Integrating data from different sources

February 14th, 2014, Published in Articles: EngineerIT


Using open architectures with flexible structures based on internet technologies to integrate information from a wide variety of different sources.

Fig. 1: Entrained gas effects.

Fig. 1: Entrained gas effects.

Data relating to process equipment and components is generated throughout the lifecycle of a plant. Where data generated in one phase of the plant lifecycle (e.g. during procurement) is required in another phase (e.g. maintenance), it must be available to the user in a clear and precise way.

The fundamental approach behind asset management is that every asset is documented with all appropriate attributes including tag, serial, model numbers, location on plant, application details etc. Attached to this base data is the information relating to the operation, maintenance regimes and their periodicity, device-specific spare part requirements, manuals and documents, as well as historical data such as calibration certificates. The user has records of all the necessary information to support, operate and maintain the plant. Traditional paperwork systems could be costly and impractical to maintain.

Digital communication

Fig. 2: Data is accumulated at every stage of the asset’s life.

Fig. 2: Data is accumulated at every stage of the asset’s life.

A modern asset management system is a variety of tools linked to a database integrated directly into the electrical infrastructure of the plant automation system. Its design allows it to extract data automatically from measurement sensors connected via digital protocols such as HART, Foundation Fieldbus or Profibus. The system provides all the fundamental data on the device to assist in scheduled and unscheduled maintenance and can offer condition monitoring as the basis for predictive maintenance.

Condition monitoring is applied to the measurement sensor which informs the user whether the device is functioning correctly or not. In time, the user can interpret the performance of specific parts of the plant for optimum operation by combining operating knowledge of the process with sensor information. Fig. 1 shows a condition monitoring system tracking an abnormal entrained gas condition in a Coriolis meter.

This approach is summarised by NAMUR NE 91 in its description of asset management as “activities and measures undertaken to conserve or enhance plant value. These include plant management, process optimisation, value conservation and wherever possible, value-enhancing maintenance.”

Not only is the process under control but maintenance communication is minimised. The measuring instruments which monitor the process and environment continuously are the primary components facilitating this approach. The need, therefore, is for an asset management system focused on field instrumentation, valves and drives. Such a system can be used by all process industries, but there are difficulties to be overcome.

Openness adds flexibility

Fig. 3: Typical data flow of a plant asset management system to the internet (source: ARC).

Fig. 3: Typical data flow of a plant asset management system to the internet (source: ARC).

Most asset management systems today are proprietary and designed to work to maximum effect when the user selects the field devices, automation system and asset management software all from the same supplier. The total solution typically tends to be aimed at highly automated industries such as the oil and gas, chemical, and pharmaceutical industries which, for safety reasons, traceability or sheer complexity, are willing to invest heavily into automation schemes to control their processes. These industries typically use DCS-based solutions. This lack of openness and the technology focus on large users make it almost impossible for medium-sized enterprises to justify the investment, despite the obvious benefits.

Another difficulty arises from the fact that the majority of asset management systems collect data from intelligent measurement sensors by means of digital communication. This is undoubtedly good for new projects, but in reality the largest installed bases of measurement devices today are simple analogue devices with 4 to 20 mA transmission or discrete switches for level, flow etc.

When populating the system, the user must identify all non-digital equipment in the installed base and enter the data into the system. This is time consuming but manageable. One of the biggest problems experienced by users lies with defining assets. This is traditionally done in terms of cost or perceived value.

The user enters data on pumps, heat exchangers, vessels and other “critical” measurement devices but often overlooks the simple switch which is deemed “unimportant” – until it fails.

Asset or life-cycle management?

Condition monitoring in process.

Condition monitoring in process.

The basis of any successful asset management system is up-to-date data that is used effectively to ensure maximum asset availability. The information provides the key to successful technical and economic management of the plant. Information relating to process equipment and its associated components is in fact generated throughout the plant lifecycle. It follows that information is needed and is generated at every point in the life of an asset or piece of equipment as shown in Fig. 2.

