Finding the right level of maintenance – a balancing act

What is the right level of maintenance? We see some important challenges that are important to our customers.

These challenges demand the right balance when it comes to prioritising the various maintenance tasks. Grid operators use large sums on maintenance, repairs and replacement of parts. Since the 1990’s, the tightening of revenue caps in Norway has led to decreasing budgets for maintenance. At the same time, parts of the plants are getting to the end of their lifetime. The Norwegian Directorate of Water Resources and Energy, estimate that the Norwegian grid will require an investment of around 6 billion EUR over a ten-year period.

There is an overall agreement that we are seeing a change of focus: Previously, maintenance was to a large degree based on routines and time-based work. Today, theory and practice tells us that there are quicker and more cost-efficient ways of ensuring power supply to the consumer. The question is; how do we turn theory into practice?

Increasing amounts of data – is it making us any wiser?

Over the last ten years, Asset Management has become an industry standard. According to the definition, Asset Management is about managing performance, risk and economy for parts and systems throughout their life cycle, in line with the business strategy. While most consumers are happy as long as the heating and lights are on, most leaders would agree that reduced maintenance costs, investments and statistics of power cuts are important parameters to measure the maintenance process.

Asset Management suggests that you look at grid data in a new way. A shift from established routines to working processes run by available data at all times. New technology facilitates simplified work processes and improved basis for decision-making: GIS and NIS (Network Infiormation System) linked together give an increasingly better overview of the grid, and the use of photos minimises the need to send engineers out in the field. At the same time, smart meters are on their way in, generating large amounts of grid data. The aim is not to drown in information, but to make smarter decisions based on selected data.

Risk based maintenance – common sense systemised?

The RISK DSAM (Risk Based Distribution System Asset Management) project was funded by The Research Council of Norway and conducted at SINTEF between 2005 and 2010. The focus was on how to prioritise or plan the right level of maintenance and renewal: Not too little or too much, nor too early or too late. One of the conclusions from the project was that methods for risk based maintenance and renewal are key factors if the grid operators are to achieve efficient management of the existing infrastructure. This conclusion is supported by international research from International Energy Agency ENARD, where similar research concluded that risk based maintenance is the most cost-efficient way of handling ageing parts.

Every day, grid operators make hundreds of evaluations based on ongoing risk assessment. An observation is prioritised according to probability of fault and severity of consequence if the fault happens. Risk based maintenance is to a large degree about systemising this, based on an overall assessment of what level of risk to choose for each part of the plant, geographical areas and so on, combined with the large amount of information that is available about the grid.

Thousands of observations – how do you prioritise?

Given the challenges faced by grid operators, how do you achieve a risk-based maintenance in practice? How do you prioritise thousands of observations using the same pattern? What happens when the amount of observations increase, as more information about the grid becomes available?

Powel’s recommendations on how to achieve better control of your maintenance can be divided into four steps:

  1. Analyse today’s situation: What improvements need to be made in order to achieve a more efficient maintenance process?
  2. Devise a maintenance strategy: How to achieve the business’ aim for the maintenance process.
  3. Categorise the various parts of the grid: No matter how you prioritise the maintenance works, this must be reflected right down to each individual object. Categorising objects on an overall level and the processing of these is determined by the maintenance strategy.
  4. Automate evaluation of observations where possible, and standardise manual processes.

We follow this approach with several of our customers. Powel iAM is an Asset Management solution, developing in order to meet the grid companies need for process support and handling of large amounts of data. With Powel’s iAM Maintenance, we offer a practical solution of best practice for the maintenance process. Operational support and automated prioritisation contributes to a reliable grid, whilst at the same time optimising investments. With the basis in a well thought out maintenance philosophy, the solution ensures that each assignment performed out in the field is prioritised according to the strategic choices of the business.