How organisations can cut their downtime, reduce their costs and increase productivity by adopting smart maintenance

Unplanned maintenance and the resulting production downtime is the bane of most organisations. Deloitte reports that such downtime costs industrial manufacturers £37 billion [$50 billion], and that 42% downtime is caused by equipment failure. Such costs and inefficiency may soon be a thing of the past, however, as experts believe that new technology will drive a shift away from reactive maintenance towards predictive, smart maintenance.
The combination of connected technology (the Industrial Internet of Things) becoming available at lower costs and greater data analytics makes it possible to monitor almost any machine and predict failure before it happens. This makes it possible for organisations to identify problems and plan downtime to suit their own schedule.
However, access to a range of sensors is only part of the overall picture. “Smart maintenance is more than just technology and products, it’s actually a way of thinking,” says Richard Jeffers, Director for Industrial Digital Solutions at RS Components. “It’s about anticipating potential failure and taking the right action to prevent or reduce the impact of that failure on your operations. Technology is what you use to enable and make predicting failure easier.”
"Smart maintenance is more than just technology and products, it’s actually a way of thinking"Richard Jeffers, Director for Industrial Digital Solutions, RS Components
The first step for organisations looking to reduce their unplanned maintenance, according to Jeffers, is to recognise the value of a predictive approach. Deloitte has found that predictive maintenance can “reduce the time required to plan maintenance by 20% to 50%, increase equipment uptime and availability by 10% to 20%, and reduce overall maintenance costs by 5% to 10%”.
David Baglee is the University of Sunderland’s expert on advanced maintenance management and a member of the Institution of Engineering and Technology’s (IET) Design and Production Sector Executive. He helps run the North East Maintenance Forum, which is backed by the University of Sunderland and the IET, and is seeing much greater interest in smart maintenance from members.
“The technology for smart maintenance is already being used by some of the most forward-thinking organisations, but the value of this has to be proven to other businesses so that we get a widespread uptake,” he explains. “Once companies appreciate that there is a clear return on any investment they make, they will be much more likely to adopt the technology.”
Baglee has seen at first hand the impact that smart maintenance can have on organisations and is convinced that change will be rapid. “Some of the companies I’ve been working with have introduced smart maintenance and have seen improved productivity and cost savings after just two to three months.” he says. “Within the next five to eight years we’ll get very close to complete predictive maintenance in the UK – the pace of change, particularly at large to medium-sized businesses, is that rapid.
" Within the next five to eight years we’ll get close to complete predictive maintenance – the pace of change is that rapid" David Baglee, Reader, University of Sunderland
“There will be a challenge converting some of the smallest companies, where there may be the most resistance to change, lack of cash to invest in technology or where the gains wouldn’t necessarily make that investment worthwhile over the short to medium term,” he adds. “However, larger companies are driving the change and if smaller firms want to be part of the wider supply chain, they will need to keep up.”
Jeffers believes that it’s crucial for organisations to see maintenance as part of an overall asset management agenda. “Maintenance should be part of a holistic approach to your assets, which includes how you buy them, how you operate them and, finally, a disposal strategy,” he explains. “All of this, including maintenance, requires a strategy that you and your team can work to so that everyone knows what they are trying to achieve.
“For example, if you have an old, end-of-life asset that is close to disposal, you may simply want to squeeze every last bit of work out of it before it’s replaced and choose a ‘run to fail’ approach,” he adds. “However, if you have a mid-life asset then you might want to do lots of preventative maintenance to extend that asset’s life and have as little unplanned downtime on it as possible.”
For many organisations, and their maintenance teams, the big question around smart maintenance is where to start. For a lot of businesses, the test and learn approach works best as individuals and the organisation as a whole establish the best solutions for their needs.
“I visited a customer’s logistics site recently and they have taken a very sensible approach to introducing smart maintenance into the business,” recalls Jeffers. “They had around 800 motors in their building but had identified 13 that were crucial to their operations, so they have put temperature and vibration sensors on those motors to alert the maintenance team if they start to fail. This is a trial, but the business will start to roll out the technology to other motors over the next year as the technology proves itself.”
"By letting technology drive their maintenance planning, companies have found that they can cut the amount of maintenance they are doing " David Baglee, Reader, University of Sunderland
According to Baglee, once smart maintenance is introduced many companies find that their assets have been ‘over maintained’ in the past. “By letting technology drive their maintenance schedule and planning, companies have found that they can cut the amount of maintenance they are doing,” he says. “This often involves a culture shift because it means moving away from things engineers may always have done as a matter of course, but that shift will benefit an organisation’s bottom line.
“A pharmaceutical company I was working with last year has now introduced data analytics and diagnostics training for its maintenance engineers to give them the skills needed to get the most out of smart technology.”
For many organisations, there is a need for expert help and access to knowledge that will help them adopt new technology. Research by RS and the Chartered Institute of Procurement and Supply showed that 54% of procurement and supply professionals in the maintenance, repair and operations function want access to knowledge services from suppliers, not just the products.
“RS provides a range of sensors for customers looking to adopt and enable their smart maintenance strategy,” says Jeffers. “But we also have expertise within the business to help customers understand and make the most of IIoT. We are using this technology in our own warehouse in Nuneaton, so we have first-hand knowledge of the technology in practice.”