Choosing the Right Maintenance Strategy

How do you choose the right maintenance strategy for your organization? Someone from the outside looking in might think the notion of choosing a maintenance strategy is as simple as choosing between ‘repair it’ or ‘replace it’, and that’s not entirely inaccurate. Beyond the surface, though, there are a number of different considerations that can have a long-term impact on a company’s bottom line and ultimate viability. Particularly when working with numerous or expensive essential assets that are subject to the continual wear-and-tear and eventual breakdown that plagues all machines, maintenance costs can take enormous bites out of revenue.

Fortunately, numerous maintenance strategies have evolved over the years, and technology allows us to apply new techniques using new models that were previously unheard of. Let’s review some of the more popular maintenance strategies:

Reactive Maintenance
This is the simplest strategy, sometimes referred to as ‘breakdown maintenance’. The premise is simple: Use something until it can no longer be used. Then, do what needs to be to repair it and get it back in action. If it can’t be repaired, replace it. There are some benefits when compared to other strategies, such as lower initial costs and reduced staff, as well as eliminating the need to plan. Of course, these benefits are usually negated in the long term by unplanned downtime, shortened life expectancy of assets, and a complete inability to predict breakdowns and maintenance needs. The only real viable reason for employing this strategy is an inability to afford the initial costs of any other strategy.

Preventative Maintenance
Preventative maintenance is performed while an asset is still operational in order to decrease the likelihood of failure. In this strategy, maintenance is performed according to a particular time or usage schedule. For instance, regular maintenance will be performed when this particular machine reaches 5,000 hours of uptime since the last maintenance. Predictive maintenance will typically keep equipment operating with greater efficiency and extend the lifetime of the asset compared to reactive maintenance, while also preventing unnecessary downtime. It does, however, require greater planning and man-power. Preventative maintenance is not a good choice for assets like circuit boards that can fail randomly regardless of maintenance. It is also not ideal for assets that do not serve a critical function and will not cause downtime in the event of a failure.

 

Predictive Maintenance
The purpose of predictive maintenance is to predict an imminent failure and perform maintenance before it occurs. This strategy requires some specific condition monitoring and will typically have a higher upfront cost due to the need to add sensors or other hardware, and will also require skilled personnel capable of anticipating failures based on the data points being monitored. Benefits include: the ability to prevent unnecessary downtime, and minimal time spent performing maintenance as it is only done when failure is imminent. Predictive maintenance is usually not a good option for assets that do not serve a critical function, or assets that do not have a predictable failure mode.

Condition-Based Maintenance
Condition-based maintenance is similar to predictive maintenance in that it involves continually monitoring specific conditions to determine when maintenance should be performed. Typically, however, condition-based maintenance is not just performed to prevent failure, but also to ensure optimum efficiency, which can not only improve productivity but extend the life of the asset as well. Because condition monitoring equipment and expertise can be expensive, initial costs can be quite high – prohibitive in some cases. In the long term, however, condition-based maintenance may be the most cost-effective strategy for ensuring optimal productivity and extended asset lifecycles. Condition-based maintenance is usually not a good choice for non-critical assets or older assets that may be difficult to retrofit with sensors.

When choosing a maintenance strategy, think about your goals: both long-term and short-term. Determine which of your assets are critical and which are not. Calculate the cost of downtime (per minute, per hour, etc.). Take into account whatever data may already be available for you to monitor. Determine the cost and viability of adding sensors to monitor things like temperature, vibration, electric currents, subsurface defects (ultrasonic sensing), or vacuum leaks (acoustic sensing). Estimate the costs of maintenance personnel in different scenarios. Estimate the difference in costs between each of the different strategies.

You may determine that a condition-based maintenance program would provide the greatest value, but you lack the resources to implement it right away. Can you deploy a simple predictive maintenance program in the meantime, while positioning yourself to make the leap to CBM in the future?

There is not going to be any one-size-fits-all “best” strategy, and not much drains a bank account faster than over-maintaining your equipment (yes, there is such a thing). Consider your circumstances and your goals, and choose wisely. It’s one of the most important business decisions you will make.

*B-Scada software provides data analysis, task automation, and real-time visualization for enterprises looking to implement a CBM program. Learn more at www.scada.com.

3 Reasons Modern Farmers Are Adopting IoT Technology at an Astounding Rate

It seems like everything today is touched in some way by the Internet of Things. It is changing the way goods are produced, the way they are marketed, and the way they are consumed. A great deal of the IoT conversation has revolved around transformation in industries like manufacturing, petrochemical, and medicine, but one industry that has already seen widespread adoption of IoT technology is often overlooked: agriculture.

Of course, many of us are very familiar with some of the efforts that have been made to optimize food production. As populations continue to grow, there has been a serious and sustained drive to increase the crop yield from our available arable land. Some of these efforts have not been particularly popular with consumers (i.e. pesticides, GMOs).

With the advent of new technology and the Internet of Things, farmers are finding new ways to improve their yields. Fortunately for us, these new ways are decidedly less disturbing than toxic chemicals and genetic manipulation. Using sensors and networked communication, farmers are discovering ways to optimize already-known best practices to increase yield and reduce resource consumption.

