What does IoT mean for asset-intensive industries? (Part 1)

In our first blog on IoT, we discuss what the future workplace could look like, and just how important it is to take advantage of IoT technologies to optimise asset performance and set your company up for digital success now.

According to the Gartner 2017 CEO Survey, 47% of CEO’s are experiencing pressure from the board to make progress in digital technologies. However, 53% of CEO’s have no metric for success. For asset-intensive industries, digital is helping to redefine how business is done; yet the IoT and digital technology are still a hard-sell for many board members.

The adoption of digital systems and sensors to improve asset utilisation and enhance productivity of your assets could provide a huge opportunity to secure your company’s survival, but such systems aren’t always high up on the list of priorities.

Optimising your asset performance

Imagine a scenario in which my equipment has the ability to recognise when a component is failing, predict the date and time it is due to fail, and place an order for the replacement part. A qualified technician is scheduled to do the job before the predicted failure, the production schedule is adjusted to allow time for the component to be replaced, and the part needed for the job arrives the day before so that it is ready to be fitted by the technician when he performs the repair.

In a truly connected digital world, this does not need to be just a scenario, this could be a reality. While this kind of process doesn’t eliminate failure altogether, it puts you in a powerful place to minimise the impact of failure, ultimately allowing you to maximise your operational efficiencies.

How can IoT help asset engineers?

With the dawn of intelligent sensors, we have more data available to us than ever before. This not only allows you to monitor your assets in real-time, but it also gives you the ability to revolutionise your enterprise asset management strategy; turning to analytics to identify when, where and how an asset may fail.

Sensors allow your assets to communicate, and your system to be part of a network which monitors the performance and health of your entire asset infrastructure – not just parts of it. A truly connected plant could help drive the process that allows you to make the switch from reactive to proactive maintenance environment; from frustrated, overworked technicians, to operationally efficient workers. This could help to drive the Just In Time maintenance activities where maintenance can be scheduled to occur before the failure does.

In first generation maintenance environments assets are allowed to run to failure, and repairs are often unplanned.  In second generation maintenance environments, sticking to planned maintenance inspections and schedules often prove difficult when unplanned failures occur, and if the volume of failures exceed your capacity then you slip back into first generation maintenance. In third generation maintenance environments we utilise condition monitoring activities to trigger maintenance interventions prior to equipment failures, however when identified failures are not addressed quickly enough then you can quickly regress into first generation maintenance.

IoT can provide necessary insight into enterprise asset performance

With the advent of IoT and the necessary insights it provides on how and why your assets are performing, you can move into the fourth generation of maintenance where systems identify potential failures and the failure propagation rates on components and systems. This allows your employees to respond and plan accordingly. You can identify trends which could be affecting your assets, including monitoring their location and environment, to identify when assets are placed under greater strain or may have a shorter life span.

The ability to predict failures before they occur means you can increase your asset uptime, and lower your total spend on maintenance costs. Your technicians can spend their time running your plant like a well-oiled machine rather than reacting to component or system failures and urgent call outs.

The technology available today allows you to take this a step further, allowing you to configure your sensors and systems to monitor your assets independently; reporting and analysing faults as they occur, and only flagging the equipment that needs your attention.

Through monitoring the asset performance of your plant or facility, your systems could begin to recognise patterns and change their maintenance parameters based on user demand. This shift to precision maintenance not only allows you to reduce downtime, but it gives you the ability to plan for the future life of your assets, all while maintaining and monitoring their health. This has the potential to add value to your organisation in reduced energy usage, reduced maintenance costs, increased uptime and greater productivity.

As your sensors collect data and your systems recognise and learn more about your assets and how they perform, the demand for scheduled maintenance work becomes limited to only when it is necessary. In time, this data could be used to adjust your routine maintenance checks, apportioning more time for troublesome assets, and less time for more reliable assets. This precision maintenance means failures are less likely to occur, and unnecessary downtime associated to maintenance or repair could be eliminated.

The future of enterprise asset management with IoT

With the technology available in the digital landscape today you could even automate stock replenishment using the data gathered on your asset performance. Intelligent sensors feed the data directly to your systems, and based on their analysis, the system can trigger an order for the parts required to ensure your assets never need to go offline while you wait for parts to arrive.

In an ever-connected world, clearly defined method statements could be developed for repairing your equipment, and virtual reality (VR) headsets could be used to guide your technicians, meaning the skills requirement for maintenance roles would be updated to take advantage of new technologies.

While some of the IoT concepts discussed here are not initiatives that many board members are considering – let alone implementing – it’s important to be aware of the future of the workplace, and how a more connected world can make a smarter organisation. IoT is a key to improving asset reliability, but first and foremost, organisations need to invest in systems that support asset utilisation and analytics.

Ultimately, technology cannot create or replace a company strategy. These changes are made from the boardroom and putting the necessary investment in now allows you to make the right strategic decisions for your long-term digital journey.

Make sure to check back for our next blog in the series, where we discuss how organisations can embrace IoT, and what it means for the future workforce.

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