IoT, AI and drones in the future of enterprise asset management

SUMMARY:

Three emerging technologies – IoT, AI and drones – will reshape the future of enterprise asset management (EAM). Infor’s Kevin Price explains what to expect

Quadcopter drone flies over heavy equipment at construction site © Andy Dean - Fotolia.comEnterprise asset management software (EAM) has been around for more than 20 years. Over that time, it’s evolved from simply providing tools for managing asset maintenance to being able to provide a way for organizations to track their assets — anything from an HVAC system to a key piece of manufacturing equipment, to a stretch of railroad track — and record their condition, get alerts about the need for preventative maintenance, extend the life cycle of those assets, and of course, manage work orders.

Until now, improvements to EAM systems have largely been evolutionary, not revolutionary. But that’s changing. We’re already starting to see new technologies that are making EAM a clear differentiator for companies.

The three technologies that we see already starting to change the face of EAM, and that we expect to continue to reshape it in the future are:

  • Internet of Things
  • Artificial intelligence
  • Drones

Ultimately, the future of EAM will be about information exchange between devices/components and people. More information will be coming into the system from more places, and that information will be accessible to more people in more ways.

Internet of Things

We’ve been hearing about the Internet of Things (IoT) for the past couple of years, and it’s here. And, the Internet of Things is going to become even more prevalent, thanks in part to a reduction in the cost of devices like GPS trackers, digital cameras, and smart sensors.

CERN, the world’s largest research organization for particle physics, with 22 European member states and 70 countries collaborating on science programs, uses Infor EAM to manage close to 2 million assets, for both its particle accelerator equipment and its site infrastructure. This system has 1,100 users and processes 150,000 work orders per year.

For CERN, it’s not just data about the assets that is important; data from the assets is equally important. David Widegren, Head of Asset & Maintenance Management at CERN, which manages the life cycle of each of the organization’s millions of components and devices, explains that operational insight and data from each component is critical, in what is effectively a self-contained IoT:

This combination of asset management with connected equipment, and the data we capture from the assets, is really the way forward. We call this the intersection of industrial IoT and EAM. This is the sweet spot for the future.

Looking beyond scientific research, the IoT and EAM will play an important role in the development of Smart Cities. Smart Cities monitor the conditions of all critical infrastructure, including bridges, streets, water, and electric systems, and more. Frost & Sullivan estimates that by 2025, there will be more than 26 Smart Cities worldwide.

San Francisco is working toward becoming one of those Smart Cities, and has already started embracing IoT to make that happen. To qualify as a Smart City, a city must adopt five of the eight smart principles — smart energy, smart building, smart mobility, smart healthcare, smart infrastructure, smart technology, smart governance and smart education/smart citizen.

Here is one example. San Francisco has 44,000 street light posts and those are starting to become smarter, according to Linda Short, Vice President of Professional Services, 21Tech, who is working with the city, and Infor, on its EAM sustainability project. 21Tech is an Infor partner.

The street light posts now transmit data to the city’s EAM system to record their intensity, attach GIS coordinates to that data, and add a repair code. The city can then dispatch an electrician only once to replace a bulb or make a repair, rather than sending him out multiple times to inspect the light post, log the problem, and then go back out to make the fix.

The upshot — the City of San Francisco’s EAM system is helping the city use its limited resources more efficiently and effectively.

Artificial Intelligence

Initiatives like Smart Cities create a massive volume of complex data that needs to be standardized, processed, and fed into systems in such a way that  the information can be used intelligently. Big Data and analytics certainly make this possible, but artificial intelligence (AI) can help improve the handling of data.

AI, which we’re already seeing in voice-driven virtual assistant systems like the Amazon Echo, will be expanded to enterprise systems, like EAM, to enable the data that’s being collected to be more useful. With AI, employees and customers will be able to communicate with their EAM system using natural language. They’ll be able to ask “How many work orders do we have on track 17?” and get a total. The system will be able to extract the data so managers can spend their time making key decisions, rather than running reports. Luanne Winchiu, Senior Manager, Accenture explains in a recent webinar on the future of EAM:

It’s all about the usability of technology. The future of EAM is about looking at how we use technology in the real world and making it easier to use so we can optimize the value of our assets, not just maintain them.

Drones

While the IoT and AI represent an important part of the future of EAM, they’re nowhere near as fascinating as the emerging transformative technology of drones.

Drone-based asset management is clearly the next frontier for many sectors, including railroads, oil and gas, and aviation. Speaking in the same webinar on EAM futures, Louis Wise, Chief Science & Technology Advisor, Drone Aviation Corp, explains:

Drones are data gathering machines . We can deploy them to vantage points that are difficult or impossible for humans to get to, and pass the information they gather back to the EAM system.

Some of these vantage points include large production structures, like oil refineries and offshore oil drilling platforms, railroad beds and bridges, and airplanes and cargo ships. Tethered drones equipped with powerful zoom lenses can be deployed to inspect and evaluate equipment that would be dangerous or difficult to physically access.

Tethered drones, connected to the ground by power and communication cables, are preferable for this application to untethered drones, which fly freely and have their power and communication systems on board, according to Wise, because they can stay in the air longer, are less susceptible to jammed signals, and can’t fly away.

In high risk situations, the benefits over human inspection are even greater. With drones, there’s far less risk because there’s no human onboard. So, where it wouldn’t be feasible to send an inspector in to check on an oil rig that’s on fire, a drone could be used. And, as an added benefit, there’s no need to create support structures to conduct an inspection, or shut down production, as would be required with a manual inspection. On something like an oil refinery, that could represent up to $1 million a day in savings, says Wise.

Infor believes so strongly in the power of drones to transform EAM that it’s formed a partnership with Drone Aviation to launch the Drone Enterprise Asset Management Solution (DEAMS).

It’s all about connecting data

What all these immediate technologies have in common is data. The future of EAM is all about collecting real-time data and feeding it into the EAM system, so those responsible for keeping equipment operating at peak condition can react more quickly. Key enabling technologies like social, mobility, analytics, and cloud will be more important than ever, as tools for making all that data more accessible and usable.

The future of EAM isn’t about replacing human workers — it’s about enabling them to work more efficiently and effectively.

To explore this topic further, see Infor’s January 2017 webinar on The Future of EAM: A Look at the Next 25 Years in Enterprise Asset Management

Image credit - Quadcopter drone flies over heavy equipment at construction site © Andy Dean - Fotolia.com

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