Building Resilience Through COVID-19 Via a Predictive Maintenance Approach

In this article, we discuss how a ‘predictive maintenance’ approach can increase resilience for businesses, and how it stacks up in three important areas of the greater machine health discussion: remote management, financial cost, and early downtime prevention.

COVID-19 has struck businesses hard over the last few months, creating drastic changes to supply and demand. Difficult decisions have also had to be made, particularly in terms of staff, often unavoidable if businesses need to reduce costs quickly. A knock-on effect for manufacturing organisations that we speak to regularly is that machine maintenance has also become harder than ever due to this lack of staff. Travel restrictions, and the shift to working from home as standard, make it difficult to have routine inspections and on-site maintenance.

So how can business leaders tackle this challenge head on and build more resilient maintenance programs to meet productivity, cost, and labour efficiency benchmarks in this environment? That’s where ‘predictive maintenance’ really shines.

‘Digital transformation’ has been THE buzz term of recent years, with many organisations claiming to be actively shifting to digital products and processes. Often they’ve gotten stuck in pilot phase purgatory, or simply lagged behind in fully implementing solutions. Well, thanks to the pandemic it’s more clear than ever: it’s time for manufacturers to make a digital transformation or die. Rather than treat the challenges posed by COVID-19 as a regression, we suggest organisations look at it as an opportunity to advance their systems for greater efficiency in many areas. The incumbent routine maintenance approach is not suitable for the ‘new normal’ – or even for the last few years for that matter. It’s too labour intensive, and wasteful of time and cost for organisations that want to be truly on top of their equipment maintenance.

That’s where predictive maintenance comes in – processes and technology designed to help determine the real-time condition of in-service equipment. With these, teams can gauge the best time for maintenance ahead of any unplanned downtime, hazardous events, or decrease in machine efficiency.

When comparing maintenance programs, predictive maintenance stacks up in three important areas of the greater machine health discussion: remote management, financial cost, and early downtime prevention. So let’s dig in…

Remote Management

For teams that work across multiple sites, have implemented social distancing requirements, or have been displaced to remote working environments the ability to receive / share data and take action remotely is the most obvious benefit of digital transformation. The real-time data collection using industrial IoT devices (typically smart sensors) provides accurate and immediate insights into operations and machine condition.

Team leaders can manage their plant equipment from afar, and with full visibility. This means they have all the information they need to make educated, proactive decisions about maintenance operations. They can also share this information with their teams and wider business. That means less need for unnecessary human presence onsite, agile decision-making, and more efficient operations. Whether another wave of COVID-19, or an as-yet-unknown crisis arises, enabling remote monitoring is a foundational step in building resilience.

Cost Efficiency

The biggest advantage of predictive maintenance, especially in a COVID-19 world, is to save costs when taking care of your equipment health wherever possible. Traditionally, routine inspections are set based on equipment’s average lifespan. This exposes you to a large financial obligation that’s not always necessary. Your machine gets a maintenance check when it doesn’t necessarily need it, and your team spends valuable time that could be better spent elsewhere. Furthermore, any issues with the machine may only be discovered at the next inspection – which could mean a lengthy period of time where it is running inefficiently. That inefficiency often means greater costs, and productivity losses that fly under the radar.

Predictive maintenance is based around a proactive approach to monitoring your machines’ conditions, meaning you are kept apprised of their health and only take corrective action on an ad hoc basis. No need to pay for an engineer to come and check your machines ‘just in case’, or divert your in-house maintenance team onto unnecessary tasks. People’s time is money and saving on both can mean a lot to an already tight budget in this COVID-19 era.

Preventing Unplanned Downtime

We’ve mentioned the financial and time costs that a good predictive maintenance system can help to mitigate. Another benefit of this approach is, quite simply, the very foresight provided by it. You regain control over your maintenance schedule, empowering you to take the path of least resistance when it comes to machine downtime – no more unexpected shutdowns. That means no underutilised workers, no losses in productivity or incomplete orders to catch up on. The pressures of COVID-19 only make this more important; freight transport is already delayed, teams are running at skeleton capacity (or split rosters), and business goals haven’t shifted. The ability to know when worsening conditions appear, and compare against other equipment conditions to prioritise your actions can make a huge impact on your business.

How to Start the Transition

For most companies, a machine maintenance program has long been established and unchanged since the start of operations. Changing to a different program can be daunting – not only does it appear expensive at face value, but the work required behind the scenes to adapt to the change can also be overwhelming. Understanding that, our team at MOVUS have created a simple, easy-to-implement, predictive maintenance solution that greatly minimises the transition cost while optimising your equipment maintenance regime. Our solution, FitMachine, is a wireless machine condition monitor that takes 5 minutes to install with no specialists or training required. It magnetically attaches to your equipment, monitors and sends data to you in real time and, most importantly, instantly alerts you when there are any irregularities. The data collected is completely owned by you (no access fees like some vendors) and can be pushed to your existing CMMS.

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