Where Industry 4.0 and maintenance collide

Published:  13 August, 2021

Talking Industry Chair Andy Pye reflects on the latest Talking Industry webinar, which covered Maintenance 4.0 - the use of advanced digital methods to nudge maintenance out of traditional systems towards preventive and predictive maintenance.

Maintenance 4.0 is a machineassisted digital form of all the things we have being doing for the past 40 years to ensure our assets deliver value for our organisations. Maintenance 4.0 includes a holistic view of sources of data, ways to connect it, ways to collect it, and ways to analyse it.

We lined up four excellent speakers for this event, an international panel representing views in four different countries.

Christopher Hallum, Regional Sales Manager UK & Ireland, UE Systems, based in Lincolnshire, UK

Pete Sopcik, Marketing Manager, OtoSense Business Unit, Analog Devices, speaking from Boston, USA

Daniel Fern, UK Country Manager, IXON Cloud, speaking from the Netherlands

Michael LeFeuvre, Regional Product Manager, Red Lion Controls, speaking from France.

We identified the following themes that we wanted to cover:

  • The Maintenance Industry “Megatrends”
  • Have CoVID-19 and the skills gap accelerated adoption of AI and industrial
  • Collating Data from Multiple Sources (Lead - Chris Hallum)
  • Easy wins with Maintenance 4.0

Maintenance industry/ megatrends

Pete Sopcik, marketing manager for the Otosense business unit at Analogue Devices, set the scene for the day by expanding on the key drivers, or “Megatrends” influencing the maintenance sector.

The team is focused more on providing analytics, that compliment a lot of the measurement technologies that Analogue Devices is traditionally providing to a broad range of customers across industrial automation, aerospace communications and other critical industries.

“We’ve seen a number of trends that are that are accelerating the need for new ways of performing maintenance, said Pete Sopcik. “On top of that, loss of skills, retiring workforces, COVID, are together creating quite an opportunity, positive or negative depending on how you want to look at it.

“We’ve been focused on for some time providing measurement technologies to customers that allow the measurement of critical machines, critical sensing inputs, and using that data to create new insights into the equipment during its operation. This means being able to convert that data into digital data, interpret it and then take that information and feed it back into systems. We see a tremendous opportunity in industrial automation generally and specifically to maintenance.

“The technologies have improved significantly enough to enable new ways of collecting data to improve the quality of the data that’s being collected. This makes it possible to understand how instruments and machines interact with each other and with the rest of the environment in which it resides.

“You want to extract as much benefit from these machines as possible. So having that visibility into all the equipment in sync, provides that type of insight. COVID has really accelerated the amount of adoption here for new ways of performing maintenance, new ways of automating a lot of the capabilities in the industrial environment. It has limited the access that we have to these facilities by not being able to have people on site. So not only can we have, not only is it difficult for us to access our own facilities, but to allow third parties and other service providers to get access to it.

“And then on top of all that, we’ve had for some time a skills gap that’s starting to grow, spurred on by an ageing workforce looking to retire. How do we capture that expertise?”

Accelerating adoption

This segment of our discussion led naturally into a discussion on the extent to which Covid-19 and international skills shortages are accelerating adoption of AI and automated methods. This section was led by Michael Lefeuvre of Red Lion Controls, an expert company in communication, data creation, data sharing, secure communication and data logging for monitoring instrumentation.

“Artificial intelligence will be a big future trend for these reasons,” he said. “Industry 4.0 is preparing the field for this technology. Because industry 4.0 is creating a huge amount of data. And with that data, deep learning technology and secure systems, the better the system will be and more accurate it will be. Data and people will be merged on the production line! And it needs people with more and different skills. The younger generation are used to using artificial intelligence by using internet all the time. As soon as they have a problem, they go to the internet and try to find a solution. It’s a new way of thinking. Siri-assistantlike approaches are not on site yet - we are going to have to wait a few years for that.”

Collating data from multiple sources UE Systems specialises in manufacturing ultrasound technology for condition monitoring. According to Chris Hallum, people confuse Maintenance 4.0 with the need to have all monitoring systems remote or online. “This is not necessary,” he said. “It is about looking at criticality, access and other considerations. The ideal case would be to have both inspector-led routines and online systems. Visiting an asset and using human senses are both still vitally important.

“So many industries utilise multiple predictive technologies to gain understandings on asset health. Most technologies utilise their own reporting and analysing platforms which can make it difficult to gain an overall understanding when trying to collate all this data together. By centralising them into a CMMS system, the overall picture can be better pieced together.

“Data can be collected manually and uploaded to software that can be sent to CMMS Systems via webhooks, or via remote, online systems that could connect direct to CMMS Systems or cloud-based dashboards to be accessed from anywhere at any time.”

Easy wins in Maintenance 4.0

IXON Cloud is a company that works with OEM machine builders generally providing communications and data analytics. Daniel Fern argued that not all companies have the budget or expertise to embark on massive, multi-million pound IoT transformations. Are there tangible ways for companies to start small, yet still improve their maintenance procedures utilising Industry 4.0?

“Who knows where we will be in the future,” asked Daniel Fern. “Five years, 10, even 20? If 20 years ago, you were looking at tomorrow’s world (today!), we were meant to be flying around on hoverboards by now! Do we see a point where perhaps in the near future there is no longer a requirement for a maintenance engineer - at least not one that actually sits on site and is an employee of the factory? “If OEMs continue to develop technologies and integrate them in ways that they can connect remotely, access the data and share it, why not? Is there a point where maintenance is fully provided by the that built the machine and are the absolute experts on it. If you envision a factory that’s made up of 100 different machines, all from different manufacturers with their own speciality, maybe there’s a point in the future where connectivity is so so good that maintenance is provided directly all these companies working together and not by onsite engineers, who are really - let’s call them - a jack of all trades, but they don’t know any individual machine at a at a deeper level.”

Pete Sopcik agreed. “Certainly, we can’t rule that out. I would say that though that the advantage that some maintenance and facilities teams bring to the table, is that, while they may not be the expert on that particular asset, as I said at the outset, they do understand how that asset works best within its overall environment. I think there’s still a lot of value in the localised understanding of the process, the operations and how everything is working together.”

“Remote access is a very easy win and any large machine builder is now or should be utilising that technology because one site visit saved will pay back that kind of technology - it’s not expensive,” added Daniel Fern. “From the side of the factory owner side, would you not want to be able to receive support quicker? Would you not want to be able to get your machine back on line faster? Because as we mentioned here, downtime can cost you.”

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