The benefits of digital maintenance - The fourth industrial age and services

Published: 22 October 2020 - midnight

Today’s manufacturing environment is facing the challenge of rapid acceleration in both the speed-of-business and in the proliferation of new digitised technologies. These trends are impacting all of society and every workplace. The amount of change taking place is breathtaking as innovation makes its presence felt at all levels.

Saudi Arabia and the UAE are making steady investments in the growth of their respective localisation programmes. These, and similar initiatives, come as the region focuses on nation-building efforts to secure the future growth of its youth. A key area of focus is also the localisation of manufacturing, which is expected to boost the Gulf’s economies in the long term.

The region’s governments are also embracing the Fourth Industrial Revolution, where technologies such as Artificial Intelligence, the Internet-of-Things (IoT) and Robotics are powering manufacturing. These new concepts will transform the Gulf into a manufacturing hub, driving economic development, competitiveness and social progress whilst new economies create more jobs.

Service Provision in the Fourth Industrial Age

Upgrading the region’s manufacturing facilities isn’t as complex as you’d think. We’ve transformed a number of our own historical sites. Take for example our factory in Lexington, in the USA. The site is over sixty years old. Exemplifying “brownfield” innovation, the Lexington factory integrates our Industrial Internet-of-Things-based EcoStruxure solutions. We use digital tools, including augmented reality, remote monitoring and predictive maintenance, to drive energy efficiency, sustainability and overall cost savings, while offering increased agility and resiliency within the operation.

This approach has resulted in several benefits for the plant. Monitoring and analysing energy usage has driven energy savings of 3.4 percent year-over-year, contributing to US$6.6 million in savings since 2012. Discrete Lean Management software has reduced unplanned machine downtime by nearly six percent through increased visibility into operations; additionally, paperwork has also been eliminated by 90 percent. And, by using EcoStruxure Power and Buildings hardware and software, we’ve achieved a 26 percent energy reduction, a 78 percent CO2 reduction in conjunction with renewable energy credits (RECs), and a 20 percent water use reduction.

One of the most significant improvements has been in services. By taking a digital approach, we’ve both enhanced our operational insight and reduced equipment downtime by 20 percent. For most factories, that’s the equivalent of adding in a new production line at a fraction of the cost.

With a cloud-based approach and internet-connected equipment, any factory can make the leap into the fourth industrial age. Machinery can be monitored remotely from day one, and operations teams can adopt predictive maintenance, which allows issues to be addressed before machinery breaks down. Digitisation helps maintenance crews understand more about the machinery, particularly when combined with augmented reality. Using AR visors, engineers can rapidly fix machinery they may not otherwise be familiar with.

Contrast this approach to how equipment is serviced today. The current way most machines in manufacturing plants are monitored and serviced is both costly and time consuming. Servicing is often provided only after machinery breaks down, which interrupts production and results in costly downtime. Maintenance technicians tasked with fixing the machines often spend the majority of their time attempting to locate different sets of documentation in order to actually begin productive work on fixing the machine.

The speed at which maintenance is evolving is exciting, especially for manufacturers. Recent breakthroughs in digitalisation technologies are now directly addressing how machine-generated data is gathered, centralised and displayed. On top of this layer of data, AI-based analytics are able to give incredible insights into equipment performance and operations.

These innovations are opening up new possibilities for OEM manufacturers. Already, we are working with equipment manufacturers to make all of their machinery IoT-ready, meaning that they can remotely monitor equipment on behalf of their customers. This would enable machine builders to offer additional services to their end users. From a quality of work perspective, many common maintenance hassles and headaches would be avoided. Accurate measurement of machine performance opens the door to a wide range of enhancements that result in increased productivity.

Jumpstart the transition to digital

Digitalisation tools can help both manufacturers and machine builder OEMs to begin building on these new service opportunities in the following ways:

· Tracking – An online repository service provides easy access to documentation (from bill of materials, to localisation and maintenance logs), and stores the full history of all machines in operation. A log is also generated that documents all machine-related activities and events that have taken place. Such tracking abilities will help in quickly identifying the locations of machines, the tasks required to perform machine service, and the spare parts required.

· Monitoring – Cloud-enabled remote access allows operations to assess the performance data of machines. Intuitive and user-friendly dashboards display KPIs and track notifications. The monitoring tools are easy to configure as the user interface provides time-saving widgets (graphical user interfaces that display easy ways for a user to interact with the application).

· Fixing – Any repairs to a machine are accelerated through mobile services that facilitate maintenance operations on site through Augmented Reality applications. Graphical images of step-by-step procedures appear on the repair person’s hand-held tablet device. Cloud-based Software as a Service (SaaS) tools facilitate troubleshooting and fixing the machines in question.

Next generation digital services are transforming how both manufacturers and OEMs approach the concept of maintenance. The only question I have to ask is, “when are you going to transition to how services are delivered in the fourth industrial age?”

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