Optimal Lifecycle Management and GEMBA Capability

Oil and gas companies must commit to HSSE and stable energy supply in order to fulfill corporate and social responsibility. To achieve this role, sustainable plant operation is a necessity.

The industrial automation market has evolved over the past two decades pursing operational efficiency and CAPEX optimization. However, this has brought new challenges to the market. A recent survey shows that the top two management concerns in the oil and gas industry are: 

  1. System Reliability, OPEX Optimization
  2. Education, Skill succession, Human error reduction

System Reliability, OPEX Optimization:
A plants lifetime can span as long as 50+ years, but the components of the plant (e.g. control systems, network switches, software, hardware, expendables, etc.) have a much shorter lifetime. These various components need to be properly maintained in order to prevent accidents that may lead to unexpected downtime. At the same time, maintenance costs must be kept within limited budget, as the oil and gas industry is still facing a severe economic and political situation.

Education, Skill Succession, Human Error Reduction:
As we can learn from Germany’s case where the country introduced Industrie 4.0 to maintain competitive advantage in manufacturing, workforce shortage is a critical reality around the globe. While complex and integrated automation systems now require increased expertise, roughly 60-80% of experienced operation and maintenance personnel are slated to retire in five years. The pool of qualified personnel (e.g. college graduates) is shrinking, and it is becoming extremely difficult to attract, educate, and retain young engineers in the oil and gas industry.

Addressing these challenges requires a strategic approach combining both mid-to-long term and short-term approaches to plant maintenance

Mid-to-Long Term Strategy

Optimal lifecycle management is the key to maintaining control system reliability, which leads to sustainable operation throughout the plant lifetime. In order to manage the plant lifecycle, we need to create a plan in a mid-to-long term basis.

Lifecycle plans consist of the following four elements:

  • Policy: Facts that have effects on the maintenance policy of the plant
  • Static Information: Basic facts regarding the components of the plant
  • Dynamic Data: Live and historical data obtained from plant operation and maintenance
  • Methodology: Techniques to analyze and maintain the plant

Based on these lifecycle plans, maintenance and upgrades can be carried out in a timely manner, and lead to system reliability and maximized system performance. Also, the inspection and preventive replacement results should be reflected in order to keep the lifecycle plans up-to-date.

Lifecycle management will bring benefits by visualizing maintenance cost throughout the plant lifecycle, preventing unexpected maintenance costs, and improving system reliability by optimal maintenance.

Day-to-Day Operations      

Yokogawa Lifecycle Management

Another key to sustainable operation is to have the maintenance engineers appropriately conduct the daily inspection and maintenance routine, and also make the necessary decisions in unexpected cases.

As many readers may be familiar with the Japanese word “KAIZEN”, meaning the practice of continuous improvement, we have a special word called “GEMBA-RYOKU” (GEMBA capability), which is frequently used when discussing human resource issues in the Japanese manufacturing industry. While the word itself means “on-site capability”, this implies not only the worker’s skill, but also empowerment in the workplace ultimately contributing to improvements on the manufacturing level.

In order to equip engineers with the necessary GEMBA capability to support sustainable operation, not only the skill but also experience is required. Education alone is not enough to make up for the retiring workforce with the abundant industry experience and knowledge. Therefore, we must utilize the latest technology to assist engineers who may have limited skills or inadequate experience.

Remote monitoring technology enables assistance regardless of location. Facing the workforce shortage, many plant operators now have the need to visualize plant status and identify issues, provide 24/7 support anywhere in the world, and make a shift toward un-manned operation for safe and efficient operations. Remote monitoring and analysis enables centralized monitoring of system status and security information, and real-time data gathering via secured connection.

Combining AR (Augmented Reality) technology with video calls will also help to provide visual assistance. While it is difficult for young engineers to make decisions especially in irregular situations, experts can judge based on their experience (i.e. hearing/seeing signs of failure). Experts will be able to provide precise instructions and share their knowledge to the young engineer at site, as if the two engineers are working side by side. This will improve work efficiency, reduce human errors, and enhance skill succession at the same time.

Yokogawa Lifecycle Management


With the world economy still in an unstable state, and with many difficult challenges to overcome, companies may tend to focus on short-term goals and activities. But in order to achieve stable energy supply, we must combine both short-term and mid-to-long term approach to sustain plant operations.

Read other articles from Ai Takano, here.