An open electronic information system is perhaps the most effective way of evaluating the data needed to monitor an operational hydro power plant. The Machinery Information Management Open Systems Alliance (MIMOSA) is turning this dream into a reality. Suzanne Moxon reports
What we are witnessing here today,’ John Mitchell, president of the Machinery Information Management Open Systems Alliance (MIMOSA) explained in October 1998, ‘is something very unusual. We are witnessing the gathering of people who are usually competitors but who are all here today as they know it is in their best interests.’ Speaking at MIMOSA’s first European conference in Birmingham, UK, Mitchell was referring to the state of the condition monitoring industry and the knock-on effect it is having on other industry sectors, including power generation. ‘There is an inability to share information between condition monitoring systems which is impeding growth,’ he explained. ‘Systems are incompatible and essentially we have a roomful of computers accomplishing tasks which can be carried out on one laptop PC.
‘MIMOSA is a unique organisation. It has been created to advocate open electronic information systems and it is essentially about unification. We are trying to improve industry procedures for the benefit of everyone. We have the technology but now it is about how we use it and how we combine this with other information.’
Open electronic exchange
MIMOSA is a non-profit organisation which was introduced formally in 1995. Composed of users and suppliers of industrial equipment information, its objectives are to set standards to gain the maximum efficiency and value from such systems. MIMOSA aims to formulate, develop and disseminate efficient, open electronic exchange conventions for operating performance, condition and maintenance information. Ultimately MIMOSA conventions will be embedded into computer systems but in the short term they will be integrated into data collection and analysis software to allow the exchange of data between previously incompatible applications.
The main motivating force behind the establishment of MIMOSA is that specialised systems are required to monitor equipment performance, condition and prognosis. The ability to combine vital information from such multiple sources, and to evaluate it in an understandable form, has compelling benefits for all concerned. As Ken Bever, MIMOSA’s technical director explained: ‘You can have a lot of ‘pockets’ of useful data but you can’t access these in one common way to pull all of that information together and carry out an holistic health analysis of your equipment. It has become clear that we need to integrate all of this information for decision-makers, such as plant operators.’ ‘I view this whole project as a sort of dumbbell structure,’ Mitchell added. ‘At the top you have the high-level business model where people make decisions about the operation of, for example, a power plant, and at the bottom is the enabling information flow. The key link in between the two is MIMOSA.’ In order to become this key link, MIMOSA needs to develop an open, fully integrated enterprise information structure. This means that different systems will be able to communicate and exchange data automatically without any special proprietary system or supplier-specific interface protocols. Those involved in the Alliance believe that such an open asset management system is now on the way to becoming a reality — it is no longer just a pipe dream.
As Peter Morgan, director of MIMOSA’s user group, said: ‘I am sick of buying hardware that is not compatible with my favourite piece of software. I also just want to have one screen in front of me so that I can look at all of my different measurements at the same time.’
The fundamental component on which the framework of MIMOSA rests is called the Common Relational Information Schema (CRIS). John Mitchell explains the principal behind it.
‘Think of international air traffic control,’ he said. ‘This works because pilots have agreed to communicate with the ground in English. This is basically what CRIS is. CRIS is the common language between one proprietary KLM air crew which speaks Dutch in the cockpit but speaks English on the ground.’ Embedded in the supplier’s own products, CRIS is described as a software translation routine. ‘You don’t actually see CRIS as a product,’ Mitchell explained, ‘it is a translation component in a supplier’s proprietary system so that different systems have this common way of communicating with each other.’ When communicating with software between different systems CRIS maintains the original formatting of data — it has to maintain the integrity of measurement descriptions as it is very important to know how a measurement was taken.
For example, when transmitting a thermographic image from one system to another, it has to be stated what temperature (in °C) different colours represent so that the recipient system can understand. Without this it will mean that the ability to gain meaningful information at the other end will be lost.
CRIS is a vendor-independent product — the Alliance claims that this is vital to the success of the project. Many suppliers or users have utilised different databases and data in various ways but the Alliance did not want to rely on any existing system. Instead they invited companies to help define the MIMOSA relational database schema. Over 200 people from 50 companies in the US, Europe, Canada, Russia, Japan and Australia have contributed to the MIMOSA open system. The companies represent nearly 80% of worldwide products and sales for condition monitoring.
