The pursuit of efficiencies is a given in manufacturing: save on time, labour and energy to derive a competitive and production advantage.
That was before the devastating effects of the pandemic muddied the waters and presented businesses with a safety issue unlike any other; reducing workforces, extending social distancing and straining resources.
On the face of it, that presents a cleft stick of two antithetical priorities – an unwelcome consideration for firms struggling to hold their profit margins. Or does it?
Covid-19 has been a gamechanger for the producers and suppliers to quickly find a way to adapt to this situation
Volker Koelmel, global manager plastic, nonwovens and paper, AMETEK
Global manager plastic, nonwovens and paper at AMETEK Surface Vision, Volker Koelmel, offers a more optimistic take on things in terms of maintenance implications.
“The growth of preventative maintenance is driven by the rising focus on reducing operational costs and asset downtime.
“There is an opportunity in many facilities to help users improve the maintenance of their equipment and continuously train local resources with remote expert support,” he comments.
Covid has if anything hastened the practical requirement for remote supervision, something that improvements in digitalised solutions and visual imaging has been well equipped to meet.
Explains Koelmel [pictured]: “Covid-19 has been a gamechanger for the producers and suppliers to quickly find a way to adapt to this situation. The willingness to use remote diagnostic support, and the optimisation for it, has increased over recent months.”
Traditional approaches to maintenance, such as scheduled maintenance as determined by the manufacturer, rarely reflect the actual condition of the equipment, he asserts. The different areas of use and intensities of the machines have a significant impact on their service life.
“Thus, scheduled maintenance is often either too early or too late. While the cost of premature maintenance on the lifetime of a machine is still acceptable, the failure of a machine can have serious consequences.
“In addition to the costs from downtime, the operator’s market position and customer confidence suffer from potential failures. Delayed performance can also lead to contractual penalties or withdrawal of orders.
”Given that reducing long-term maintenance costs and maximising production hours can significantly improve the bottom line, many customers are shifting away from dedicated system administrators in favour of leveraging vendors to support their quality and process control systems, claims Koelmel.
AMETEK is among the companies to have developed a preventative maintenance service to monitor and maintain customers’ surface inspection systems remotely during their normal operation.
Providing regular analysis to ensure optimal performance, it is supported by a system specialist that generates reports about the maintenance situation, potential issues and recommended solutions before they become a problem.
Backup of the systems software settings is saved regularly and available for a fast recovery of the system when required with a minimum amount of downtime.
Iron laws of benefit
When it comes to enterprises of scale, few operations compare with utility distribution. Cadent Gas maintains the UK’s largest gas distribution network, serving an estimated 11 million homes and businesses situated across the country.
With the Health & Safety Executive mandate requiring UK distributors to replace their iron mains by 2032 interest is growing in tech-nologies that aid scheduled programmes of work. In Cadent’s case that involves a network of more than 131,000km, requiring renewal of some 1,700km of iron mains annually.
Probit Consulting’s Asset Investment Manager (AIM) software was selected for Cadent’s asset investment planning as one of the few contenders that could cope with the scale required.Probit’s director of analytics, Dr Tim Watson says that the system’s analytical capability to interpret dynamic relationships and optimise investment for specific operational requirements and performance targets over a given time would not have been possible until recently.
“Historically, such digital tools were not available and this kind of analysis would have been labour intensive, using an array of spreadsheets and databases showing cost assessments and work schedules,” he explains.
Cadent’s Distribution Mains Renewal plan is focused on low, medium and intermediate pressure pipes of two to 48 inches (50-1220mm) in local transmission systems.
Explains Watson: “The key strength of the model for this application is that it can assess one pipe against another and indicate which should be renewed first. For example, the location of a given pipe might make it more expensive to renew, but if it is failing more often, and its failure has a greater impact on customers, the model can pick this up and show the greatest total benefit.”
The most significant aspect is the HSE-mandated renewal of all iron mains of 8-inch (203mm) diameter and below, situated within 30m of a building, comprising 93% of all renewal work.
Sam McGauley, RIIO-GD2 mains renewal investment lead at Cadent says: “The GD2 Distribution Mains Renewal programme is a massive undertaking and the models generated by the AIM software are already providing us with a level of detail on pipe condition and costs we haven’t had previously.”
Demand for cost effective, automated main-tenance has spurred innovation in monitoring within a variety of applications. ifm has electronic launched its new multi-function VVB001 vibration sensor for electric motors.
The easy-fit mounting system obtains and analyses information without the aid of additional equipment and provides real-time data via an IO-Link interface to integrate with factory automation systems.
It identifies component fatigue, excessive friction, mechanical impacts and overall condition. Also, it monitors temperature and warns when rising trends are detected.
SKF’s Enlight ProCollect system allied to its QuickCollect vibration sensors have been installed by Norwegian shipper Solvang to move from routine/time-based maintenance intervals to a predictive maintenance programme.
And in situations where maintenance is not only at its most remote but also dangerous improved access to quality analytics and other knowledge has been significant.
Metering in the moment
TÜV SÜD National Engineering Laboratory’s new data analytics service is aimed at minimising flowmeter downtime and maintenance.
Traditionally, meters are routinely scheduled for recalibration irrespective of whether they deviate from required operating parameters – an exercise that can cost an estimated US$50,000.
The company says its new service will enable operators to move away from a time-based to a condition-based calibration approach, employing statistical modelling techniques to predict meter performance based on live and historical data.
In addition, says a spokesperson, diagnostics information can be used to understand what may be negatively impacting a meter by analysing hidden patterns to identify specific fault conditions. This could include incorrect installation, instrument damage, particle deposition, the presence of an unexpected second fluid phase and upstream or downstream flow disturbance.
Gordon Lindsay, head of the Digital R&D Group at TÜV SÜD National Engineering Laboratory, said: “Our new Data Analytics service uses data in real-time to detect when a meter is not performing to specification and identify the cause of this failure.
“End-users can avoid shutting down production to remove a device before a solution to a fault can be found. Proactively determining the optimal calibration date delivers increased measurement confidence, reduced downtime and cost savings.”