of incidents, or in the second instance, under the exclusive focus of the number and capacity of available technical professionals. A strategic planning must consider other parameters that bring it closer to the optimum, both from an energy and financial point of view. This is where the integration of resource forecasting tools (wind, sun) makes sense, which allow minimizing the energy impact of the action. Nevertheless, it is also important to reduce the economic effect of the action, and in this sense, the price expectation should be another aspect to consider when scheduling actions.

Once it is already decided what to do and when, it is time to undertake the work, and this includes the physical execution as well as its management. From a management perspective, aspects such as the automated generation of work orders or the replication of existing tasks, eliminate the repetitiveness of tasks and minimize response times. However, the possibilities are extended through allowing the direct control of the workers, the permits and documentation necessary to carry out the activity, the link with systems for the coordination of business activities, etc.

«Digitalization offers the possibility of having large volumes of information integrated in the same area»

When it comes to field repair, there is no doubt that digitalization must take advantage of the current capabilities of mobile devices, with both online and offline modes of operation. Through these, it is possible to facilitate the access of operators to the description of the task and additional information necessary for its execution (check list, ranges, user guides, etc.). In addition, it simplifies the processing of the work report on site, speeding up validation process and information consolidation. If we also add the warehouse management capacity, it will only remain, in the area of ownership, the efficient performance of the professional workers and thus the plant could be efficiently operated.

At this point, it seems that the maintenance task would be more than resolved, but digitalization offers us the possibility of undertaking an additional facet with the greatest potential of all: the exploitation of all the information. Digitalization offers not only the possibility of having large volumes of information integrated in the same area, but also technological-mathematical tools to exploit it from different perspectives.

Furthermore, from an operational and maintenance management perspective, it is possible to measure all kinds of type rates of failures, temporal indicators of actions and incident management, among others. All this is broken down to the levels required by the user: operators, work groups, plants, warehouses, etc.

In addition, this originated knowledge base can be linked to the operational data of the monitoring systems, linking with advanced analysis systems that allow establishing recommendation engines on upcoming actions and tasks to be carried out.

Isotrol’s solution embraces the ideas aforementioned, which are based on the possibility of combined exploitation of different sources of information. Therefore, the digitalization focused this way clearly improves the optimization of the intervention scheduling, the early identification of actions, the increased visibility of the operation and maintenance cycle, and the generation of knowledge that allows prevention and improvement in future actions.

The benefits associated with these actions are clear as well as immediate, and stand up for themselves: a reduction in costs and losses, an optimization of all work processes and a greater efficiency in plant operation. Undoubtedly, the global approach described here should be the way to be followed by systems aimed at maintenance management. Nevertheless, the additional value suggestion offered by Isotrol involves integrating all this set of new tools and services, which make use of all the accessible information, with the monitoring and analysis capabilities of a system already fully consolidated in the renewable sector, like Bluence®.

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