Maintenance is a vital key to a thriving business, especially in manufacturing where 24/7 plant equipment uptime is often expected as standard. As any established enterprise knows, keeping production lines and systems running optimally requires more than a skilled maintenance team. It also involves careful planning, tight scheduling, constant vigilance, a willingness to change out unworn parts, and a readiness to respond to unplanned events. At least, it used to.
The state of play
This is the current state of preventive maintenance, the legacy of traditional factories, which combine troubleshooting and firefighting methodologies with good old-fashioned guesswork. Planned maintenance and scheduled downtime on equipment and lines is still based on the average lifespan of the components that keep production running. Some choose to replace parts long before their useful life is over, “just to be on the safe side” and this can be a real cost multiplier and source of financial—as well as workplace—tension. After all, 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, what’s the alternative?
Closer to Industry 4.0
No maintenance strategy is perfect, because there will always be uncontrollable events in any large-scale or complex installation. But adding more insight and information to the decision-making process means better and more timely steps can be taken: thus, predictive maintenance is gaining real ground. How though? Thanks to a new generation of often simple sensors, data can now be harvested from existing factory setups, revealing 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 relatively simple yet profoundly effective addition to factory maintenance. Vibration sensors, counters, power monitors, temperature controllers, vision systems, measurement systems, switches and safety sensors can be integrated gradually into existing systems, over time and at comparatively low cost. The result, a growing system of real-time data connected by wireless or wired sensors, working seamlessly on the factory floor to maximize output.
Making the most of existing data
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 is improved 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.
Of course, equipping every machine with a sensor means a lot of data to process, but this can be greatly simplified with the help of artificial intelligence (AI) technology. Equipped with the knowledge of a ‘standard’ run, the AI in a unit like OMRON’s AI controller can learn what is anomalous, and what is just a shift change or a loading event. Over time, the system can offer increasingly accurate oversight 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’s support team are always on hand to offer guidance, whether you are already incorporating predictive maintenance or just starting out. Other factories are further down the road, and have embraced automation at more stages of production. Those who enjoy the support of an OMRON robot for instance, will already know the reassurance of a system that knows exactly what kind of maintenance is required, and precisely when. With integrated smart equipment, there’s no more guesswork in the complex world of maintenance.Contact us for more information
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