Guest Column | July 8, 2014

Consultant's Corner: Condition Assessments Vital To Effective Asset Management Programs

By Jeff Sanford, CH2M HILL Director of Consulting Services

Aging infrastructure is an issue that many water utilities in the United States are battling. Determining the condition and evaluating the need for, and selection of the most cost-effective repair, rehabilitation, and replacement solutions to address aging and damaged infrastructure is something that water utilities have found beneficial in effectively managing their infrastructure; and therefore, it came as no surprise that condition assessment was found to be the most effective of the 14 asset management practices of U.S. and Canadian water utilities (McGraw-Hill Construction asset management practices study).

Detailed condition assessment provides five significant benefits:

  • Identification of specific deficiencies in equipment assessed
  • Identification of specific maintenance steps that may be taken to increase asset life and reduce likelihood of failure
  • Data for prioritizing the allocation of resources to maintenance and capital investments
  • Establishment of repeatable processes that can be applied broadly
  • Over time, through repeated assessments, the accumulation of data to build asset decay curves

Condition assessments can provide valuable information to water utilities in regards to estimating the risk that an asset will fail and the subsequent consequences if it does. Because conducting a condition assessment can be costly, and in some instances may cause damage to the asset, care should be taken in terms of when and how assessments are done. Newer assets, with low risk and consequence of failure, generally do not require anything more than collection and analysis of data on corrective maintenance performance (to identify trends and emerging problems), and (if possible) monitoring of asset performance via a SCADA system.

On the other hand, critical assets — those where failure may cause extended and/or widespread customer service disruption, damage to property or the environment, etc. — generally require more proactive on-site condition assessment, including application of more advanced condition assessment techniques. These include vibration analysis, thermographic imaging, insulation resistance, ultrasonic detection, motor circuit analysis, etc., for plant equipment and ultrasonic thickness measurement and pressure testing for pipes.

CH2M HILL developed a proprietary tool, known as the Asset Condition Evaluation System (ACES), to assess the condition of our clients’ assets. The tool establishes a “risk score” for each asset and generates an optimal multi-year maintenance and capital improvement plan. The tool has been applied to more than 46 water and wastewater plants in which CH2M HILL operates on behalf of local U.S. utilities, as well as at manufacturing plants.

Equipping water utilities and plant operators with data and analytics to create fact-based maintenance and capital improvement plans and strategies drives greater efficiencies and cost-savings over the life cycle of critical assets. When utilities know which assets are at risk of failure, they can properly invest in the appropriate level of rehabilitation, repair or replacement to avoid catastrophic failure and mitigate impacts to their customers and communities. In addition, ACES also provides valuable training for maintenance and operations staff, helping them think strategically, use data, and re-evaluate where they spend the majority of their time and resources.

Jeff Sanford is a Director of Consulting Services with more than 25 years of experience in maintaining water and wastewater facilities including collection and distribution systems. He is currently leading the condition assessment processes within CH2M HILL on a global level. Jeff is a Certified Maintenance Reliability Professional as recognized by the Society for Maintenance Reliability Professionals. While working as a Director of Consulting Services, Jeff developed and implemented the Asset Condition Evaluation System for over 20 large facilities. Jeff has also assisted with the adaptation of the asset condition process to business process assessments, Jeff has completed many risk based condition assessment projects for both existing CH2M HILL projects and outside customers. These projects have ranged from 200 to 2,000 assets in both water and wastewater systems. Mr. Sanford also leads reliability efforts within CH2M HILL.