Switching the lights back on: Futureproofing

Although downtime caused by the Coronavirus was unforeseeable, maintenance strategies moving forward should be focused on ensuring that output is maximised and that downtime is reduced where possible for the future.

During this time, maintenance organizations can better leverage capabilities, such as connectivity to IoT and Industrial IoT devices, smart sensors, edge devices, condition monitoring, predictive maintenance, and Reliability Centered Maintenance (RCM) systems, to help identify and address potential maintenance issues down the road.

Ed O’Brien, “Rethinking Proactive Asset Management in the Age of Coronavirus,” Arc Advisory Group

his handy guide will explore the ways that this can be achieved to ensure that your maintenance strategy is as effective and efficient as it can be.

Predictive Maintenance

Predictive maintenance strategies enable engineers to predict when equipment failures might occur before they do. This allows machinery to be maintained and repaired prior to incurring downtime and losses so that assets remain productive for as long as possible.

We all understand that if you want to stay healthy as an individual you have to maintain yourself yet many of today’s top companies still don’t apply these same rules to their manufacturing plants. Maintenance is not ‘fail and fix,’ it’s ‘predict and prevent.’ If you don’t know how to predict and prevent, you’re not taking advantage of some powerful cost-cutting tools.

Dr. Jay Lee, Director of the Center for Intelligent Maintenance Systems

Rather than dealing with faults and machine breakdowns as they occur and undertaking routine maintenance that may not be required, predictive maintenance uses data to determine when maintenance is needed prior to failure. The use of remote monitoring, the Internet of Things (IoT) and asset management systems facilitate a predictive maintenance strategy

Remote monitoring

Remote monitoring offers an important strategic and competitive advantage that reduces unplanned downtime and as a result can improve profitability in the future. With a multitude of intelligent monitoring tools and networks available, data can be collected and analysed with ease so that assets can be monitored and protected remotely. In the wake of the Coronavirus such monitoring will be particularly useful as interaction is minimised and social distancing is encouraged.

When deciding if the use of a remote monitoring system is right for a particular company, a number of variables should be considered:

  • What technology should be used?

The range of monitoring tools on the market is extensive and so choosing the right technology can be a daunting task. Factors such as ease of use, cost and relevance for purpose will also be useful when deciding.

  • Who will monitor/analyse the system?

Some companies may choose to create an in-house team who are responsible for monitoring machines and analysing the data whilst others may choose to outsource this responsibility.

  • Which equipment should be monitored?

This will be determined by how essential particular machinery or equipment is to the process and will be different depending on the company.

  • What information needs to be monitored/analysed?

Typically the type of information monitored includes:

  1. machine conditions such as vibration, alignment, temperature and moisture which can then be used to determine when optimum conditions change and become unsatisfactory, triggering corrective action.                      
  2. operating data such as line speed, voltage, pressure, process temperature and flow rate can be monitored and analysed remotely. When a fault occurs or the equipment deviates from a specified operating range, this immediately notifies maintenance personnel who can then correct the issue.                                                               
  3. a combination of the two.

Remote monitoring and diagnostic tools can be tailored to meet the needs of any company that uses intelligent devices such as sensors, drives and controllers. This type of monitoring is ideal for predictive maintenance, continuous evaluation and sporadic monitoring as required. It can be used to diagnose huge faults in machinery and even the smallest of changes which can be corrected before they become an issue. Being able to obtain information quickly and providing an immediate and proactive response is essential for industries where disruptions can be incredibly costly.

Artificial Intelligence (AI)

Artificial intelligence and machine learning technologies can be used to maintain infrastructure. With predictive analytics, even the slightest deviations can be identified and failures can be predicted before they happen. The insights obtained through AI enable businesses to plan ahead for critical maintenance which is key to ensuring the safety of their teams and for protecting the machinery used.

AI Predictive Analytics can be quickly mobilized to critical assets, providing companies with the necessary tools to maintain production levels, keeping their workforces in employment, whilst ensuring the safety of all during COVID-19.

Trevor Bloch, CEO of VROC.

Teams can access their asset’s health remotely on any device which reduces the number of personnel on site and which is key in the current climate as workers are slowly introduced and staggered back into the workplace after Covid-19.

Using technology for futureproofing

The use of technology can improve processes, eliminate downtime, reduce required labour and reduce deficit components and products. With phased returns to work, this technology will be hugely beneficial for output in the near future and will help to futureproof companies in the long term.

  • Sensors– track the entire supply chain, enabling factories to plan production targets.
  • Automated guided vehicles/drones– move items around the factory floor.
  • Augmented reality (AR)– used by critical components and machinery to reduce the number of workers required in a factory.
  • Digitisation– factories that digitise across supply chains remain better prepared to deal with unexpected events like the Coronavirus pandemic.
  • Computer vision technologies– enable safety and security monitoring, productivity monitoring, quality assurance and object counting.
  • Mobile phones– enabling work orders on your team’s mobile devices allows technicians to complete repairs and inspections with their work orders, procedures, safety sheets, diagrams and manuals all at their fingertips.
  • Augmented reality & virtual reality (AR & VR) – technologies can be used to virtualize the workplace by training new hires in a virtual environment, improving productivity with “real time”, helping them find products quickly and enabling them to collaborate remotely.

Discovering new technologies and how they can streamline the workplace and improve efficiency is valuable for companies that strive to have a competitive edge. Any new innovation that maximises output and facilitates maintenance will be hugely beneficial for the future.

Proactive asset management

A highly functioning asset management plan can help to ensure that equipment is operating properly, and that downtime is kept to a minimum, both now and for the future. Now is a good time to take advantage of features offed in intelligent Enterprise Asset Management (EAM) and Asset Performance Management (APM) systems, some of which may not be used to their full potential.  

Develop plans for sourcing spare and replacement parts

Traditionally, the goal has been to keep a lean parts inventory, but now may be the time to shift this focus. Increasing stock for critical parts may be useful to avoid delays if vendors are closed and supply chains are disrupted. This will ensure that any resulting delays do not impact upon your productivity and output.

Using a Computerised Maintenance Management System (CMMS) to forecast the parts needed to complete your projects will save time and money. Such systems are designed to optimise the performance of assets, particularly in the event of shutdown and so will be invaluable when returning to work after Covid-19. Automating the purchasing process to resupply when re-orders are required will ensure that you are stocking the right inventory quantities which will save time and money in the long run.

Companies with effective maintenance systems and streamlined processes will be well positioned for the increase in demand after Coronavirus. Whilst cutting costs and saving money may be tempting after a prolonged period of downtime, now, more than ever, it is essential that investments in maintenance are made. Only by ensuring the implementation of an effective maintenance strategy and by evaluating the effectiveness of other processes will companies remain agile and efficient enough to flourish post-Covid 19.

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