MRO Magazine

Technology and modern maintenance

Modern maintenance tools and technologies that will make life easier for maintenance professionals.


Machinery and Equipment Maintenance

January 26, 2022
By Bryan Christiansen

Industries

Photo: Michael Traitov / Adobe Stock

Modern production facilities incorporate several technologies to improve the autonomy and efficiency of processes. These advancements continue revolutionizing maintenance strategies, with companies aiming to eliminate downtime and streamline workflows. A modern maintenance professional requires technical knowledge on a variety of equipment and sufficient digital knowledge to facilitate proactive detection, diagnosis, and correction of equipment errors before they result in costly breakdowns.

With the advent of technology, maintenance ceases to be the responsibility of technicians alone. Proper maintenance is vital for improving the reliability and availability of production assets. It has significant impacts on the bottom line of a company. Modern maintenance technologies and tools transform the operations of organizations by:
• Improving communications at all levels
• Enhancing the transparency of routine operations
• Streamlining (lessening) maintenance workloads
• Enhancing compliance
• Controlling maintenance budgets
• Standardizing maintenance operations.

Emerging technology trends are continually revolutionizing maintenance management. Let’s review predominant technologies, their relevance in maintenance operations and their effects on maintenance professionals.

IoT, cloud technology and condition monitoring
Stiff competition dictates that companies should keep operations running. To avert breakdowns, companies are implementing condition monitoring technologies, which consist of sensors and communication networks. Sensors continuously monitor the health and the working conditions of equipment. They collect vast amounts of data and transmit them to internal or  cloud-based servers.

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The industrial internet of things (IIoT) allows maintenance professionals to collect and analyse data in real-time. It enables them to proactively identify underlying problems and resolve them before they cripple processes. Professionals leverage periodic equipment operating data to develop predictive algorithms and models for evaluating the reliability of different facilities.

Traditionally, to perform failure mode, cause, and effect analysis, it was necessary to sift through physical maintenance records. It was a time-consuming and error-prone process. However, as cloud technology advances, maintenance professionals can remotely access, summarize and visualize thousands of maintenance records in a matter of seconds. That way, professionals spend less time evaluating and troubleshooting equipment defects.

IoT and cloud technology will continue to support a shift from reactive maintenance to data-driven predictive maintenance (PdM). Unlike reactive maintenance, PdM allows maintenance professionals to develop effective maintenance schedules. Aside from reducing the overall maintenance cost, PdM ensures an even distribution of maintenance workloads.

Remote inspection
Inspections form a part of preventive maintenance interventions across industries. Even so, some components of equipment or facilities are difficult to access. Visual inspections allow maintenance professionals to identify signs of wear that may escalate to failures. Inspecting some sections of facilities like chemical processing plants exposes maintenance professionals to health risks. Remote inspection allows companies to monitor the structural integrity of components without disassembling equipment or risking the lives
of professionals.

Companies conduct remote inspections using videoscopes, borescopes or fiberscopes. They rely on high-definition cameras to capture and transmit images and videos. Maintenance technicians view these images on portable screens, smart goggles, or eyepieces. For remote inspection of larger spaces, maintenance professionals utilize CCTV cameras or drones, which capture and relay videos in real-time. Drones and CCTV cameras reduce the total inspection time owing to their wide coverage angles. Breakthroughs in robotics and artificial intelligence have given birth to small climbers, crawling, and flying robots. These devices can navigate some hard-to-reach or hazardous areas.

IoT and cloud technology will continue to support a shift from reactive maintenance to data-driven predictive maintenance (PdM). Unlike reactive maintenance, PdM allows maintenance professionals to develop effective maintenance schedules.

Remote inspection allows maintenance professionals to monitor rotary equipment, pressure vessels, pipes, power plants and chemical facilities. The devices maintain digital inspection records, which improve the quality and accuracy of inspections. They minimize inspection time and guarantee the safety of maintenance personnel.

CMMS technology
Computerized maintenance management systems (CMMS) continue to evolve with transformations in technology. The data storage, processing and storage capabilities of computing devices and CMMS platforms allow maintenance professionals to centralize staff, tools, and spare management. These programs have evolved from simple platforms for storing maintenance records to sophisticated programs compatible with cloud technologies and mobile devices.

The benefits of CMMS programs to maintenance workflows are immeasurable. They store detailed information on every piece of equipment owned by a company, manufacturer manuals, spare part information, standard maintenance checklists, troubleshooting information and maintenance schedules. Supervisors utilize these platforms to approve work requests and assign work orders to technicians. The versatility of these programs means that authorized professionals can remotely access and update crucial maintenance information, monitor the progress of maintenance work and analyse the efficiency of maintenance strategies.

By centralizing data management on CMMS platforms, companies standardize maintenance operations, leaving no room for errors when performing corrective or preventive maintenance, thus enhancing the safety of processes and technicians. More companies are adopting flexible work arrangements. They need to monitor the productivity and training needs of dispersed teams. CMMS platforms facilitate the documentation of maintenance tasks and guarantee the availability of maintenance and training information whenever required. CMMS programs simplify collaboration among maintenance teams.

Augmented reality and virtual reality
Maintenance professionals require periodic training to sharpen their technical abilities and acquaint them with emerging digital tools. Companies have been relying on printed manuals, graphs, and physical models to conduct training of maintenance professionals. As technology advanced, companies shifted to video conferencing, presentations, and digital manuals. Training maintenance professionals through these methods demand the physical presence of participants.

Augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) technologies are quickly gaining pace and promise to revolutionize training for maintenance professionals. With COVID-19 striking the globe, there was a need to limit physical interactions. Vendors and manufacturers utilize AR to create cyber representations of complex systems to demonstrate the interdependence of parts and processes. Maintenance professionals receive a walk-through of the entire facility. Virtual reality utilizes pre-recorded maintenance sessions to outline troubleshooting procedures or information.

These technologies improve the training of new staff as they can easily visualize how experts perform maintenance tasks at hand. AR technologies evaluate maintenance records to identify skill gaps and customize training programs to enhance the quality of maintenance work across the board. Manufacturers include recommended procedures in AR and VR platforms. It assists maintenance professionals in conducting timely and accurate troubleshooting. AR and VR solutions serve as a perfect reference point when maintenance professionals encounter new equipment or complex systems.

Leak detection tools
Industrial systems contain a blend of equipment and technologies that convey or utilize the three states of matter. The leakage of liquids and gases indicates underlying failures and poses safety risks to operators and occupants of a facility. Leak detection is a preventive maintenance strategy that utilizes several digital tools and technologies to pinpoint the source of liquid or gas leakage.

Ultrasonic leak detectors enable maintenance professionals to locate leaks in pressurized systems, capture, convey and store digital records of facility leakages. Air and gas leak detectors are vital for identifying the emission of combustible gases. Minute traces of combustible gases may result in fire accidents.
Leak detectors are vital for promptly identifying the source of gas or liquid leak and enables maintenance professionals to implement corrective measures within the shortest time. By correcting defects at an early stage, technicians can control maintenance workloads and enhance their safety.

Technology presents several opportunities for maintenance professionals. Digital tools and platforms help maintenance personnel to reduce workloads and enhance the quality of maintenance work. They facilitate remote monitoring and maintenance, significantly boosting the safety and compliance standards of companies. Investing in digital skills is becoming inevitable for modern maintenance professionals. Companies need to keep abreast with emerging technology trends and find innovative ways to incorporate new tools and technologies into their maintenance workflows. MRO
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Bryan Christiansen is the Founder and CEO at Limble CMMS (a mobile CMMS software company, Limble CMMS). He can be reached at bryan@limblecmms.com.