Digital condition monitoring: Making remote working workable

Published:  04 January, 2021

Digital condition monitoring technology has enabled manufacturers to embed proactive condition based maintenance approaches into their operations, improving reliability, reducing downtime and delivering swift return on investment. However, the Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted how cloud-based CM systems

Reports into the impact of the COVID19 pandemic on the manufacturing sector make for sobering reading. Make UK’s October Manufacturing Monitor reveals that the share of firms who expect to be at 100% of their pre-COVID operating level by the end of this year currently stands at just over a quarter (25.6%), a slight decrease on the previous month.

The challenges of this year have forced many companies to re-evaluate their operational procedures and seek any opportunities to optimise productivity and reduce costs as we head into 2021 with hope, if not certainty, that a corner will soon be turned.

To those taking stock, I would strongly advise that they look closely at their condition based maintenance (CBM) programme and consider the many benefits it can bring, not least in the ability to remotely monitor and maintain operations at a time of crisis.

Increase reliability, reduced downtime 

When it comes to CBM, digital technology will always outperform the traditional ‘pencil and clipboard’ approach. The combination of wireless technology and sensors, along with constantly evolving Cloud and Edge computing solutions, is making the industrial Internet of things (IIoT) a reality which should no longer be ignored.

Importantly, this technology is becoming not only more readily available, but also more affordable. Data storage as a service has now become mainstream and in most cases is a more cost-effective, secure and reliable solution than a traditional onsite server model.

A 21st century web-based CBM system allows data to be collected from assets, whether using a traditional wired collector, routine data collector or a wireless sensor, and stored safely, consistently and comprehensively in the cloud. Advanced web-hosted CBM systems are able to efficiently collate a wide range of information and measurements, such as vibration, thermal imaging, oil analysis, or simply pictures from visual inspection, all on one single interface.

Making remote working workable

One crucial benefit of digital technology - which the COVID-19 pandemic has brought sharply into focus - is the ability to access all diagnostic information from any location in the world, via a standard web browser, and share it between authorised users. The end user automatically and instantly has access to the initial fault diagnostic findings - regardless of whether they are working from an office or the spare bedroom.

Unlike with paper-based recording, not one shred of information gathered digitally goes to waste. Every piece of information collected can be used intelligently to identify ‘bad actors’, preempt potential problems and inform a proactive ongoing maintenance plan.

It also instantly closes any gap between plant and personnel. If a key member of your team is on the road, abroad for a conference, or working from home, it no longer means they must be absent from operational involvement. Authorised personnel can simply log on to the system using their laptop or smart phone. Key data is automatically presented to them as an asset status summary on an easy-to-read dashboard. And if they want to focus on a specific aspect of the plant, they can drill down to view the data on any individual asset.

Information encompassing anything from the latest monitoring readings to maintenance activity and operative comments is available within minutes of it being completed None of this should serve to undervalue maintenance technicians or reliability engineers who, after all, often spend more time with their machines than with their families. It is simply a repurposing of their considerable skills. By not travelling to work or getting stuck in traffic, their time can actually be more efficiently used. The data they require is at their fingertips and the time this frees up can be used for valuable activities such as strategic planning. It also helps to reduce an employee’s carbon footprint by doing away with unnecessary travel – a benefit that should be of interest to any responsible executive.

In a world where the marketplace is becoming increasingly global, access to the real-time condition of assets by senior decision-makers can also be invaluable. Having business critical information readily available, when most wanted, even when working remotely, can play a crucial role in enabling operational management decisions that can make the difference between uninterrupted production and costly downtime.

Cost efficiency

With paper-based condition monitoring, the manual collection of data is rarely the issue – the problem is when it is not recorded, analysed and trended. And when historical paper-based data is tucked away, as it often is, in a dusty storeroom, it quickly becomes a burden of untapped potential. The costs in management time spent searching through sheaves of paper for specific information can soon mount up, particularly when that information is not efficiently recorded or stored. The upfront costs of digital CBM technology are low, making it accessible to companies of any size. Nothing more than a tablet or mobile phone is required and web-based software means installation and setup does not demand any complex or costly IT input.

I would suggest that cost and time savings, improved asset reliability and operational efficiency are good enough reasons alone to invest in a web based CBM system. However, the pandemic has delivered a stark lesson on the ability of extreme or unforeseen events to wreak significant disruption on industrial operations.

In light of this, the ability to work remotely with instant access to vital information is a benefit that the ‘pen and clipboard’ approach really cannot compete with – and one which should be cause enough to consider the move to a digital CBM programme.

*Frédéric Thomas is managing director of AVT Reliability.

AVT Reliability has calculated collective maintenance cost savings totalling £70 million for the 250 organisations that it has supported over more than 40 years, based on 15 million readings from 150,000 monitored assets across 1000 sites. This takes account of stoppages averted, unscheduled downtime minimised and assets being maintained at their optimum level. For further information please visit: www.avtreliability.com

https://www.linkedin.com/company/av-technology/    https://twitter.com/AVTLtd

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