Every breakdown or near-miss event throws up a wealth of data
Published on : Monday 07-06-2021
PV Sivaram, Evangelist for Industry 4.0, Digital Transformation and Industrial Automation.
How has technology impacted maintenance practices in recent years?
Plant maintenance is a set of activities, which are aimed at keeping production activities uninterrupted. Technology has entered into production plants over the years. By this, we mean tech products entering production machinery and other assets. Production practices and maintenance practices are actually procedures (SOPs), and they are impacted rather less by having automation and other digital gadgets in the machines. There is of course some difference in operating a machine, which is equipped with a touchscreen rather than knobs and switches. Similarly in maintenance practice, steps to maintain the electronic components are different and in addition to the usual steps of maintaining motors, bearings and other components.
Beyond this, there is a wave coming up, to use digital technologies to transform maintenance practices. With these technologies, there are new ways to monitor the plant, new ways to get alerts of malfunction, and new ways to initiate remedial action. All of this results in reducing latency – the time between an asset starts misbehaving and the time to set it right.
Every breakdown or near-miss event throws up a wealth of data. By acquiring and analysing this data, and collating with similar experiences at other installations, insights can be gathered. If this big data is fed to analytical engines and to AI, then the most valuable lessons can be learnt. These lessons are – Root Cause of failure, and CAPA – corrective and preventive actions.
Often companies concentrate on operations rather than assets when it comes to maintenance. Is this the correct approach?
Line operations are the purpose of existence of the company. It is natural that they get the focus of attention. Utilities are more or less a necessary evil. They are needed so that operations can happen. Therefore, it is not surprising that the proportion of maintenance budget allocated to utilities is rather less than allocation for the production assets. As we have said right at the beginning, the purpose of maintenance is to keep the production ongoing. So both – production facilities and utilities or ancillaries need to be kept going.
How do emerging technologies like digital twins and AR/VR help remote troubleshooting?
Two aspects are important for world-class maintenance. First is that the machines should not have a breakdown at all. Which means that wear parts are exchanged in a planned manner, health monitoring is done on an ongoing basis, and activities such as cleaning, and lubrication and so on are regularly carried out. The second aspect is that if at all there is a breakdown, the machine must be put back into operation as early as possible.
Preventive maintenance routines are commonplace. However, there is a cost. To reduce this cost, preventive maintenance intervals can be extended, without increasing risk of breakdown. This is possible by monitoring the condition of the machine continuously, and undertaking maintenance only when the condition warrants it. If you will take an analogy with a motor vehicle, rather than servicing after so many hours or so many kilometres, if servicing is done only when the vehicle parameters indicate a need, much time and money can be saved.
Remote maintenance is a much-used term today. The issue is that the specialist may need time to physically reach the machine to diagnose and repair. But he can surely observe the machine from his remote location – maybe his office. Then he can guide a local technician with the procedures. Even better, if the knowhow of the expert in the office can be captured into an AI system, the bot can take over most of the function of this expert. The bot will interact with the technician via advanced HMI concepts like AR. And by the way, AR is not an ‘emerging concept’, it is well matured already.
Maintenance-as-a-Service model is an emerging trend, but is this a sound strategy?
Maintenance as a Service is an intriguing concept and should be investigated thoroughly. At the present time, however, much infrastructure and ecosystem is weak. We need to develop these entities and also beware of the issues of cybersecurity, confidentiality, etc. Financial models need to be worked out too.
What should be the ideal maintenance practice for companies in process or discrete manufacturing industries?
Maintenance is all about keeping the production running. This is not just about keeping items in good repair. There are other issues for example about components getting obsolete. So tracking the life-cycle of products is also a part of maintenance. With such programs, stocking of spares for legacy products can be planned. Even a renovation/retrofitting program can be scheduled.
It is not always only about parts becoming obsolete. Some older parts or machines stress the environment excessively. We can draw an analogy to filament lamps versus LED lights. The older generation has a poorer performance compared to the new generation and has benefits for resource consumption and environment. These deliberations form part of a modern maintenance toolkit.
PV Sivaram is an Evangelist for Industry 4.0, Digital Transformation and Industrial Automation. He is also the Past President of Automation India Association (AIA). Sivaram began his career in Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) where he has worked on Reactor Controls. He later shifted to the electrical engineering major Siemens before joining B&R Industrial Automation. After retirement from B&R he is actively engaged with C4i4 primarily as a Mentor and as an evangelist for Digitalisation. Pune-based C4i4 is a part of Samarth Udyog Initiative by the Department of Heavy Industries.
With nearly forty five years of work experience in the automation industry, Sivaram has led projects on Machine and Factory Automation in all verticals like Plastic, Pharma, Textiles, etc. He has considerable experience in Distributed Systems, SCADA, DCS, and microcontroller applications. He has worked on software for redundancy systems and managed large projects both in the public sector and private fields.
Sivaram strongly believes that digitisation and adoption of the technology and practices of Industry 4.0 are essential for MSMEs of India. He works to bring these concepts clearer to the people for whom it is more important.