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A changing role for the maintenance task

11 July 2021

Eitan Vesely and Avi Nowitz explore the changing role of the maintenance task – from being a cost to becoming a business benefit. 

Prior to 2020 there was a commonly held believe that embracing innovation and discarding the long-held understanding of  legacy equipment would pose a risk to an organisations competitive strengths. In the post-covid world, however, the need to embrace the adoption of digital technologies has become more obvious. 

In the pre-Covid-19 period, the food and beverage industry’s approach to operations and maintenance could be best characterised as a ‘run-till-failure’ approach. The maintenance has traditionally been considered a cost centre to be minimised and investments in maintenance digitalisation have not been prioritized. However, as we start to look to the future, there is a need to ask one simple question – should digitalisation plans be reconsidered due to the devastating consequences of Covid-19? The short answer is yes, but the automatic response should not be a knee-jerk reaction to the current situation. Existing plans should not be arbitrarily frozen, nor is it realistic for businesses to embark on a digitalisation shopping spree.  

With the pandemic, the industry experienced significant operational strains. In response to consumer demand, many factories needed to increase output within the constraints of existing capacity. Furthermore, because of employee health safety measures factories had limited onsite resources for both production and asset health maintenance. 

Prior to Covid-19, supply chain optimisation was viewed primarily through the prism of operating margin.  Planning for worst case scenario of significant disruptions was not the norm. Today, there is a growing recognition that failure to invest in digital technology prevents plants from tapping into the innovation that will allow it to adapt to new challenges.  

Minimising risk
So, how can the food and beverage industry embrace digitalisation while minimising risks and disruption to ongoing operations? The costs of connectivity and computational power have declined in recent years which means that it is now possible to capture and operationalise data that is already generated. It is possible to tap into data from existing sensor-connected machinery, process systems and data historians, and to provide any sensors or specialist technology needed to monitor critical, semi-critical, and even balance of plant assets.

The data collection process can then be automated via wireless and on-line technologies, and analysed remotely by software systems. The next step is to interpret the data using machine learning analytics combined with expert fault verification and portable systems - on site, or cloud-based and remote diagnostic solutions.

The scarce availability of data scientists in the food and beverage sector means that there is a skill set shortage so plant level employees need to be presented with intuitive dashboards that provide them with actionable insights.   

Mitigating risk
Perhaps the most significant way to mitigate against risk is to share risk with your machine vendors. For SKF this means moving from being in a transactional relationship – selling bearings – towards an alignment of interests by offering ‘rotation as a service’.  Similar to the software-as-a-service model now prevalent in the IT sector, a fee- and performance-based approach can help to reduce investment risk.

Eitan Vesely is director, AI for performance and Technology Partnerships at SKF, and Avi Nowitz is manager, REP Strategic Marketing at SKF.

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