End-users often tend only to classify a piece of equipment as an asset when it is first delivered or installed in the plant. This means that a large part of historical information associated with the early life of the device prior to delivery is neglected. Such information could help the technician servicing the device ten years later to understand why a particular version of equipment is configured to operate in a certain way or simply to select a suitable replacement device. It is therefore advisable to take a total lifecycle approach to asset management than to confine data collection to the operational and maintenance phases.

How can this be achieved in practice? The designers of the plant are often not those procuring the components and the installation engineers do not perform the commissioning. When the plant is handed over to the end-user, other engineers operate and maintain the plant. With so many people, departments or even different companies involved it is easy to understand that valuable information does not get shared across the different lifecycle stages of the asset, unless the asset management system is designed to support all lifecycle stages.

Focus on instrumentation

The most important component within a device-based asset management system is the instrument itself. This transmits the measured variable to the asset management system which uses it to extract plant information for more advanced plant monitoring.

Instruments, however, are sometimes neglected as actual assets within the management system because their reliability is perceived to the high and are not included in maintenance activities. If the device is intelligent, it is possible to extract the device attributes and write the basic asset information directly into the asset management system database. If the device is a standard analogue instrument or a simple switch (as is the case in the majority of installed equipment), the data will probably have to be entered manually.

Basic tasks

The asset management system itself generally comprises a set of software modules or tools that can work independently to perform a specific task such as configuration of an instrument or may work together to link the tools to different information sources and to perform a variety of tasks.

These tasks include, but are not limited to:

  • Basic recording of asset attributes.
  • Instrument configuration.
  • Maintenance and calibration scheduling.
  • Retrieval of associated documents (SOP, operating manuals etc.).
  • Storage of records (calibration certificates).
  • Change management with logbook and audit trail capability.
  • Basic condition monitoring.
  • Condition monitoring relating to specific devices (e.g. valve diagnostics).
  • Advanced condition monitoring of plant components (e.g. optimisation of heat exchanger).
  • Interface to control loop optimisation packages.
  • Links to external information sources e.g. via the internet (see Fig. 3).
  • Interface to process automation packages to allow single operator access points.
  • Links to user ERP systems to provide data for business based decisions.

The cost of integrating the total portfolio of asset management functions can be high, especially if only one or two of the functions are needed. For example, an ISO 9001 accredited food process plant will need a good calibration management and record system, but as the process is more batch oriented, planning maintenance between batches might negate the need for advanced condition monitoring. The user must be able to use the individual modules depending on their needs.

Asset management system manufactures should therefore develop their solutions with such flexibility. They should also find new ways of making the base device information available from the start of the asset lifecycle so that users can set up their data bases easily, with minimum cost and time, yet be able to access the lower-cost assets deemed to be process critical. This is now possible with internet technology.

Web opportunities

It is clear that the web offers good possibilities for instrumentation suppliers and industrial equipment manufacturers to make information on their devices available instantly, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. It is also fairly common nowadays for suppliers to allow the download of documentation and operating manuals for the equipment.

But what if the user could link the asset by serial number into the supplier’s database to tap into the historical information relating to the specific device? This would offer the ability to find information on even the simplest of devices quickly but, more importantly, the serial number identification would provide traceability to the component on site.

For example, once the user has access to the equipment record in the supplier’s database, they could link into a spare parts list which tells them the exact components and associated part numbers of the parts fitted within their specific device. It will identify what software is fitted, whether the device is still manufactured and, if not, provide the part number of an alternative. It could also provide manuals for download and grant access to the specific Ex-certificate for the device. It should provide on-line purchasing of replacement parts or, if internet purchasing is not yet accepted by the client’s procurement process, provide a quotation to allow for traditional orders. Such systems are now becoming available from leading manufactures.

