It might be bold to suggest that maintenance is only now reaching the digital age. But for sure we can say that we have not seen the full potential of digital solutions in asset lifecycle management nor in maintenance.
In information technology (IT) one of the core principles has been to store data in one place and in a consistent way. But in maintenance operations, data storage has not been as relevant. Especially when it comes to manual onsite monitoring and data over time.
The focus has been on isolated measurements. Comparing to reference values and subsequently, the data has either not been stored or at best it has been stored on the laptop of the technician.
Traditionally in maintenance, we have not seen data from many technicians. Let alone from many assets and locations aggregated into usable information.
How do we transition to collecting and storing data from assets such as pumps, motors, and gears? How do we manage the data flow and merge information management and processes such as maintenance?
We are yet to discover the full potential of digital solutions in maintenance. How will this transformation proceed? To begin with, we need to understand that there is no one solution that fits all. Having said that, the solutions do share several common components.
We have been delivering solutions to the industry for over 10 years and we have had a front row seat to observe the transformation. Industries and companies that are younger seem to be more agile to transform.
Companies operating in younger industries like wind power, seem to be more mature with digital solutions. They have entered the global market in the digital era. They have built new services on top of new technologies without legacy technologies as a burden.
Also, younger companies with younger management seem to grasp new possibilities without difficulty. This might be oversimplifying, but yet, there is some truth to this too.
The big hype around industry 4.0 has resulted in a large group of start-ups as well as several bigger companies rushing into space, exploiting the new technologies and ways of working that constitute the Industry 4.0…
One can categorize these to two major groups by complexity.
• Simple solutions with a data flow from a simple measurement with a low cost.
• IoT-platforms with data and information management perspective
We have seen that there are possibilities in both. The continuous flow of data from assets poses a big problem for large organizations. Sensors and other sources generate huge amounts of data. Transfer and processing of this data can become prohibitive.
Many of these larger organizations choose to focus on collecting and processing existing data. Data available to them from for example process automation sources.
Startups, on the other hand, focus mainly on one or some very targeted measurements or condition monitoring techniques. This is most likely due to limited resources. For them, it’s natural to focus and be an expert in one thing.
But new technologies such as edge-computing and integrated end-to-end solution architectures open up new possibilities. Agile architectures where the information is processed at the edge and only smart data are passed on.
There are not so many companies focusing on the combination of the two. Companies that tackle both targeted measurements and integrating data into information. Creating a vertically integrated solution.
The ones tackling both approaches face the challenge to be a specialist in several condition monitoring techniques as well as to build an open platform ready for a system-of-systems type of architecture where several datasets from several sources can be combined into one big data.
There is also the rising concern of information security. Data, that did not exist earlier or was on-site and under the control of the internal IT organizations, is now moving to the cloud. And not only to the cloud, but also back to the system, between partners and over the corporate boundaries.
There are several levels of information security to consider in the new world.
From a technical perspective, there is the
• device layer (hardware and software on site)
• security in communication (connectivity)
• application (software offered as service)
• platform (the environment the application is running on)
We have been digesting the topic primarily from a technical perspective. Often it is not the technology that is prohibitive or that slows the transformation down.
The company culture, job security, the fear of the unknown, all come into play quite often. It is not easy to change processes and rethink operations that have been streamlined for many years to reach the current state. The new era can also challenge entire departments and their way of operating. For example the maintenance department.
The new era of digitalization, that has in so many ways changed the world on the consumer side, might lead into a situation in the industrial setting where the entire life cycle service needs a new look.
Rethink the operations from the perspective of the information users and the opportunities digitalization brings to the table.
Even better, with the onset of new business models such as compressed-air-as-a-service or even torque-as-a-service, start the redesign purely from the customer end.
Uninterrupted service under these business models requires new thinking. Ask the question – with what information can I save cost, increase the uptime, find new sales opportunities and better my operational excellence as a whole.
I think this is the whole point – ask the right questions and allow the need to drive the choice of technology.
If we have reached this conclusion, we are ready to overcome the technicalities and merge the old and the new.