If it’s surprising that the agricultural industry would be technological innovators, it’s worth considering how agriculture is in many ways an ideal testbed for new technology.

There are a few good reasons for this:

1. Ease of Deployment

Unlike in other industries, deploying sensors and other connected devices on a farm can be relatively easy and inexpensive. In a heavy industrial environment like a factory or refinery, new technology must replace old technology that is thoroughly embedded in the production infrastructure. There are concerns about downtime and lost revenue, as well as concerns about finding the right products or group of products to integrate into their existing technological ecosystem. On a typical farm, there is no need for downtime, and usually no concern for any existing technology that may be incompatible. Inexpensive sensors placed in various parts of a cultivated field can quickly yield very useful actionable data without disrupting a single process.

2. Instant Value

Another reason that agriculture has provided such a fertile testbed for IoT technology is the speed with value and ROI can be realized. Pre-existing metrics of precision agriculture can be applied more easily, maximizing the already-known benefits of established practices (knowing what types of crops to plant when, knowing when and how much to water, etc.). Farmers have also had success safely and naturally controlling pests through the intelligent release of pheremones. Of course, there is the obvious and very tangible benefit of decreased resource consumption and increased yield. A modest investment can yield measurable results within a single season.

3. Continual value

In agricultural IoT deployments, the same practices that provide instant value will continue to provide value for as long as they are employed. Conservation of water and waste reduction provide repeated value, as well as the increased yield brought on by precision farming. There are also opportunities to improve the equipment that farmers use every day. A connected combine or tractor can record useful information about its operation and maintenance. It can also allow for certain processes to be optimized and automated.

There are some real concerns about our ability to feed our ever-growing population in the future. While controversial technologies like genetically-modified-organisms have helped to increase food production, these techniques are not exactly popular with the general public, several of whom have voiced concerns about the long-term impact of a genetically-modified diet.

The good news is that similar increases in food production are possible without the need to modify the food; we simply have to modify the processes used to produce it. And it’s not just about food production. Plants are also used for biofuels and as raw materials in manufacturing. By increasing yield and reducing resource consumption, growers are also having a positive impact on numerous other industries.

For instance, a Colorado-based company called Algae Lab Systems is helping algae farmers improve their output by introducing sensors to measure environmental factors like temperature, pH, and dissolved oxygen in their photobioreactors and algae ponds. Algae growers are now able to continuously monitor their crops from any location, also allowing for larger and geographically dispersed operations.

A case study detailing Algae Lab Systems provides some insight into how they are transforming the algae farming industry, and aquaculture in general.

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To Each His Own: Creating Custom Dashboards for Operators and Analysts

manyFaces

It’s always very annoying when I try to perform what seems like it would be fairly routine maintenance on a home appliance or worse – my car – only to find out that this seemingly simple thing I would like to do is actually quite difficult with the tools at my disposal. A little bit of research usually reveals that it actually is quite simple; I just have to buy this proprietary tool from the manufacturer for what seems like a ridiculous price, and then I can proceed.

Of course, it’s easy to understand why the manufacturer doesn’t want to make it easy for end users to service their product. They want you to buy a new one, or at the very least buy this overpriced tool from them so they can scrape every morsel of profit afforded by their built-in obsolescence.

It really makes me appreciate the simplicity and widespread application of some of our more traditional tools. Take a hammer, for instance. If you need to drive a nail into wood, it doesn’t matter if it’s a big nail, a little nail, a long nail, or a short nail. It doesn’t matter who manufactured it or when. All that matters is that it’s a nail. Just get a hammer; you’ll be fine.

This got me thinking. What if we had a hammer for every type of nail available? What if each hammer was perfectly sized, shaped, weighted and balanced for each particular nail? And what if that perfect hammer was always available to you every time you needed it. This isn’t realistic, obviously, but it reminds me of some of the things I hear from our customers.

One of the great benefits cited by our end users is the ability to create custom dashboards for the different work responsibilities in their organizations. The same system is used to create maintenance dashboards for technicians, control panels for operators, system overviews for managers, reports for analysts, and even special dashboards for contractors and vendors. By providing every member of the team with a real-time view of exactly the information they need to do their jobs and nothing more, each person is empowered to do their jobs with the utmost efficiency – improving the speed and accuracy of decision-making as well as increasing the capacity for planning.

In the past, so much of our data visualization was tied to the device from which the data was drawn. If you wanted to know something about a particular machine, you had to look at the same picture as everyone else, regardless of what you needed to see.

Some modern software platforms like B-Scada’s Status products eliminate this need to tie visualizations to the device from which the data is drawn. It is now possible to visualize data from multiple devices at multiple locations through the same interface. This allows for a new concept in user interface design: rather than displaying all available information about this particular thing, you can now display all information relevant to a particular task or set of tasks.

It’s not quite “a hammer for every nail”; it’s more like a complete tool set tailored to every job, containing exactly the tools you need and nothing more. It’s really been a transformative development for many organizations.

B-Scada recently released a case study detailing how one prominent North American electric utility used Status to create a system of customized views for their operators, managers, and analysts, providing specific insights into the real-time status of their generation resources:

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