All assets require periodic maintenance to continue running efficiently
Published on : Monday 07-06-2021
Suresh Sankaran, CEO, Star Automations, Pondicherry.
How has technology impacted maintenance practices in recent years?
Yes, Industry 4.0 is the ongoing automation process of traditional manufacturing and industrial practices using modern smart technologies. Information technology (IT) with Operational technology (OT) is completely changing the industrial process. A few years ago, data collection was a manual process, which required trained persons to access the equipment. The process is gradually changed with latest technologies such as cloud computing, Big Data, virtual and augmented reality, advanced HVAC technology, machine learning and artificial intelligence, Internet-enabled sensors and the (Industrial) Internet-of-Things (IIoT) are being deployed to enhance the scalability, quality, effectiveness and cost-efficiency of processes in large industries like oil and gas, energy, manufacturing and aerospace. For example AI based systems to perform complex tasks that previously handled by human interface which performs speech recognition, visual perception, and decision making. Many changes in the manufacturing industry have come from consumer demand. Consumers want things faster and better, personalised and unique, and newer than last year or even last quarter. New technological advances in manufacturing have helped to better meet consumer demand.
We can take the example of servo motors. The disadvantage of stepper motor limits its performance, as the stepper motor can only drive a load that is within its capacity, otherwise missed steps under load may lead to positioning errors and the system may have to be restarted or recalibrated. Since every industry requires precision and accuracy in their manufacturing, the stepper motors are replaced by servo motors in various applications. There have been some other factors which increased the popularity in closed loop stepper motors in recent years. The encoder and controller of a servomotor are extra cost, but they optimise the performance of the overall system (for all of speed, power and accuracy) relative to the capacity of the basic motor. Servo motors play a major role in a lot of industrial applications such as automation, robotics, CNC machinery, motion controllers, etc. The use of electric servo technology has expanded rapidly into applications that have benefits of high-performance motion control which includes applications involving, high precision control of angular or linear position, harsh environments and high torque-to-volume ratios. It also requires a relatively sophisticated controller, often a dedicated module designed specifically for use with servomotors. Recent changes as integrated servo motors are designed so as to include the motor, driver, and an encoder and associated electronics into a single package.
Often companies concentrate on operations rather than assets when it comes to maintenance. Is this the correct approach?
I think no, an operational goal is to help you increase production, reduce downtime, ensure environment safety, support key decisions around asset life and repowering. Some companies are not focused on preventive and predictive maintenance; instead they are replacing failure parts immediately from back up to manage day-to-day operations. Unfortunately, some organisations wait until a component fails before they take action to repair or replace it. All assets require periodic maintenance to continue running efficiently. But the volume of failure products may accumulate into a huge asset value in the next few years. That invisible value of assets needs to be scrapped due to various reasons like spares not available at that time, corrosion due to the environment, technical sources unavailable, etc. The space for storing the idle products is also a hidden cost to a company.
How do emerging technologies like digital twins and AR/VR help remote troubleshooting?
The digital twin is a digital replica or virtual copy of physical assets or products used for physical model simulation. The digital twin concept impacts a wide range of domains, from engineering to architecture to aerospace to medical industries. It’s a technology outcome from physical drawing to computer aided design to simulation model based system engineering. The speed and quality of maintenance and repair are critical in modern days. In some situations, some client or customer wants an immediate solution but you are unable to travel due to prevailing conditions. Applying technologies such as the digital twin, AR/VR model to the technical support domain will be truly transformative, with its ability to revolutionise the role of the on-site/field technician. Your connected worker shall be able to get guidance via a remote assistance app using immersive technology. The expert sitting on the other end of the world, in his office, will be able to connect with the remote worker with the help of AR technology.
The conclusion is that IoT technologies are really supportive for industry with remote troubleshooting and simulate real world solutions which have advantages over field engineers’ limited site visits, and a collaborative way to solve the problem, immediate solving of the problem and customer delight experience.
Maintenance-as-a-Service model is an emerging trend, but is this a sound strategy?
Losing critical assets or failure can lead to breakdown in process, causing unplanned downtime that can cost billions of rupees per year. In order to be proactive in preventing such failures, manufacturers and industrial organisations are starting to schedule downtime events by employing advanced technologies and business models in maintenance. Earlier 3rd generation maintenance included, risk management, error analysis and condition monitoring but the 4th generation is centred on failure elimination using proactive techniques. Truly, emerging trends give attention to return on investments, reduce maintenance cost, lesser downtime and better production. Current approaches try to preserve function and operability, optimise performance and increase asset lifespan with optimal investments.
What should be the ideal maintenance practice for companies in process or discrete manufacturing industries?
The combination of preventive and predictive maintenance is one of the most cost-effective methods for ensuring reliability, safety, and energy efficiency.
The main purpose of regular maintenance is to ensure that all equipment required for production is operating at 100% efficiency at all times. Ignoring periodic maintenance will result in orders not being fulfilled, customers not receiving their products, and breakdowns in your production targets. An ideal maintenance practice comprises:
1. Administration – To ensure effective implementation and control of maintenance activities.
2. Work Control System – To control the performance of maintenance in an efficient and safe manner such that economical, safe, and reliable plant operation is optimised.
3. Conduct of Maintenance – To conduct maintenance in a safe and efficient manner.
4. Maintenance Strategy – To contribute to optimum performance and reliability of plant systems and equipment. It has subset of 3 basic type of maintenance strategy:
a. Preventive Maintenance – time based or meter count based maintenance that takes place before something breaks down. The approach model is carried out at predetermined intervals to reduce failure risk or performance degradation of assets.
b. Reactive Maintenance – run-to-failure or operate-to-failure strategy, is when you take action after an asset fails
c. Predictive Maintenance – condition-based approach to maintenance.
d. Other maintenance – Proactive maintenance such as RCA and design out maintenance such as re-designs or improvements in existing design.
5. Maintenance procedures and documentation – To provide directions, when appropriate, for the performance of work and to ensure that maintenance is performed safely and efficiently.
Suresh Sankaran, a graduate in Industrial Electronics, is a Technocrat and has worked as R&D engineer in many industries. Taking to entrepreneurship at age 21, he started his own concern called Baba Electronics in 1998 to supply Demo Computer kits to Schools, Engineering Colleges and Polytechnics in Pondicherry. In the year 2000, Suresh started Star Automations (SA), which is running successfully till date, now an ISO 9001:2015 organisation and one of the leading Industrial Service Companies for Multiband Servo Motors. SA provides maintenance, repair, service support & sales support in the area of industrial electronic equipment for many government organizations and public sectors industries like aerospace marine, automotive, oil & gas industries, offshore industries in India and overseas.