Suppliers offering a 24/7 service will have to make sure that the database is continuously available. This requires a proper IT infrastructure including server structure in de-militarised zones, as well as trained IT personnel.

Information security

The internet and remote service technologies could pose a completely new set of threats to information security on open automation systems.

Intrusion into console devices, databases and, may impact control and asset management systems in the following ways:

  • Unauthorised access to confidential information.
  • Loss of integrity of process or production data.
  • Loss of system availability due to virus attacks.

To benefit from these techniques, companies must develop security programmes and policies for authentication, authorisation, password protection, firewalls and secure network architecture.

Suppliers offering access to their data bases must also provide information security solutions such as Endress+Hauser’s Fieldcare PAM software which uses role-based, password supported access based on that proposed by NAMUR NE 91.

Life-cycle support

Such a web service can be used to populate an asset management system at all phases of the plant (or instrument) life cycle. With the appropriate tools, the user has access to the manufacturer’s records and downloads data to his asset management system.

The main phases of the life of an asset can be identified as engineering, procurement, installation, commissioning and operations. In The following describes the asset management information associated with each phase, taking examples from an existing website.

Engineering phase

Once the basic process details have been defined in the early plant design stage, the best measuring instrument must be selected. This often requires extensive checks and calculations. Online tools should assist in selecting the correct measuring principle and, subsequently, the correct instrument version comply with basic measurement criteria such as:

  • Medium
  • Required instrument dynamics
  • Ambient conditions (pressure, temperature etc.)
  • Process connection and material
  • Communication protocol
  • Special certification e.g. ATEX or FDA

Once all the parameters are entered, the tool will ideally suggest the most suitable measuring instrument as well as data on the selected instrument e.g. pressure drop and accuracy curves required for sizing flow measurement devices. These tools also provide documentation complete with technical drawings and corrosion database. Advanced tool versions with project management functions may also import and export data from standard engineering packages which means data need not be re-entered.

Once the basic technique and model have been defined, the user can access technical data sheets, general arrangement information and electrical hook-up diagrammes. Instruments are generally on short lead times and the engineer has the appropriate data up-front design. The instruments can also store and retrieve the design information in the procurement stage.

The information and engineering data initially selected should be captured on data records identifying the instrument clearly, making it traceable for subsequent processes in the asset’s life cycle.

For example, the part code may be generated for ordering the instrument. The tag number, which identifies the project and the location of the measuring point in the plant, may also be entered. This data record can be stored locally by the user but should be retained in web archives linked to the device, should it be ordered subsequently.

Procurement phase

In the context of life cycle management, however, the procurement phase is important for an asset: the production of the device commences once an order is placed. At this point, the device is “born” and is identified uniquely by a serial number. If the user links the data sheets created in the engineering phase to the order, the serial number within its equipment record is linked to the user’s tag number. This combines the user-specific identifier with the manufacturer’s identifier. Future on-site personnel can search online for the specific equipment record either directly by serial number, via company name and tag number, or by means of the equipment model number.

The equipment record is created for every product, so it is essential for the user to purchase online. The order can be placed using conventional means such as post, fax or telephone.

Installation phase

The installation personnel are almost without exception not the people who engineer nor procure the instruments. They are often third party companies employed for the duration of project. They need access to the installation manuals for bolt torque, housing orientation and instrument location (radar measuring level instruments must, for example, be positioned correctly on top of the tank to function optimally).

Again, all data including installation instructions specifically for the instrument can be found online by means of the serial number.

Commissioning phase

Technicians testing and setting up the instruments are likely to use specific tools and instrument configurators. Recent developments in this area have seen the introduction of FDT/DTM technology offering support from the majority of instrumentation suppliers and an open approach to instrument configuration.

By using a tool from any manufacturer based on the FDT standard and importing the device-specific DTM, the technician can configure instruments from many manufacturers. This initiative promises to solve the problem of different field instruments having different configuration tools and set up procedures.

