The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is big: the largest and most complex machine in history. CERN’s vast, €7.5 billion particle accelerator runs in a 27km loop under the border between Switzerland and France. Scientists use it to smash subatomic particles together at just under the speed of light, in order to recreate the conditions that existed when the universe was less than a second old.
The statistics are extraordinary. In all, 12,000 scientists work at the facility, along with 2,500 support staff and 2,000 contractors. The billions of collisions that occur every second in the LHC itself equal one terabyte of data a second – equivalent to 86.4 petabytes of data a day – which are sent to 600 universities and research institutes in 20 CERN member states and 70 other countries.
But there is an untold story in this supermassive data project: the fact that it all hinges on over 100 million separate high-tech components – from the tiniest widget to the largest supra-cooled magnet – in two million separate pieces of equipment. And these are supported by 900,000 technical documents covering 13 million technology parameters (not to mention a data centre of 20,000 servers).
Without proper management, the failure of any component might present a challenge as great as finding the Higgs Boson. In a campus that’s the size of a town, it’s essential that any fault can be traced and fixed rapidly and that any part’s replacement or upgrade is planned and budgeted for well in advance. This is why everything at the facility has an equipment number and a barcode, and is logged in CERN’s Enterprise Asset Management (EAM) platform.
So why is something as mundane as EAM of such critical importance to cutting-edge science?
David Widegren heads the Asset & Maintenance Management unit at CERN. He explains: “Many of our assets have a long life, perhaps 50 years. Long life cycles combined with staff churn make documentation of our assets and interventions a must. Outsourcing of maintenance is another must, but outsourcing makes it essential for there to be a single repository of assets, history, and deep knowledge. The work is not finished until the result is imported into the EAM system.”
CERN is using Infor EAM, which allows a 360-degree Google Street View style visualisation of each piece of gear, and tells the user precisely where it is on campus and what it is connected to. Via the system, CERN logs one million store transactions, 10,000 corrective work orders annually, and three million work orders overall. Clearly, EAM is essential, and the system itself needs to be reliable, adds Widegren.
“Common tools bring common processes, which create savings and internal efficiencies. So we have a strategy of having a single EAM platform, with close to zero modifications of the software – only standard configurations and external add-ons and integrations. By not doing modifications, you can typically upgrade within 24 hours and be up and running with a new version of the software.”
Widegren explains that, just as the universe began small with a single event, so asset management at CERN begins at the earliest possible stage: at the design, manufacturing and installation of each piece of equipment, some of which takes place on the campus itself. “So they’re already in the system, with information on how they’re performing. Disposal and waste are important considerations, too – some things become radioactive!”
“Also there is very wide range of user profiles on the system, such as maintenance managers, engineers, equipment specialists – who are often physicists – technicians, both internal and contractors, and so on; all are linked via EAM.”
But it is not just data about assets that is important at CERN, but data from these assets: operational insight and data from each component is critical.
“This combination of asset management with connected equipment, and the data we capture from the assets, is really the way forward,” says Widegren. “We call it the intersection of industrial IoT and EAM. This is the sweet spot for the future. And by seeing how each component is used, we can optimise its maintenance, and we can see what is costly to maintain and what we need to focus on.”
Kevin Price is Infor’s Director of Product Management and Product Safety for EAM. He says, “They’ve been using our system since 1989, so if they can’t figure out a way to do it, then it can’t be done!”
Of course, 1989 was also the year in which Sir Tim Berners Lee proposed what became the World Wide Web at CERN. Sir Tim’s original Web server is preserved at the facility – together with its sticky label warning people not to switch it off. Hopefully that, too, is on the EAM system!
Back in the present day, EAM doesn’t just help CERN to understand where everything in the campus came from and how it is performing, but also everything in the universe itself.