2020 has been a whirlwind of a year that has undoubtedly turned the Industrial world upside-down with the rise of the COVID-19 pandemic. The health crisis changed how people worked on a daily basis, and companies found themselves adapting quickly to the constantly evolving environment to keep employees safe and operations as normal as possible. As we look to 2021, it is no surprise that trends are starting to emerge that help improve efficiency, cut cost, and even remove some hands-on human effort in case, as the world has seen over the last several months, it is unsafe for people to be close to one another. One trend on the rise is predictive maintenance, and it has the makings of changing how equipment is serviced and maintained.
Predictive maintenance is exactly what it sounds like: techniques and processes that help determine the status or state of a piece of equipment currently in use, helping create an estimate or timeline of when maintenance will need to be done. The process uses data collected by and from equipment, something that many companies currently do not make the most use of, and is able to forecast when the equipment will need to be serviced based on trends and history. Plants and facilities currently tend to perform maintenance either when a machine experiences an issue, or on a routine basis. However, both of these can lead to time and cost issues. By waiting to perform maintenance until when or after an issue has arisen, the company loses time, whether operational or manufacturing-related. To head this off, many companies will perform routine maintenance, and while this may seem like the best way to remain productive, this can cause companies to lose money, especially if they are doing maintenance on equipment that does not require it, starting a chain of excessive tune-ups or services that the machinery ultimately does not require.
PricewaterhouseCoopers created a report that found that predictive maintenance could have significant positive effects on efficiency. Equipment uptime is improved by 9%, and costs are reduced by 12%. Predictive maintenance also has long-term safety and sustainability benefits, too. By creating a predictive maintenance plan, health and safety risks are reduced by 14% because of the decreased need for manual work or the chances of a piece of equipment running past a safety threshold, and the lifetime of these assets are increased by 20%, which will ultimately save a company money. While this concept can be incredibly beneficial in theory, implementing it could require extra effort. How does a company go about it?
The first thing a facility must do is establish baselines for how pieces of equipment should operate. Common baselines tracked include temperature, pressure, and rotation speeds. After finding this, sensors need to be installed to track these readings if they are not already included, and from here, facilities can collect data on the machine’s operation and track any patterns or changes. From here, the facility can see when these established baseline readings begin to trend in negative directions, signaling a potential issue that should be addressed before it causes significant damage. From there, the facility can proactively perform the maintenance and return the machine to an operational standard without losing time from repairing a more advanced issue or potential breakdown.
While the benefits are great, establishing a predictive maintenance plan can cause a facility issues. Not all pieces of equipment have the necessary sensors to provide baseline readings, which is an integral part of the process. This creates the issue of whether it is feasible to install these additions. Reliability is not always a primary focus when designing and building a facility, so redesigning systems or installing new ones could be impractical. The human mindset can also create a surprising roadblock in deploying predictive maintenance, because people so often associate maintenance with human activity, so integrating computer and data-driven analysis of machinery can cause issues in company organizations.
Predictive maintenance is a great concept, and if it is deployed properly and with the right tools, it can change the way that companies maintain and service their equipment. Though not without its constraints, the concept can be a great benefit to simplifying the everyday workflow of a facility while limiting potential setbacks and shutdowns. In the evolving landscape of the manufacturing world, it seems that this can be a great benefit if used properly, and companies will see the long-term gains and results long past 2021.