It’s a costly expense whatever the process and when it’s unexpected the impact can be enormous.
Downtime, it’s the bane of every manufacturer and yet, although not completely avoidable, in 2019 it really doesn’t have to be a regular issue.
Once upon a time unplanned reactive maintenance was standard. It was not unusual for crucial machinery to breakdown at the most inopportune of times and for chaos to then ensue. But life moved on and soon another approach was adopted.
Now, instead of focusing on repairing an asset once failure has occurred, manufacturers adopt a preventive maintenance strategy. This means regularly maintaining working equipment to lessen the likelihood of it breaking down at critical moments. While undoubtedly preferable to running machinery to the point of failure, preventive maintenance as a complete strategy still fails to offer the best solution in today’s market.
If you can work more efficiently and if you can protect your equipment better it will last longer, it will run healthier and it will run more effectively. There’ll be less breakdowns, less expenditure on spares and people coming to site and all the things that come part and parcel with a breakdown
Karl Lycett, product managerfor industrial and IT climate control, Rittal UK
As Industry 4.0 progresses and the IIoT advances, predictive maintenance is emerging as the next step. In principle, manufacturers adopting this approach should not only realise the benefits of planned maintenance but, importantly, also achieve the inherent reliability level of their equipment.
In a world where it is now crucial to eek out those efficiency percentages and where sustainability is currently on the tip of everyone’s tongue, uptake should be rapid. However, that does not seem to be the case.
Karl Lycett, product manager for industrial and IT climate control at Rittal UK, sees predictive maintenance as a ‘silver bullet’ but believes many of his customers still need educating to understand that investment in the sort of technology necessary will pay dividends quickly.
He says: “Engineers tend to be the ones that are easily convinced and converted because obviously they’re the boots on the ground. We need to support them in providing tangible numbers and case studies so that they can break through to that next layer of people to get these things approved and really get the whole idea of predictive maintenance into the zeitgeist of the business.
“I think everybody we speak to sees predictive maintenance as a good thing but so many are just not sure where to start,” he adds.
Dipping a toe
Jonathan Wilkins [pictured below], director at EU Automation, cautions against dismissing predictive maintenance on cost.
“It’s a mistake to assume that predictive maintenance is out of your reach, and that only major corporations can afford it. By adding smart sensors, even decades-old machines can be made fit for Industry 4.0. Smart sensors are extremely cost-effective when compared with the possibility of a full factory overhaul, yet they allow manufacturers to efficiently monitor the condition of their equipment,” he explains.
“You’ve got to get your foot in the door but once you’re in everything opens up and you can see how it all links together,” says Lycett.
Making a plan
However, it’s not enough to simply jump onboard with the goodies, manufacturers also need to have a clear plan of action.
“To be successful, a predictive maintenance programme needs to have clear objectives. Gathering data just for gathering’s sake is not useful, manufacturers should have a clear idea of why they are collecting data, and what they will use it for. For the same reason, it is essential to discern between data that adds value and data that is not relevant to your business objectives,” says Wilkins.
According to Wilkins, plug and play technology is becoming increasingly popular for predictive maintenance applications. Plug and play devices allow manufacturers to connect legacy equipment – not typically equipped with connectivity capabilities – to communicate data in real time. Manufacturers are therefore saved from having to go through a cost-prohibitive, not to mention energy inefficient, factory overhaul.
Effective equipment monitoring allows manufacturers to save energy, since machinery that does not operate at optimal levels might be using more energy than necessary
Jonathan Wilkins, director EU Automation
He notes that predictive maintenance as a service, where manufacturers can monitor connected devices remotely is also an upcoming trend. Again, it’s a massive plus from a sustainability point of view as the remote nature of the work significantly reduces the movement of people.
“Original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) can collect performance data from their customer base in a more comprehensive way than a single user. OEMs can therefore offer predictive maintenance as a service to top up their offerings. Sitech, for example, is already doing this,” he says.
Wilkins continues: “Manufacturers are also using augmented reality (AR) to monitor their machinery. They can use AR technology to overlay information on a screen, so that all relevant parameters are visible at a glance, streamlining maintenance.
“One example is infrared thermography, which allows workers to view electrical systems, mechanical equipment, building applications and fluid systems using thermal vision. Engineers can use it to spot faulty connections, abnormal motors, pipe temperatures and tank levels without having to touch the equipment, improving performance while maximising safety.”
Schneider Electric and Platinum Engineering recently partnered to create a comprehensive tool for asset management and operations by incorporating the AR capabilities of the company’s Augmented Operator Advisor with Wonderware, the industrial automation platform for supervisory, SCADA, HMI and IIoT applications. The new tool is called ATISA.
The benefits of success
Get predictive maintenance right and the benefits are huge. “If you can work more efficiently and if you can protect your equipment better it will last longer, it will run healthier and it will run more effectively. There’ll be less breakdowns, less expenditure on spares and people coming to site and all the things that come part and parcel with a breakdown,” says Lycett.
Wilkins agrees that predictive maintenance can significantly extend equipment lifetime, delaying the need for new components. He adds: “Effective equipment monitoring allows manufacturers to save energy, since machinery that does not operate at optimal levels might be using more energy than necessary.”
And there are the benefits of increased safety, as failing equipment can pose health and safety hazards, and money savings.
“Statistics show manufacturers with solid predictive maintenance programmes in place can cut maintenance costs by up to 11%.”
While uptake of predictive maintenance as a strategy remains slow at the moment, Lycett is optimistic.
“Rittal has a commitment going forward to work with Industry 4.0 to develop a lot of our products for customers to use in an IIoT and thus a predictive maintenance space. Our big thing, especially in climate control, is the energy efficiency of our products, reducing our carbon footprint and increasing our green credentials.
“I think as people start to adopt predictive maintenance as a strategy, businesses will then increase the sophistication of their tools as they will have more data to work with. Products will continually be tweaked and developed. I don’t think there’s an end to this area. There’s never going to be 100% efficiency. There are always going to be gains to be made.”