Predicting the future simplifies maintenance

Initiative-taking maintenance is vital for manufacturing operations. As producers know, keeping production lines and systems running well takes more than a skilled maintenance team. It also takes careful planning, scheduling, monitoring, a willingness to change out unworn parts and a stock of spares. Predicting the future also helps according to Omron Automation UK.

The state of play

Current preventive maintenance practices are a legacy of traditional factories and combine troubleshooting and firefighting with guesswork. Planned maintenance and scheduled equipment downtime use estimated average component lifespans. Some choose to replace parts long before their useful life is over, “to be on the safe side” and this can be a cost multiplier and the source of financial and workplace tension. The pressure on a maintenance crew to predict the next point of failure is also 24/7, and they are the first to catch the blame when things go wrong. So, is there an alternative?

Closer to Industry 4.0

No maintenance strategy is perfect because there are always uncontrollable events in production. Adding insights and information to the decision process allows for more timely actions. As a result, predictive maintenance is gaining ground, but how does it work? By adding simple sensors, data harvested from the existing installation can reveal the true state of the equipment and components. This data provides the insight required to elevate the factory closer to Industry 4.0.
It is a simple yet profoundly effective addition to factory maintenance. The gradual integration of vibration sensors, counters, power monitors, temperature controllers, vision systems, measurement systems, switches and safety sensors is not expensive. Yet, the result is a growing system, collecting real-time data and working seamlessly on the factory floor for predicting the future and maximising output.

Predicting the future

Connected machines (or a network of machines that feed their data to a centralised unit) make the day-to-day running of a factory floor much easier. For operators, safety and ease of use improve with better knowledge of the state of the equipment. Maintenance is tighter, more accurate and better planned. Simple analysis tools can investigate the state of components in the system, identifying changes that can indicate a timeframe for maintenance or replacement.

Artificial intelligence (AI) technology is available for extracting useful information from this data. Analysing the new data and comparing it with the ‘standard’ running conditions flags anomalous conditions. OMRON’s AI controller can also learn what is anomalous activity as opposed to a shift change or a loading event. Over time, the system can offer more accurate oversight by predicting the future of the entire production.

Tomorrow’s benefits today

The situation will vary from factory to factory. For some, the road to Industry 4.0 can seem a long way away, and the first steps to installing sensors can feel daunting. OMRON technicians are also on hand to offer guidance on using AI controllers for predictive maintenance or other applications. Moreover, with integrated smart equipment, there is no more guesswork in the complex world of maintenance.