The growing power of IoT in preventative maintenance.
By Dan Jamieson
Traditionally, the term ‘preventative maintenance’ has been synonymous with scheduled maintenance. Under this familiar model, a piece of equipment is periodically serviced on a time or usage basis.
Your home furnace and heating system, for example, is typically serviced once a year, or every other year, right before winter. This makes it a classic example of a time-based preventative maintenance model. A common example of usage-based preventative maintenance, on the other hand, would be getting your car serviced every 10,000 miles
In both cases, the preventative maintenance is set to a fixed schedule, regardless of the asset’s current condition or state. The value of such scheduled maintenance is probably already abundantly clear to all of you. By preempting equipment failure, scheduled maintenance protects against service downtime and reduces costs associated with breakage.
But while its value is undeniable, scheduled maintenance doesn’t come without costs. By failing to take into account a piece of equipment’s current condition, scheduled maintenance runs the risk of being either unnecessary, or insufficient. Your car could be in perfect working order after its first 10,000 miles; or it might be falling apart after just 5,000. While maintenance schedules are usually carefully tuned to an asset’s life cycle, they’re far from perfect. As a result, equipment can often be subjected to too much maintenance, or not enough.
The IoT Solution
IoT technology is addressing those challenges by allowing for real-time, remote condition monitoring. Rather than service a piece of equipment every month, or every 11quarter, businesses can rely on IoT condition monitoring to dictate maintenance. A simple IoT device can now monitor essential performance metrics in real time, and issue automated alerts the moment something starts to go wrong.
In this way, IoT technology is turning preventative maintenance into a responsive process. In itself, this concept isn’t entirely new. Big-ticket assets like industrial HVAC systems have employed sensors and automated maintenance alerts for some time. But, traditionally, the cost of those technologies has made it economically unviable to employ them on a wide scale. Over just the past five to ten years, however, developments in IoT technology have dramatically reduced the cost of connectivity.
Now, a simple, internet-connected microcontroller can be equipped with all manner of sensors and functionalities. These devices can then keep a close eye on the condition of valuable equipment, and issue maintenance alerts when necessary.
Some applications are even incorporating the automated ordering of parts and materials. For example, if a piece of equipment’s motor were showing signs of deterioration, the IoT device could send an alert and issue an order for a replacement motor. While that type of functionality might sound relatively minor, when applied at scale, it can result in immense savings and increased efficiencies.
IoT in the Plant
The cost of equipment failure tends to cascade. The failure of a single piece of machinery can bring an entire assembly line to a grinding halt. And for every hour that production has stopped, hundreds of thousands of dollars might be slipping out the door. That hiccup in production can also result in unfulfilled contracts, angry customers, and upheaval in your supply chain.
Traditionally, those types of failures were prevented by routine scheduled maintenance by specialized technicians. But as discussed earlier, scheduled maintenance is imperfect. Fear of equipment failure often drives businesses to set aggressive preventative maintenance schedules, which of course raises costs.
In fact, according to a recent paper from IBM, up to 70 per cent of a company’s investment in preventative maintenance has no effect on uptime metrics. This is due largely to the fact that only 11 per cent of machine failures follow an age-degradation pattern. A whopping 89 per cent occur at random1.
If there’s any one statistic that best highlights the inefficiency of scheduled maintenance, that’s it. Real-time condition monitoring, provided by IoT devices, will allow businesses to be much more agile in their maintenance patterns and limit inefficiencies.
It’s also important to note that new IoT technologies have the added benefit of easy implementation. Legacy equipment can be easily retrofitted with connected devices, without the need to purchase or develop new machinery.
IoT in the Field
Perhaps IoT’s greatest potential in preventative maintenance comes in monitoring remote assets. While equipment malfunction and failure is costly no matter where it occurs, maintaining assets in the field is often much more challenging.
What’s more, the average company today has 31 per cent of its assets in the field2. That makes effective remote maintenance both immensely important and immensely challenging. The traditional method for maintaining remote assets relies on sending technicians into the field. Time or usage-based preventative maintenance schedules are developed, and technicians travel to the assets according to those schedules.
The same shortcomings associated with all scheduled maintenance obviously apply here as well. The major difference, however, is the additional cost and logistical complexity. Keeping track of those schedules, co-ordinating all those technicians, and maintaining all those assets is a massive undertaking.
IoT technology will dramatically reduce those challenges and costs by allowing for real-time, remote monitoring. Rather than send a technician to the field regardless of a piece of equipment’s condition, businesses will be able to reserve in-field inspection for when service is actually needed.
For all these reasons, IoT technology stands to dramatically change the face of preventative maintenance. And by many measures, that change is already well under way. In a recent survey from Aruba Networks, 62 per cent of businesses in the industrial sector reported already using some form of IoT in their operations.3
With the enormous potential that IoT presents in the field of maintenance, it’s all but certain that percentage will continue to grow. As in virtually all sectors, as the barriers to connectivity continue to fall, the Internet of Things will continue to rise.
Dan Jamieson is GM of Enterprise at Particle. Particle is a scalable, reliable and secure Internet of Things device platform that enables businesses to quickly and easily build, connect and manage their connected solutions. Dan is a dynamic leader and serves as the General Manager of Enterprise Team which includes Sales, Engineering, and Product Management. He brings a strong track record of strategic insight, deal flow, and managing business performance to the company with his prior experience at Target, The Climate Corporation and Dow Jones.