According to estimates by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the drinking water utilities industry will need to invest over $334 billion to address the deteriorating infrastructure being experienced now and over the next two decades. In 2009, the EPA conducted their most recent assessment of water utilities. They found that 60% of utilities needed replacements in the water distribution and transmission area. Many of these replacement needs could be linked to pipeline replacement. To help them make smarter decisions regarding both investment in new assets and how to properly maintain existing ones, many water utilities are turning to asset reliability and asset management.
Asset reliability defined
What precisely is asset reliability? The term has become widely used across the globe, getting associated with production throughput and how to improve production, but what exactly does this mean?
Asset reliability can be defined more accurately as a probability measure for how a system or component – - an “asset” – - of the production process will perform for a certain period of time as used under its stated operating conditions. This ability is then measured through asset integrity management systems. When measuring asset reliability, these systems take into account both the effectiveness and efficiency of the asset’s ability to perform while ensuring the health and safety of the operators and operating environment.
The goal of asset integrity management systems is to help water utilities optimize their system without sacrificing its integrity. Asset reliability depends on protecting equipment from potentially damaging variables such as water quality and corrosion. For example, while there are 10 known primary forms of corrosion, it’s rare for a corroding structure to experience only one. Because multiple metals are often used in a structure, and the range of environments that structure is likely to face is wide, more often than not if you see one type of corrosion occurring, there’s going to be others lurking nearby.
It’s possible that corrosion itself won’t create a hazard, but not be aware of the causes and effects of corrosion could lead your plant into trouble. One method of identifying and assessing asset risks due to corrosion is through risk based inspection.
Risk based inspection is a process during which engineers will design inspection strategies (i.e. what to inspect, when to inspect it, and how to inspect it) that can determine asset reliability in the most efficient manner. Through risk based inspection, the risk of active and potential damage mechanisms are examined in order to assess the asset reliability, or asset failure probability and its consequences.
To protect asset reliability, there are now methods of monitoring corrosion real-time online. These instruments make it possible to turn treating corrosion into a process variable that can be measured and included in asset integrity management systems.
Asset management defined
Asset management is another term used worldwide to refer to a system which monitors and maintains assets. Asset management can refer to tangible and intangible assets alike, but for water utilities is more commonly used in reference to tangible assets such as plant and equipment. In engineering environments, asset management is often used to refer to the management of assets in a way that achieves the greatest possible return, as well as the monitoring and maintaining of facilities with the goal of providing the best service possible.
A study conducted of 451 utilities in 2013 found that asset management practices can save ratepayers money, help to increase service levels, lower risk, and improve reliability of water utilities systems. When these utilities were asked about the biggest driving factor pushing them towards greater use of asset management, nearly 40% indicated it was due to a growing need to replace, upgrade, or expand their existing infrastructure.
The importance of asset reliability and asset management in the water utilities industry
Asset management and asset reliability can help utilities determine the top priorities to focus on. By determining which asset integrity support is the most pertinent and cost effective, they can guide utilities to better spending practices on maintenance and asset protection. With a map of where risks are likely to occur and a clearer method of addressing these asset risks, asset management can also help utilities to justify their budget expenditures to government and municipal bodies.