There are other aspects to MIMOSA’s work (see panel) but the main way individuals can utilise it is through MIMOSA Compliance. This, a self-certified trademark, tells the customer that a product displaying the mark can be used for the exchange of certain information. Compliance will mean that an application can exchange information with an equivalently certified application from another supplier without any special software or links. Products which are already, or are virtually, MIMOSA Compliant include software from Entek IRD, CSI, SKF, Solartron and Vibration Speciality. Users of MIMOSA products are believed to include a Russian natural gas utility, PNNL and PG&E.
But why should people use MIMOSA Compliant products or become involved with the Alliance? MIMOSA says that to date it is not aware of any emerging standards that satisfy the rigorous requirements for exchanging complex machinery condition, predictive, reliability and asset optimisation information. The Alliance acknowledges that standards such as SQL exist but they still require custom mapping between applications. Furthermore, industry-specific standards such as STEP may not be capable of transferring the rich details of various measurements to a decision support system for analysis.
And why should people in the hydro power and dams industry take an interest in MIMOSA? ‘The key benefit,’ John Mitchell explained, ‘is the ability to interchange the broad amount of information necessary to run hydro facilities, especially as many plants are becoming unmanned.
‘With unmanned plants this means that you need to concentrate a great deal of information and send it to a local dispatch centre which can shift the load around and anticipate potential problems. MIMOSA will enable hydro plants to do this as inexpensively as possible.’ Mitchell believes that hydro plant operators will want to become involved with MIMOSA due to economics. ‘Managing your physical assets to gain the greatest money from them is basically the game that everyone is in,’ he said. ‘Whether you have a hydro plant or a gas plant if you have a certain amount of capital invested in it you will want to get the best return you can.
‘With MIMOSA we’re trying to facilitate the management of that asset. We’re trying to provide information to allow power plant operators to make informed and economically feasible decisions.’
MIMOSA was born out of the recognition that a single supplier cannot always provide the best application for all areas of modern condition monitoring and control. The Alliance, as opposed to selling its developments to customers, aims to set standards for industry — in some ways it is a pressure group. Its greatest challenge is to get industry (ie both suppliers and end-users) involved, and to get them to explain what they need.
‘We are a standards organisation,’ John Mitchell said. ‘We want to create the image worldwide of being advocates of open electronic information systems.’ In order to be a forceful advocate which industry listens to, MIMOSA acknowledges that it needs to work with other standards organisations such as the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) and the Standard for Exchange of Product Model Data (STEP). Such developments may take place in the future.
‘We are starting to chart our course for the future,’ MIMOSA president John Mitchell said. ‘At the moment MIMOSA is swimming against a lot of different tides but, like the salmon, we’ll get there eventually.’
| Several companies were exhibiting at the MIMOSA conference in October, and some explained they were present to gauge the suppliers’ and end-users’ reaction to it. Most manufacturers were reported to be interested in the Alliance but some claimed that initially they had been wary. There was concern that MIMOSA was just a gathering of large companies who were trying to exclude smaller ones but the conference was successful in quashing this fear.
MIMOSA was also perceived as aiding competition, especially for smaller suppliers. Before MIMOSA, customers would have to go back to their original supplier to upgrade their products. However, with MIMOSA Compliant products, customers can now shop around and are not tied to their original supplier. As one individual commented, it means you can now poach other company’s customers! Another company representative said that although there is a general awareness of MIMOSA in the industry, MIMOSA Compliant products had not been specified in any of the tenders they had so far submitted for projects.
Industry sources also added that it is not a lengthy or expensive procedure to make their products MIMOSA Compliant.
|Ken Bever provides a technical overview of MIMOSA|
| The MIMOSA Common Relational Information Schema (CRIS) provides a standard schema which all other schemas can map to when communicating equipment asset data throughout an enterprise. CRIS provides a standard method for exchanging raw measurements. With the MIMOSA CRIS standards implemented, systems are able to exchange data in a standard format that eliminates requirements for custom mapping.
The MIMOSA reference database MIMOSA participants have also asked MIMOSA to standardise ‘look up’ tables for equipment type taxonomies, event types, manufacturer lists, and other data tables. MIMOSA has accommodated this by providing a valuable MIMOSA reference database filled with standardised entries for equipment types, asset data types, measurement types, etc. End-users can expand on this base listing — adding additional codes for unique requirements at each database at a site.
MIMOSA support levels Due to the various methods of transferring data in and out of database, MIMOSA-compliant systems can choose to implement up to nine different MIMOSA support levels: