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Technical Excellence: Setting the standard

The global recession has done a lot to focus minds on how to keep critical assets going.

As a fall-out, pretty much every industrial sector and many governments now have a good appreciation of asset management as a discipline of engineering. The detail of the problems and critical questions vary across different categories of infrastructure, but the principles are the same and gaining in global recognition. 

A formal global footing for asset management has been introduced this year by publication of a new international standard, ISO 55001, setting out generic terminology and procedures. 

“This will allow organisations to develop greater consistency, a common understanding and benchmarking across businesses and industrial sectors. ISO 55001 establishes a common definition: it’s about deriving maximum possible value from assets,” says James Elliott, Parsons Brinckerhoff’s UK director and head of service for asset management. 

“ISO 55001 establishes a common definition: it’s about deriving maximum possible value from assets” 

James Elliott, Parsons Brinckerhoff 

Parsons Brinckerhoff has become “very proactive” in the development of asset management, Elliott says, particularly in global energy and infrastructure markets. 

M25

The M25 has an accredited asset management system

In the UK, the United Kingdom Accreditation Service (UKAS) is carrying out a pilot round of ISO 55001 auditing, with the aim of awarding the first accreditations in 2015. Not only did Parsons Brinckerhoff support the UK drafting committee, but it is the only engineering consultancy among UKAS’ eight accrediting organisations for ISO 55001. 

“The new standard effectively supersedes the Institute of Asset Management’s PAS 55, which still serves as guidance as well as a form of accreditation. We’ve taken a number of client organisations through the PAS 55 process, but there are stricter rules with ISO 55001 governing how we separate who we’re working for and those we’re accrediting,” Elliott says. 

The Highways Agency’s teams in Area 4 in the South East and Area 10 in the North West have PAS 55 accredited asset management systems due at least in part to Parsons Brinckerhoff’s previous link as part of Balfour Beatty. 

Support

Although the consultant is now owned by WSP, it still supports the asset providers in Areas 4 and 10 and in Connect Plus. While it no longer has a stakeholder position in Connect Plus, it has left the organisation managing the M25 with one of the UK’s most advanced asset management systems. 

This is according to Connect Plus chief executive, Tim Jones. He says: “Austerity driven regimes do tend to bring more of a focus on the value that’s being invested into infrastructure for the long term. 

“But for us the incentive is a limited budget for looking after a very big asset of 136,000 individual items, every single one of which has to be handed back at a certain level of condition after 30 years.” 

Connect Plus’ asset management system is governed by the need to maintain service levels and road condition up to the point of hand over. The business driver is the goal of finding the optimum number, or most timely points, of maintenance intervention to achieve the contract requirements at least overall cost. 

“We have received visiting delegations from Canada, New Zealand, Australia, Singapore and Vietnam. All have focused on the importance of getting the asset management systems and whole life costing right,” Jones says. 

This ideal frequency of intervention to meet contract requirements, or ‘cross asset optimisation’, is the nirvana of asset management, “what all asset managers are seeking”, says Elliott. 

According to Jones, the sophistication of the hand over criteria set for Connect Plus is driving greater innovation, sustainability and safety. “It lends itself to development of an asset management system that reflects all of that and more,” Jones says. 

Optimum levels

Rail sector clients are after the same optimum level of investment, but the terms can be very different. If an industry owner, such as Network Rail or the New York subway system, is also the maintainer in perpetuity, in theory, then how is the term or end point of whole life cost established? 

“This is a critical question in rail, where much of the expenditure is operational, technology driven and can be focused on keeping it all going for as long as possible before the next major upgrade,” say Parsons Brinckerhoff strategic rail consultancy service leader, Tom Goodyer. 

“Rail infrastructure has to be designed for very high reliability, availability, maintainability and safety. Assets such as signaling systems have an understood finite design life, but others like major civil engineering assets have a design life of 120 or so years. Whole life cost analysis becomes meaningless over that sort of term, so we recommend assessment of different intervention scenarios over a range of evaluation periods, say 20 to 50 years, for any decision making process.” 

Long term asset management is influencing design of High Speed 2 (HS2), Goodyer says. Parsons Brinckerhoff is the lead rail systems designer for the new high speed railway. It has also been tasked with providing asset information services – defining and building the data management systems and a ‘virtual railway’ electronic model for HS2’s operation and maintenance. 

“We’re still at the very early stages of HS2’s design, balancing lots of different variables and possibilities,” says Goodyer. 

“We have a team working on the design, looking at a maintenance strategy and how different approaches to design will affect the operation and maintenance of the railway; asking questions including how maintenance teams will access and work in long tunnels that get very hot. It’s difficult, but we’ve put some very clever world class experts to the task.” 

According to Elliott, a growing number of Parsons Brinckerhoff employees around the world are sharing knowledge and best practice on asset management via a “community of practice” website. “We have about a hundred in the group now,” Elliott says. 

“Below that we have core working teams, one of which is dedicated to PAS 55 and ISO 55001, for getting some good common processes across the globe.” 

Consistent approach

A consistent approach has already emerged in power generation worldwide. Parsons Brinckerhoff’s UK asset management director for power generation is Dominic Cook. 

“Our energy sector clients are usually non-government and tend to be more dynamic in the sense that they work anywhere in the world where major opportunities arise, rather than being constrained to a particular jurisdiction,” Cook says. 

“In this sector we’re providing consultancy services helping clients optimise operation of their power plants. These running costs are critical for energy companies that will usually sign long term deals for supply of power.” 

The terminology of asset management in energy includes PSR – plant status reports – detailed condition and maintenance risk assessments used to build long-term capital and operational investment plans. 

“These services are being provided into Australia, Central and West Africa, the Middle East and Turkey to name a few. There is a recognised pedigree in asset management in the power sector in the UK, building on the skills that have been developed before and since the privatization of the electricity industry.” says Cook. 

Power generation companies have so far been slow to formalise their asset management practices with PAS 55 accreditation; however, they are starting to take note of ISO 55001 due to its international acceptance, Cook says. Several UK energy suppliers have expressed intentions to pursue the international standard. 

Reference point

“They’re seeing it as an external reference point against which to benchmark existing ways of working as they look to improve. With a greater contribution from renewable generation the large fossil fired power plants are being required to operate more flexibly; hence, there is a greater emphasis on asset management.” Cook says. 

Connect Plus is planning to apply for ISO 55001 next year, once UKAS allows accrediting organisations to award such certificates. “Before doing that you have to do a lot of internal work and assessment. We’re now in a very good position to go for accreditation,” says Jones. 

“The Highways Agency’s spend over the next five to seven years at £15bn dwarfs what it has previously spent. Rather than just looking for more capital projects, it has to have a system that brings both resilience and capacity for congestion relief long-term. This cannot be done without a good investment model. 

“The Agency’s funding history to meet long-term demands has been at best patchy, going with the ups and downs of the economy and annual budgeting. In less than five months the Agency will no longer be part of the Department for Transport. 

There is therefore a great opportunity to come up with an innovative investment model that meets customer and stakeholder expectations. Connect Plus is demonstrating a form of asset management that works, so why wouldn’t it be used? 

Produced in association with Parsons Brinckerhoff.

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