MRO Magazine

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The Future of Maintenance


The Industrial Maintenance 2019 Study, which was sponsored by Advanced Technology Services (ATS) and developed by Plant Engineering (CFE Media LLC), offers insights into the past, present, and future of maintenance and operations.

Industrial Maintenance 2019 surveyed around 200 manufacturing companies, with 13 per cent coming from the food, beverage, and tobacco industry, seven per cent from government and military, six per cent from utilities, four per cent from oil and gas, three per cent from machinery, and two per cent from automotive and other transportation, to name a few.

Downtime is what the majority of maintenance professionals want to reduce (and ideally eliminate) as much as possible. The survey found that the leading cause of unscheduled downtime was aging equipment (40 per cent), followed by mechanical failure (24 per cent), operator error (12 per cent), and lack of time to perform maintenance (eight per cent). In turn, the No. 1 way respondents plan to decrease downtime is by upgrading equipment (43 per cent), followed by improving training/increasing frequency (38 per cent), introducing preventive maintenance strategy (33 per cent), expanding monitoring capabilities (31 per cent), and changing maintenance strategy (30 per cent).

Many of the above problems and solutions are not new, but the future of maintenance is going to include the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). The survey asked respondents what they believe the impact IIoT will be. While the No. 1 answer was “Will help to better understand machine health” (28 per cent), an equal number of respondents said they didn’t know, and 22 per cent said it will have no impact. A further 27 per cent said it will help to better predict and prevent plant shutdowns, and 25 per cent said it will change how plant maintenance personnel work and interact with all levels of operation.

Jeremy Wright, Director, Product Management, ATS, presented the survey findings at the recent Reliable Plant conference. MRO spoke to Wright to get his insight on results from the survey as well as where he sees maintenance going in the future.

MRO: Can you briefly summarize your presentation at Reliable Plant?

WRIGHT: I presented data from the Industrial Maintenance 2019 Study. The respondents were asked over 40 questions about the past, present, and future of maintenance and operations at their facilities. After a brief history of maintenance, the key study results were highlighted and how they would best relate to the interests of the conference attendees.

MRO: What are some factors that will affect maintenance in the future?

WRIGHT: I feel that automation, staffing, AI, big data, budgets, and culture shifts will be the key drivers in the evolution of maintenance.

MRO: What impact will automation and AI have on maintenance?

WRIGHT: The real impact from these two will be on the technical skill level and culture at the sites: smaller teams on-site with greater skill level, and perhaps a central dispatch with specialty skills that travel site to site. Maintenance may even adopt an Uber-like culture where the technicians are all self-employed contractors.

MRO: How will big data affect maintenance?

WRIGHT: The ultimate goal of big data is to aid in making better decisions. It is already being done today and will continue to be refined and improved. The biggest gap currently is many manufacturers collect the data but don’t have established processes to analyze it and then implement real-time and longer-term improvements on the plant floor.

MRO: Sensor technology is of upmost importance to maintenance. How is this area changing, and what should we look for?

WRIGHT: Cheaper prices, more vendors and manufacturers, wireless, and non-contact. Sensors are heading toward being the least intrusive while increasing accuracy. Recently, I heard of machine vibration readings using only a Wi-Fi signal.

MRO: What are some of the strategies that companies can implement to make sure they’re not falling behind the curve?

WRIGHT: Fortunately for them, the curve has always been very slow, but this may not be the case in the future. It has been quite a while since there was a major disruptor in the maintenance realm and we are due for that to happen.

MRO: What will be the biggest disruptor for maintenance in the future?

WRIGHT: I believe staffing/skills will make some major changes in the near future. The traditional model of hiring skilled labour on a payroll may not fully go away, but I can easily see a future where the role of a maintenance manager becomes one that manages individual contractors with specialty skill sets.


Mario Cywinski

Mario Cywinski is the Editor of Machinery and Equipment MRO magazine, a member of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada, and a judge for Canadian Truck King Challenge. He has over 10 years of editorial experience and over 15 years of automobile industry experience, as well as small business industry experience.
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