Why you’re not maintaining your control system

Buyer and seller motivations create barriers to (ICS) maintenance – Aim Power Consulting
Power Generation Expert

By Bill Ray and Craig Nicholson

ICS – Your Blind Spot

This is the first in a multi part series on Industrial Control Systems.

An Industrial Control System (ICS) is great until it isn’t. Unlike their mechanical component counterparts; there is not a simple table showing component life, no clear way to measure performance degradation, nor a direct measurement for being out of tolerance. ICSs age silently until one day when they become problematic. At that point, parts and expertise are difficult to find, communication with other systems begins to fail and reliability of the money generating asset is impacted. Even though the impact of failure is disruptive to operations, the silent aging and lack of clear pass/fail evaluation criteria continually push replacement to “next year’s budget” at the first or second round of capital allocation scrutiny.

Owners and OEMs throw countless man hours and development dollars at negotiating multi million dollar maintenance agreements and equipment upgrades, but the ICS is rarely in the mix. With the growing concerns over cyber threats, internet of things (IOT) deployment and rapid integration of artificial intelligence (AI) assisted operation, how can ICS be left out of discussion? The reasons are mainly economic – from the perspective of the supplier.

ICSs age silently until one day when they become problematic”

1. Your supplier’s strategy:

For the turbine equipment manufacturer, the ICS is not a moneypot. Product profitability is typically a tracked around periodic buys for a full system replacement with a series of small component purchases in between. Service and continuous operation is generally performed by the owner. This profit profile is miniscule compared to the millions spent during a major inspection. For the owner, the ICS is not considered the money maker – spinning pieces of metal are the money makers and the ICS goes along for the ride. Articulating an ICS value story, strategy, and risk mitigation plan to get proper budget allocation is much more difficult than replacing a mechanical component deemed end of life or an upgrade yielding tangible payback results. Again the lack of quantifiable condition assessment comes to bear.

2. Your supplier’s organization:

 When working with a turbine supplier, the ICS likely resides in another group or division. Competing metrics and cooperation in the sales efforts between divisions may become barriers. The suppliers own internal conflicts translate to lack of ownership and clear strategy in front of the client. The inability to articulate a cohesive mechanical and ICS package leaves the client without a sales advocate and no value story to carry through their own organization.

3. Your own team and your supplier’s team:

Most stakeholders (both buyers and sellers) responsible for negotiating maintenance agreements are mechanically inclined, as such, they gravitate to what they know and avoid what they don’t. This typically results in the industrial control system maintenance being, at best, a side conversation and typically not well thought through for the betterment of both parties.

Making ICS part of your Maintenance strategy

Without an ICS strategy tailor made for the underlying asset, power plants increase the risk of reduced plant reliability and availability as systems age. They also miss out on meaningful gains provided by IOT and AI. This in turn reduces overall competitiveness and limit the plants earning potential – even worse, this could limit the economic life of the plant.

Technology is evolving and there are tangible gains to be achieved in cyber protection, productivity and asset maximization that are being ignored in a typical long term maintenance agreement. All elements of the ICS, obsolescence, maintenance and asset optimization, can and should be captured in a long term maintenance agreement. This will ensure proper maintenance and risk management of this critical asset.

Partnering with the right expertise is essential to bridge the inherent gaps between ICS provider, equipment OEM and owner expertise and will move the ICS from the background of a supporting system to a value added, contributing member of the money generating asset pool.

For additional discussion




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