The tool must have all the basic device data and correct DTM pertaining to the instrument to configure and commission it. This, together with all the device attributes, can be downloaded from the equipment record. Depending on the FDT, it may also be possible to download all the project-specific documentation, certificates and operating instructions and attach them to the specific device via its tag number. The user can thus archive data making them “web independent”. Change to parameters during commissioning can be uploaded back to the equipment record.

Operations phase

It is implicitly within this area were asset management is employed. The on-site user will likely have a number of tools.

The configurator which acts as a digital interface with the instruments, is one of the main elements in this phase. It becomes a platform into which additional functionality can be plugged. Condition monitoring, for example, will extract data from the devices and, based on the way the user sets it up, will create alarms via email or through the operator workstation to alert the user of potential needs for maintenance. The operator could be supplied with additional device data to allow for informed decisions. For instance, when a temperature compensation element within a flowmeter failed in the past, the plant might have been shut down and the instrument repaired.

Future condition monitoring packages will tell the operator that the device has failed, but will also give an indication of its anticipated performance. The instrument may not be functioning to its specification of ±0,5%, but could still be within 2%, which is acceptable to continue operating and attend to the device during the next scheduled shutdown.

In this scenario, the maintenance technician could go to the supplier’s website and use the device serial number to call up the equipment the device’s record. This grants direct access to trouble shooting guides, details of the exact spare parts fitted in the instrument and its software compatibility. With this information, informed decisions can be made and the correct parts ordered to get the instrument back in service during the next scheduled shutdown. The user has access to the equipment record and associated databases and becomes independent of the availability of human support.

Calibration and maintenance

The user can automate the process around instrument calibration management critical to the quality of the product or safety of the plant. Such a calibration management system may be considered mandatory in some industries which must demonstrate in the course of routine calibration that the quality-critical instruments perform within the tolerances for production within specification. The records must be stored and be retrievable upon demand to demonstrate that to the auditors that the plant is maintained to an acceptable level.

An important addition to today’s asset management systems is a means to ensure that older instruments within the installed base are assessed by the system. This informs the user of all assets the on plant and to run routines to confirm whether the devices are still serviceable and whether spare parts or replacement units are available.

With such information, the user can develop contingency plans in the event of instrument failure and migrate the installed base towards newer instrumentation. Most asset management systems have, to date, neglected this need to keep the installed base young, but tools are now available to bring even older and discreet devices into the asset management scheme.


[1] O’Brian: “Key industry executives discuss future of automation business”, ARC Insights, 14 February 2002.

[2] EN 13306; ICS 01.040.03; 03.080.10, Maintenance Terminology, April 2001.

[3] NAMUR NE 91. Draft 8. 2001: “Requirements for online plant asset management systems”.

[4] M Herzog , J Salusbury, R van Kasteren: “Establishing a balanced maintenance strategy for field instrumentation”, Praxis 44 (2002), ed. 11, pp. 38-45.

[5] Quality management systems, ISO 9001, 2000.

[6] “Web enabled asset management”, Endress+Hauser System Information, May 2003.

[7] Profibus Guideline, FDT Interface Specification, version 1.2 plus addendum, May 2001. “Field device tool for manufacturer-independent integration of field devices”, PNO.

[8] T Hadlich: “FDT, the new concept for fieldbus communication”, Control Engineering Europe, September 2002.

[9] W Chin: “FDT is gaining the attention of users and suppliers,” ARC Insights, 16 July 2003.

[10] FDA 21 CFR Part 11: FDA regulations concerning compliance for electronic records and signatures.

Contact Hennie Blignaut, Endress+Hauser, Tel 011 262-8007,

Related Articles

  • South African Government COVID-19 Corona Virus Resource Portal
  • Now Media acquires EngineerIT and Energize from EE Publishers
  • Printed electronics: The defining trends in 2019
  • Charlie and the (fully-automated) Chocolate Factory
  • SANSA app calculates best HF communication channel