The maintenance sector has been quick to embrace a more automated approach to industrial processes. Festo’s Steve Sands considers how implementing Industry 4.0 will continue the momentum.
The consequences of unplanned stoppages are a constant driver for improving maintenance regimes.
They can also have serious implications for safety: putting people under pressure in breakdown situations increases the chances of human error.
Increasing digitalisation offers the potential to improve companies’ ability to predict maintenance requirements through condition monitoring, ensuring intervention is only undertaken when it is genuinely needed, and in a measured and planned way.
Offering a smarter approach to the maintenance regime, using prevention rather than cure, results in real time and cost benefits.
It also reduces risk, minimising the times when workers are in contact with faulty equipment and machinery.
Digitalisation offers practical lessons for what will be achievable as Industry 4.0 technology becomes the norm.
Increasing digitalisation offers the potential to improve companies’ ability to predict maintenance requirements through condition monitoring
However, buy-in from the workforce at every level of an organisation will be essential in moving successfully from predictive maintenance to a truly smart maintenance function without compromising safety.
The first step is in-depth collaboration between IT and production to focus on lean savings.
Festo believes Industry 4.0 can create much safer working environments by taking pressure off the maintenance team.
The Scharnhausen Technology Plant in Germany is the company’s main production facility for valves, valve terminals and control electronics, covering 66,000m2 of space and housing a workforce of around 1,400 people.
To create an Industry 4.0 environment, Festo has either piggy-backed intelligence onto existing machines or, where the opportunity arose, embedded it in new equipment.
For example, Scharnhausen uses near field communications (NFC) for digital maintenance support. This means that equipment components can transmit data directly to the maintenance team without passing through a central database.
Closer to the action
For the maintenance team, this presents new ways to interact with the factory equipment and quickly find relevant data.
The main tool is a tablet equipped with a custom-developed app which, together with a mobile depth sensor, enables the user to access more information the closer they are to the components requiring attention.
So, at a high level the tablet shows an overview graphic of the entire plant layout and indicates that there is an alert raised on a machine on a production line.
This makes the team far more responsive because they can direct their resources to the highest priority notifications first.
As a result, employees are now able to take a fully proactive approach to maintenance which moves beyond preventive maintenance.
The ability to access real-time information and analyse the situation before making any intervention has led to better man management and improved safety. There is also more emphasis on understanding why a situation arose and how to solve it, along with capturing and sharing this knowledge with colleagues.
Employees are now able to take a fully proactive approach to maintenance which moves beyond preventive maintenance
As a consequence, regular, repeat tasks are becoming easier because the engineer can benefit from shared experience for faster fixes and improvement suggestions. There are still major challenges ahead, but greater Industry 4.0 adoption has huge benefits to offer in making maintenance smarter and safer.
Better access and interpretation of data will improve lean production, reduce downtime and wasted journeys, parts and labour. Increasing the agility and flexibility of the maintenance team will have a marked effect upon response times and, where necessary, time to fix.
Drastically reducing the pressures imposed by unplanned stoppages will improve the safety environment.
- Steve Sands is head of product management at Festo