Tracking Anomalies in Infrastructure Management

Expecting the unexpected

By Kevin Price

The scenario is familiar: Someone is driving, nearly at their destination when the tire pressure caution light goes on. With such a short distance to go, it is easier to ignore this warning than to address it immediately. But soon after, the dashboard changes to notify an impending flat tire, followed by a shaking in the vehicle that requires the driver to pull over. To most, this scenario describes a standard tire issue, but in the industry, this is a small-scale asset management anomaly.

This experience illustrates how crucial it is to track and address anomalies as part of our practice in infrastructure asset management. The overall automation of EAM case management, as well as the advent of sensors and the Internet of Things (IoT), means we can do so more accurately, efficiently, and intelligently than ever before.

Eliminate the element of surprise where you can

We all know that with anomalies, if you do not find them, they will find you.

The trickiest part of identifying and tracking anomalies is that, when an issue arises, we expect to find an apparent cause. Or we approach it with a set of expectations, perhaps based on previous findings. For example, when infrastructure catastrophes happen, we often start by inspecting the wrong things—visible damage or cracks, infrastructure age, and so on. But what about the equipment monitors? Materials failure? And there is always the possibility of human error.

So how can we begin to implement a next-generation anomaly tracking system?

Like any infrastructure management project, we need to prioritize our most crucial assets. Thinking back to the example of the car, when a warning light comes on, most people fail to acknowledge that functioning tires are essential for the safe trip home. That is a simplistic example of the importance of prioritization, but we quickly decide what can and cannot be risked.

Once prioritized, consistent and proactive tracking are needed to ensure anomalies do not become emergencies. To create a reliable tracking system, follow these five steps:

  • Create a case: Every crack has a cause—just as the “tire pressure” light in the car. It needs to be fixed — but maybe not today. The start of successful anomaly tracking is simply opening a case to make sure it is proactively monitored and evaluated.
  • Gather data and investigate facts: It is best to gather all data involved in a central repository to ensure we do not manage by expectation. That means work orders and immediate follow-up actions charged to a specific asset. It also includes project documents, purchase orders, photos, diagrams, and contacts. If investigating a safety incident, that information is needed, too.
  • Determine the cause and analyze alternatives: EAM software can reveal gaps in the data and help identify the right solution, as can other analysis tools such as Pareto analysis, cause-and-effect (fishbone diagrams), and correlations.
  • Assess risk: Realizing that not all things are created equal, a good look at the assets, components, and parts is necessary. When evaluating tasks, the right EAM software will have built-in risk management modules to facilitate peace of mind that risk vs. benefit is being weighed.
  • Test against management of change process: Although not explicitly created for infrastructure assets, management of change (MOC) processes were introduced by OSHA and can be excellent, cost-effective loss prevention methods to ensure fixes are long-term.

Anomaly tracking does not have to focus only on what may go wrong but can also indicate areas where we can learn more about what is going right, such as whether the systems are achieving more mileage efficiencies that before. Tracking positive anomalies is as vital in creating continuous improvement as finding deficiencies.

Proper tracking is also a very practical matter. The longer the window of time spent looking for anomalies, the more it costs in terms of time, effort and, of course, funds. In an industry that is consistently challenged to justify funding dollars, an EAM tracking system that makes it easier and more efficient to find anomalies— or any incident causes—before an event occurs is useful and necessary. An automated system allows that without relying on paperwork orders, spreadsheets or hand recording of equipment behavior under certain conditions—all of which can introduce errors and raise questions.

We live in a mobile, always-on world. If we are truly to look forward as an industry, any anomaly reporting should be enabled to push out to mobile devices, so that all stakeholders can help in determining whether an impending problem is about to occur.

With this kind of proactive, real-time tracking, we are creating a system where, like that yellow light on a car dashboard, we cannot ignore anomalies unless we choose to.

Kevin Price is the Technical Product Evangelist for Infor EAM and has more than 20 years of experience in the enterprise asset management solution area. He is currently the senior product director for the Infor EAM portfolio, which includes EAM Enterprise, MP2, CloudSuite Facilities Management, and Spear Technologies. He may be reached at www.infor.com

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