There was a time when the only way to spot a problem with machinery was through a site visit. But no matter how experienced the eyes were inspecting those parts and components, the worry was what happened in the days, weeks or even months between those inspections. But thanks to the advent of new technology, that no longer has to be the case. By deploying solutions such as IoT sensors, edge computing and cloud technology, a regular vigil can be kept on how machinery is performing in order to prevent unplanned downtime.
Those ‘in between’ moments either side of human inspections no longer have to be times when companies run the risk of a fault beginning – a fault which could start small, but eventually turn into something catastrophic.
Tim Wilkinson, RJW’s Reliability Manager, notes that “site visits still play a vital role in condition monitoring and ensuring faults are spotted and equipment is maintained to a high level. But if those visits are only made once a month, that can be a very long time if a problem does develop.”
The cost of unplanned downtime
Ensuring equipment is in top working order is essential to avoiding potentially crippling costs.
A study by Vanson Bourne found 82 percent of companies had experienced unplanned downtime over the past three years, with outages that lasted an average of four hours.
It is estimated that machine downtime costs British manufacturers more than £180bn a year and is responsible for 3% of all working days lost annually in the manufacturing sector. More than half of this downtime is due to hidden internal faults.
More worrying perhaps, is that most companies underestimate their actual downtime, and over 80% of companies don’t know how to properly calculate their true downtime costs.
The simple truth is that the ramifications go far further than just calculating how long a particular process has been out of action. The true downtime cost (TDC) is arrived at by adding all the costs incurred during loss of production to the resources needed to fix the issue – ranging from labour, external expertise, and replacement parts.
But add to that the reputational damage incurred with clients and customers too, and the sums become even more bleak.
Types of failure
When we talk about unplanned downtime cause by machine failure, it conjures up images of a big piece of equipment grinding noisily to a halt, but failures can happen at different scales and different speeds. They can be gradual in nature and start with relatively innocuous changes in performance which can develop into something much more troublesome. These types of smaller internal faults can happen at any time and are much more difficult to detect with intermittent site visits.
Keeping things up and running depends on a strict regime of inspection and maintenance. But there are often no hard and fast rules about how and when they should be carried out. Often, a company which has purchased a piece of equipment will just go by the recommendations of its manufacturer.
This could result in a maintenance regime that is dictated by usage hours or over a set time period, which could be a month, six months or even a year. But the ISO recommends that they take place once a month.
“Standard good practice is to have a site visit monthly and for a trained professional to carry out that site inspection. Having a month separating those visits reduces the odds of a small fault having time to develop into something more major, but even then, a maintenance regime built around monthly site visits alone is less than ideal.”
Lee Windsor, Director at RJW
The advent of modern tech such as IoT sensors means that those monthly visits don’t have to be the only line of defence against failure and expensive downtime.
Smart sensors can be deployed throughout the industrial setting to maintain a constant watch on equipment, from performance and lubrication levels right through to temperature and vibration monitoring.
When this tech has IoT connectivity it can form part of an intelligent network that can spot problems in real time as they occur. Cloud computing means all of that data can be fed into the cloud and form part of one intelligent ecosystem. Such a system provides a vital backstop to human site visits, a safety net which can catch problems between when those visits take place.
With increased automation of processes, it is not always possible for a human inspection to be able to view every piece of equipment either – which is another way in which IoT sensors can play a vital part.
“During those periods between site visits a company is exposed to the risk of machine faults and failure, but thanks to newer technology that doesn’t have to be the case. IoT sensors work in real time, it’s like having a site inspection that is 24/7, 365 days a year. Rain or shine, night or day, those sensors are doing their job. That being said, there are times when a site visit is warranted too, so the best solution is to have a combination of both.”
Tim Wilkinson, Reliability Manager
Another advantage of IoT sensors is that the data they collect doesn’t have to be just for maintenance, but also for increasing efficiency and effectiveness. It helps to increase uptime, reduce waste and provide insights which can be of real value to the business.
Using machine learning, that data can also help with predictive maintenance too – essentially helping to spot problems before they even occur.
“They say data is the new oxygen. With all that performance data being collected by sensors, it’s absolutely vital that it is harnessed to improve and refine operations when necessary. This is one way for a company to develop a real edge over its competitors.”
Lee Windsor, Director
Site visits play a vital role in condition monitoring, but a month is a long time during which anything could happen. Faults can occur at any time and if not caught soon, can have a major impact on a company’s productivity and bottom line.
Having sensors in place is vital to protect those periods between in-person inspections. We love to discuss ways of integrating sensor and manual checks into preventative maintenance systems. Contact one of our account managers and they can set up a call with our Reliability Manager, Tim, or find him on Linkedin at https://www.linkedin.com/in/tim-wilkinson-83054662/