Bring Asset Management into the Digital World

March 20, 2018 John P. Mello Jr.

By connecting legacy assets to the IoT, businesses can gain end-to-end visibility of their operations, but that's just the start. From production-line machinery to shipping containers, these assets are a wellspring of insights that can help companies make smarter decisions about their operations, products, and customers. That’s why accessing this information is vitally important.

Enter connected asset management. IoT-based asset management can help organizations achieve operational efficiencies, move their business from one focused on products to one focused on services, and discover new sources of revenue (Figure 1).

Figure 1. Connected asset management can bring both operational improvements and transformational change. (Source: Accenture)

On the operational level, it has been estimated that connected asset management can boost total productivity anywhere from 5 to 25 percent. Among the ways it does that is by increasing asset utilization by 3 to 5 percent and maintenance productivity by 10 to 15 percent. (All estimates are based on Accenture internal data.) Those gains can be made because connected asset management environments take advantage of benefits such as:

  • Global asset visibility and control
  • Advanced industrial analytics
  • An optimum maintenance strategy
  • Minimal downtime
  • Reduced capital expenditures, operational expenditures, and total cost of ownership

On the transformational level, businesses can create a fully digital value chain where everything is connected and intelligent. Once this is accomplished, an organization can radically change its internal operations, its customers’ experience, and even its business models.

How Connected Asset Management Works

To see how this is possible, consider the Accenture Connected Asset Management platform (Figure 2). This system uses Intel® IoT Gateways to collect data from legacy assets, abstract information from these diverse devices, and securely transmit relevant data to the cloud. In the cloud, the data can be used for remote monitoring, specialized analytics, and predictive maintenance.

Figure 2. Intel® IoT Gateways can abstract differences in data from diverse devices before sending it to Accenture’s cloud. (Source: Accenture)

This setup can also perform analytics at the edge. This capability is important because field operations often have low-bandwidth connections yet need real-time responsiveness. By pushing computing to the edge, businesses can achieve immediate responsiveness without a massive network upgrade.

Saving Time and Avoiding Accidents

All of these benefits can add up to big savings in a production environment. For example, suppose a faulty production line was churning out defective products. Without real-time monitoring, the manufacturer might produce thousands of units before discovering the defect—and would then need to shut down and inspect the line to identify the source of the problem. In contrast, real-time asset monitoring can identify the problem immediately and avoid a waste of time and material.

In addition to speeding up reaction times, arming the endpoints in the network with more processing power saves money by not tying up bandwidth by sending massive data sets to the cloud for processing.

Real-time monitoring can also help avoid industrial accidents. If a critical piece of equipment is monitored from the cloud alone, the lag time between when a malfunction occurs and the cloud learns about it and acts can cost an organization millions of dollars or worse—resulting in a mishap that injures workers.

Optimizing Maintenance

Connected asset management can also have a positive impact on maintenance budgets. For example, by monitoring performance of an asset, the solution can save maintenance teams the time they’d spend eyeballing the asset for potential repair issues.

What’s more, through big data analysis of sensor information, predictive maintenance can be performed so parts can be replaced and repairs made before something breaks (see Figure 3). That produces more online time for the asset and fewer trips by maintenance crews. In addition, by keeping the asset in tiptop shape through timely and smart maintenance, it will last longer and increase return on investment in it.

Figure 3. Connected asset management helps companies move from break-fix maintenance to predictive maintenance—and beyond. (Source: Accenture)

Finding a Scalable Solution

To realize the full benefits of connected asset management, businesses need a solution that scales to their needs. That's why Accenture and Intel focus on an end-to-end architecture. “Once a client approves a proof of concept, we look at scaling it,” said Accenture Managing Director Neil Hickey. “It’s not about planning for one use case, but taking it to 500 or 1,000 cases. The ability of Accenture and Intel to scale is where the magic is.” That’s because scaling across use cases allows an organization to gain end-to-end visibility into its operations and reap the full benefits of connectivity.

There’s also a bit of magic in the Intel gateways at the heart of the architecture. A major challenge when connecting operations to the cloud is the variety of standards and siloed nature of many control systems. Intel IoT Gateways can handle those differences and provide a streamlined interface to the cloud (see Figure 2). The gateways provide support at multiple layers of the solution:

  • Performance at the edge that enables near-real-time analytics, local decision-making, and tighter process controls
  • Advanced security for trusted data from edge to cloud, and protection from costly attacks
  • Scalability for varying levels of gateway performance, with a broad range of support from Intel® Quark processors, Intel Atom® processors, and Intel® Core processors
  • Manageability for secure remote upgrades and services
  • Faster, more flexible deployment with a platform that supports a wide range of operating systems and ecosystem applications

The Intel Gateway also acts as a data router and filter among sensors, intelligent equipment, and the cloud. That enhances security, accelerates actionable insights and can save money, too, because only data that has operational relevance is sent to the cloud, reducing data transmission and cloud storage costs.

“This lays a foundation for our clients to evolve from products to services and outcomes,” he added. “It also enables further autonomy in their revenue and performance models.”

Digital Transformation at Biesse

A good example of Accenture Connected Asset Management at work is the Biesse Group, a leading technology specialist in material processing, which wanted to expand beyond products and into digital services. Accenture worked with Biesse to analyze machine and customer data, leading to the development of the SOPHIA digital service platform.

The SOPHIA platform offers Biesse customers an array of digital services, including preventive maintenance alerts, machine management, manufacturing events analysis, and remote software distribution. Sensors and devices on the machines generate in-depth data insights for display on dashboards using Microsoft Power BI data visualization.

The platform runs on an Industry X.0 solution from Accenture. Industry X.0 focuses on intelligent automation, combining automation and augmentation of human activities to drive results. It focuses on end-to-end product lifecycle management innovation and taps into technologies such as virtual and mixed reality, artificial intelligence, and analytics. The platform enabled SOPHIA to perform predictive analytics and real-time remote diagnostics.

SOPHIA isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. Customers can customize the services they receive, from machine alerts to advanced services like in-depth machine analytics. Not only does that increase the effectiveness of the customer’s equipment, but it also bolsters customer satisfaction.

The platform gives Biesse a number of benefits. Warranty and maintenance costs, for example, are reduced. Performance and usage insights from the field can be used to improve product development and give customers what they really want without guesswork. Biesse can also use the information gathered through SOPHIA to alert customers about ways to maximize the production of their machines.

“Accenture is helping Biesse Group to develop a service-oriented approach that helps customers generate greater value from our machines,” noted Biesse Managing Director Stefano Porcellini.

“We will be able to offer our customers a menu of features from remote diagnostics, warnings, and alerts to condition-based/predictive maintenance services and usage analysis, plus more sophisticated production process optimization capabilities,” he continued. “These services will also augment our aftermarket business with new revenue streams and make us stand out from our competitors.”

Rethinking Industrial Business

Industrial companies have spent decades, if not more, building robust businesses based on a deep understanding of their products. These companies are savvy about using their product and service knowledge to add value for their customers, but they’ve traditionally done so using development cycles measured in years. That just won’t do in a digital age.

Businesses can reposition themselves in this new age with solutions like Accenture Connected Asset Management. It’s designed not only to improve the operational efficiency of physical assets but also to give companies a pathway to transforming their businesses.

About the Author

John P. Mello Jr.

John Mello is freelance writer and editor specializing in business and technology subjects, including consumer electronics, business computing and cyber security.​ His work has appeared in the Boston Globe, Boston Herald, TechNewsWorld, E-Commerce Times, CSO Online, CIO and CFO magazines. He is also former managing editor of the Boston Business Journal and Boston Phoenix.

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