11 Jun 2020

The Increasing Importance of Remote Monitoring in These Troubled Times

Interview with Jesse Brazier

All over the world, businesses are adapting to changing lockdown and social distancing rules, economic pressures, shocks in the oil market, and a myriad of other challenges.

Perhaps your facility’s workforce has been stripped back to a skeleton crew. Perhaps you’ve scaled up production, shifted operations to cater to high-priority sectors, or find yourself dealing with more demand than you can cope with. Perhaps you’re trying to manage your site while working from home or are short of people to check on business-critical equipment as regularly as you’d like. Perhaps you’ve switched over to temporary generators, chillers, compressors, and other utilities to meet changing capacity demands. Whatever your circumstances, one thing is clear: you don’t need any more headaches right now.
So what happens if your generator overheats? If your chiller breaks down? If you run out of fuel faster than you expected? After all, you can’t do everything at once. You can’t be certain when a unit is just beginning to run into problems unless someone is watching the data and sounding the alarm. 

We caught up with Jesse Brazier, Aggreko’s Remote Operations Center Manager in New Iberia, Louisiana, to find out more about the importance of a robust, remote monitoring system at times like this - and why you need a team that will take responsibility for the remote management of your emergency responses. 

How Does a Remote Monitoring System Work?

As Jesse explains, depending on the temporary equipment you have in place, the vendor’s remote monitoring team will set monitoring parameters and alarms that alert them immediately when performance dips, fuel runs low or something doesn’t seem right with the unit’s normal operation. This allows them to respond proactively to address the issue before it leads to downtime. They may also have predictive alarms in place, which notify the team at the very earliest signs that something is about to go wrong - but before it has a chance to impact on performance.
The vendor (in this case, Aggreko) can then figure out internally how to fix the problem, work out what parts and tools they will need or if they should replace the unit altogether. They can get a technician out to your site fast. If they have a thorough knowledge of your site and how the unit fits in with the wider tech setup - for example if you have multiple units running in parallel - they can also strategize to take the unit offline with minimal disruption, avoiding situations where the whole site needs to shut down.  

Making Sure Someone’s Watching Your Site

Right now, it’s more important than ever that you have a dependable monitoring system in place. It means someone is keeping an eye on your facility round-the-clock, even if it’s unmanned or understaffed. Getting quick notifications can save you an absolute fortune when issues arise.
Jesse describes how this panned out recently with one client, a natural gas site with 14 natural gas generators on site. “Our remote monitoring team saw immediately that some issues had sprung up on site that meant some of these units would have to go offline – and the remaining units wouldn’t be able to support the required load for the site,” he says. 
“Our remote monitoring crew alerted our operations team immediately. They were able to pull together a team of technicians and dispatch them to the site fast enough to resolve the issues before the reduced capacity triggered a complete shutdown. As a result, the customer didn’t experience any costly downtime at all while the equipment was repaired – and the site was back to normal in no time.”

Keeping Topped Up with Fuel

When you’re fighting fires on all fronts, something as simple as fuel supply can easily slip through the net. Jesse explains that this is one of the most common alerts to come through Aggreko’s remote monitoring and fuel management system. Aggreko tracks fuel levels for customers to prevent them from ever running dry, even handling re-orders and deliveries. It’s one less thing to worry about during these hectic times.

Getting Answers, Not More Problems 

No one wants to be contacted with more problems right now, even if fixing them quickly is a business-critical necessity. As Jesse says, it’s not helpful for you to get a call from your remote monitoring team telling you, for example, they’ve detected a high exhaust gas temperature unless they’re going to tell you exactly how to fix it. Or preferably, they’re going to send a technician out to fix it immediately – and all you need to do is confirm the time. 
You need resolution, not more confusion. Your temporary utilities provider should be able to understand that – and provide it. “We're trying to resolve the issue as quick as possible without confusing the customer,” says Jesse.


Final Thoughts: What Kind of Vendor Should You Rely On?

A remote monitoring system is most effective when the people monitoring performance data are experienced technicians who understand the equipment, know how it is supposed to operate and can interpret small fluctuations in the data quickly and easily. 
In the current pandemic, it’s also crucial that your temporary utilities vendor can assure you that, from their remote management, operations are going ahead as normal. In Aggreko’s case, Jesse says, technicians and remote monitoring personnel are working from home rather than in the usual remote monitoring center, but because they have the right systems in place it hasn’t affected their level of support, ability to monitor unit data or response times. 
Secondly, make sure you work with a vendor with extensive experience of disaster response so that they know exactly how to proceed. While the scale of the coronavirus pandemic is unprecedented, from a temporary utilities point of view, this is simply a case of shifting into disaster-response mode. Jesse points out that Aggreko has spent decades supporting customers through hurricanes, floods, earthquakes, infrastructure failures, and just about any other kind of emergency you can imagine. That allows us to adapt quickly and take the pressures and restrictions of COVID-19 in our stride. This might be the “new normal” for most people, but as Jesse puts it, crisis-mode is Aggreko normal, all the time. 
In short, the key is to find yourself an experienced vendor who will take the pressure off by handling not only remote monitoring but also taking the lead on addressing the issues they uncover. Remote monitoring should reduce, not increase, your workload in these tricky times.