MRO Magazine

No More Firefighting

Imagine an industrial site or manufacturing facility that actually accomplished the mission of every maintenance and reliability professional – zero per cent unplanned downtime.

January 25, 2021 | By Justin Lesley

Photo: NanoStockk / Getty Images

Industrial technology concept. Communication network. INDUSTRY 4.0. Factory automation. Photo: Motion Industries.

That nirvana seems so distant to most of us, that we don’t even consider it a real possibility. As farfetched as it may seem, let’s indulge ourselves and think of what it would take to realize our dreams and master our equipment. Theoretically, accomplishing zero per cent unplanned downtime is dependent on management’s ability to meet two criteria:
1) to properly plan maintenance activities during scheduled downtime; and,
2) having the proper resources (parts, people, and know-how) to execute
those jobs.
Can we ever get there? Can we ever convince company leaders to approve funding for the tools we need to revolutionize our operations and improve reliability metrics to approach perfection? The only hope for success and funding is a relentless commitment to data.
What does it mean to be committed to data and why is data so integral to planning and executing maintenance efforts? Being committed to data means that we must leverage modern tools to record all maintenance tasks, to collect machine performance data, to track spare parts inventory, and to assign dollar figures to breakdowns and events that interrupt production.
That last part is an area where maintenance and reliability professionals rarely shine; generally, because we are too busy fixing broken equipment that is costing a lot every second it’s out of service. We can all relate to the madness of being called out to investigate a catastrophic failure on a production line in the middle of a shift, or worse, a component within the facilities infrastructure that affects the entire plant.
In the best-case scenario during a breakdown, you and your team can identify the problem and have the tools and parts required to repair it, but that’s not always the case. For example, if a storeroom doesn’t have a spare pillow block bearing to replace the one that (hypothetically) seized, and even if the part is available at the distribution centre across town, the waiting game for spare parts can get expensive quickly. The cost of downtime could be in the thousands or tens of thousands of dollars per hour, depending on the industry and particular asset that is down. Such costly interruptions can unfortunately happen all too often. Do you know the value of production time in your facility? Do you know what it is per department or even per line?
Every business management decision must equate to financial drivers, which is why it is imperative to track the cost of downtime. Maintenance and reliability professionals have to clearly understand the financial implications of lost production, and use data to put ourselves in a position to succeed. In practice, being in position to succeed means having the right resources to do jobs effectively: technology, people, and support from leadership to plan downtime, prioritize repairs, and make upgrades.
Here are two technology resources that maintenance and reliability teams should be using to enhance their effectiveness.
• Maintenance management software – If you are still using paper work orders and/or simple spreadsheets to manually track maintenance activities, you are robbing yourself of the ability to track critical metrics. Modern maintenance management software simplifies records, and integrates with ERP systems to capture the cost of maintenance including labor/time and materials/inventory.
• Predictive maintenance (PdM)/condition monitoring (CM) solutions – Transitioning from time-based to condition-based maintenance (CBM) is key to efficiently managing resources. PdM solutions enable your team to detect failure trends of degrading equipment, allowing you to prioritize and schedule downtime before catastrophic failures interrupt production.
Maintenance management software and CM solutions have been around for decades, and they have been continuously improving in both functionality and accessibility as new providers vie for market share. This is a wonderful trend for users, as modern technology tools now have more functionality; they are more user-friendly and are more cost-effective.
The “Industrial Internet of Things” (IIoT), and Industry 4.0 have produced a wave of demand for sophisticated PdM solutions, which has created a race among incumbent industrial providers as well as new technology players. Each of these solution providers must compete in the marketplace based on cost, functionality, ease of use, field support, and interoperability with existing technology infrastructure.
With regard to CM solutions, wireless communication has drastically reduced the cost of installation and enabled seamless scalability. Additionally, sensor technology has been enhanced and machine learning algorithms have been incorporated into solutions to automatically detect and interpret trends in performance metrics.

Photo: NanoStockk / Getty Images

If you haven’t had experience with modern CM solutions, you may be wondering how they will complement your team of mechanics, electricians, engineers, and technicians who currently bear the burden of ensuring your facility runs smoothly. The basic idea is that leveraging these tools puts your team in a position to work smarter. They will be able to target problematic equipment before it fails, skip the guessing game of diagnostic inspections, prioritize work based on remaining equipment life data, and ensure appropriate spare parts are in inventory ahead of shutdowns.
Along with the technology trend, there is a more alarming trend in progress related to maintenance and reliability human resources. Industrial and manufacturing environments are becoming more automated, meaning there is more machinery to maintain. At the same time, fewer young people are entering maintenance-related fields of study or directly entering the workplace. The resulting reality is that we must maintain more motors, pumps, fans, gearboxes, bearings, compressors, and the rest of the equipment within plants with less people. The only way we can accomplish that task is to leverage technology to work smarter and use maintenance management software to rationalize our planned downtime practices.
Though PdM solutions can become indispensable tools in your overall reliability strategy, implementing them can be a significant challenge. Solution providers have been through generations of development with a significant design focus on ease of use. Even so, not all sensor solutions are compatible with certain environments or applications. When investigating PdM solutions, some of the features to evaluate are battery life, wireless communication range, IP and hazardous area ratings, alert/notification functionality, sensor size (for confined space areas), sensor temperature ratings, installation method, commissioning and setup process, scalability, and on.
The good news is that the market for PdM solutions is expanding, and providers are focusing on specific applications and/or equipment types in order to meet the needs of the market. As the offerings continue to expand and diversify, training and system integration could become significant factors to consider before implementation. A professional evaluation of your facility and a review of applicable PdM solutions to address specific needs may be the best place to start the journey into the future of maintenance where downtime is always planned.
Two modern technology tools – maintenance management software and PdM/CM solutions – can drastically improve maintenance and reliability efforts when used properly. Therefore, a company’s culture could have more to do with its success than any sensor or software solution. A cultural commitment must be made to fully leverage the functionality of maintenance and reliability systems, in order to generate and analyze asset management data.
That means believing in the value of data analytics, and training people to trust the results when trends are detected. Additionally, make sure to be grounded in the reality that virtually no process can run continuously without being maintained. A cultural commitment to reliability means building space in the schedule to take equipment offline for maintenance, and the only way to accurately plan downtime efforts is with a relentless commitment to data. MRO
Justin Lesley, Industry 4.0 Innovation Manager at Motion Industries, directs IIoT strategy and partnerships related to the MRO industry. His career centres on operational efficiency supported by his Lean Manufacturing and Six Sigma certifications combined with his engineering credentials.


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