Changing consumer tastes drives manufacturers to think smarter

Frequent monitoring can help combat the randomness of equipment failures.

All manufacturers should have an appropriate asset maintenance program. FM Global division engineering manager Paul May explains how developing one is as much about culture as technology.

Global competition and changing consumer tastes for more varied and personalised products are putting pressure on manufacturers to respond faster and be more agile. Technology is enabling this, with smart manufacturing initiatives in Australia, the US, China, Germany and beyond.

Driving this shift is ever-increasing global competition. Whereas once only large enterprises needed to ensure they were competitive on an international scale, now smaller ones must also respond. Swiftly reacting to consumer tastes for diverse, personalised products means tapping into the latest resources available.

The convergence of information technology and operational technology is helping businesses make strategic use of data to unleash their productivity on the factory floor.

READ: CES: All businesses must embrace technology to succeed

As manufacturers become more adept at using data to meet the rapid demands of changing consumer appetites, there’s an even greater opportunity to make sure that the technology is helping manufacturers deliver goods more consistently.

While an investment in understanding consumer tastes and designing products that meet them is vital, producing those goods reliably is equally important.

Time- and process-based machinery monitoring

Time- or process-based, preventive maintenance has been the primary modus operandi of plant engineers for keeping the means of production both available and reliable. There is often an assumption that machinery failures are subject to the bathtub curve, occurring most commonly near the beginning and end of the equipment’s life. The assumption here is that an asset will generally operate normally, and then suddenly brake, with little warning in between. Machinery monitoring is typically done at specific time periods, or after a certain number of cycles.

Evidence increasingly shows that the bathtub curve is a fallacy, particularly for larger and more complex pieces of equipment. Equipment failures can occur randomly throughout the life of a piece of equipment. This type of equipment failure contributes to unplanned downtime. As many as 70 per cent of manufacturers in a UK survey on behalf of field service management software provider, ServiceMax, admitted that they lack awareness of when their equipment is due for maintenance, upgrade or replacement. Eighty-two per cent of manufacturers had experienced at least one unplanned downtime in the last three years, while the average unplanned downtime for manufacturers was two in the last three years.

The inherent randomness of equipment failures raises the relevance of implementing more frequent monitoring throughout the lifespan of a piece of machinery to avoid unplanned shutdowns. In fact, breakdowns are often preceded by a pre-breakdown period in the hours, days, weeks and months leading up to the breakdown when the conditions can change in detectable ways.

Condition-based monitoring

Technology is rapidly developing to improve condition-based monitoring of machinery. This type of monitoring takes what is often a guessing game and turns it into a more predictive experience. Online, condition-based monitoring technology can reduce downtime by allowing businesses to gain a more accurate picture of the health of their critical equipment and receive early warnings of imminent failures.

This type of monitoring enables manufacturers to replace parts in a planned way, optimising maintenance outages. In the case of one recent client, online monitoring detected a disturbing trend in a key high-voltage electric motor. Armed with the awareness that a breakdown may be coming soon, the client was able to bring in a replacement motor from another site and plan an outage for repairs. This is important given the role that unplanned outages can play in affecting business continuity and the bottom line.

This type of monitoring, which may include samples taken for analysis and is a significant source of miscalculation, can also minimise human error. It is estimated that the global machine monitoring market will grow by just over five per cent compound annual growth rate to $3.46 billion in the next five years leading up to 2023.

Choosing wisely

Online monitoring is not relevant for all types of equipment. For those pieces of machinery that manufacturers can operate without for short periods, real-time monitoring is not necessary and reactive maintenance strategies may be appropriate. Examples of equipment that can benefit from online monitoring in the manufacturing plant include large power transformers, high voltage switchgears, and large, high-speed rotating equipment such as turbines, compressors or fans.

Technology is an enabler, but culture is key

In cases where a decision is taken to invest in technology that will allow for online monitoring, the most important factor to determine the impact of this investment is the degree to which the company invests in resources to support such monitoring. The technology merely enables a manufacturing client to make better decisions. A culture that values asset integrity is critical to making the investment work for your business.

Support at all levels of the organisation, from management, to operations, engineering and maintenance, is needed. This includes hiring or training staff to ensure that skill and time resources are available within the organisation to interpret the data that will arise from equipment that is continuously monitored. Information plus expertise equates to knowledge. The first step of this process is to ensure that data is made available in an understandable form to those who need to review it.

Even if a decision is taken to outsource monitoring, companies should still have staff within the company who can make sense of data to ensure that value is being obtained. Support is also necessary if something out of the ordinary is discovered, to grant authority to take the equipment offline if necessary.

Developing an appropriate asset integrity program with the right mix of monitoring isn’t simple. It requires a long hard look at your equipment across production, utilities and support systems. Failure modes, vulnerabilities and the criticality of that equipment to your business performance must be identified. Equipment maintenance plans should be prioritised based on the consequences of failure. Investment in teams, not just tools, is also key.

The reward is well worth it. By taking a closer look across your assets today, you can reduce headaches from unplanned breakdowns and increase the benefit of your investments across your business.