By Rob Russell, Chief Technology Officer at Senseye
It is tempting when looking at the benefits of introducing predictive maintenance (PdM) technologies into a manufacturing or other industrial environment, to focus on the financial improvements achievable by reducing machine downtime and improving maintenance efficiency.
Indeed, for the global organizations that Senseye work with, there are considerable gains to be made by halving downtime levels and improving maintenance efficiency by as much as 40% in some cases.
However, there is also the contribution to health and safety from this technology that should be considered as a secondary benefit. Which can be just as important, if not more so than the financial improvements.
In Britain, our home market, the rate of fatal injuries at work has fallen from 2.5 people per 10,000 in the early 1980s to around 0.5 today - albeit the rate of decline has been flat for the last five years or so. The fact remains, however, that industrial environments are inherently dangerous.
Figures from the Health and Safety Executive show that people working in manufacturing in this country are twice as likely to be killed at work than the average worker. Twenty-six people were killed in British manufacturing environments in the year to March 2019. Only construction (30) and agriculture (32) claimed more lives.
While PdM technology doesn’t inherently enable greater safety, it does have a contributory factor. Industries and workplaces work extensively on processes and systems to protect their workforce from danger and would regard themselves as safe by design.
PdM technology provides an opportunity for manufacturers and other large industrial organizations to affect workplace safety in three key dimensions:
Dimension #1: Reducing the risk of catastrophic failures.
Machines that work correctly and efficiently are safer, and there is less risk of damage to people working near them. These machines are less likely to enter the later and significant areas of failure and the likleyhood of harming people is lower. PdM enables manufacturers to identify defective equipment and machines that are likely to become defective by spotting the signs of deterioration in condition. Addressing potential problems in a timely fashion reduces the chances of a catastrophic failure. A second challenge is that failures have no respect for pre-planned inspection and maintenance routines. Rapidly developing problems may not be noticed before something goes dreadfully wrong.
Dimension #2: Reducing potential harm from unnecessary maintenance.
By using PdM to identify when machines require attention based on changes in condition indicators, organizations can move away from scheduled preventative maintenance to a more informed and timely approach. Preventative maintenance practices often result in over-maintenance of assets, requiring staff to intervene on machines more often than necessary. Maintaining machines based on condition, rather than to a strict schedule, means they intervene only when necessary, reducing the risk of things such as electrocution from working on high voltage equipment, coming in contact with hazardous materials or potential harm from manually intervening with heavy machinery.
Dimension #3: Reducing the number of people on the shop-floor.
Monitoring machine condition remotely, using data gathered from smart sensors on the assets, means there is less requirement for staff members to visit the shop-floor to take readings in person. As we mentioned previously, manufacturing plants are dangerous environments if you aren’t careful, and working space for machine operators can be at a premium. Limiting the number of people on the shop-floor reduces the number of people at risk, and diminishes exposure to noise, moving vehicles and heavy machinery.
While improvements in safety may not be the number one drive for a move to Predictive Maintenance within the industrial sector, it can only be beneficial to the duty of care organizations have to their workforce. In sectors like aerospace that saw the birth of advance machine health and usage monitoring system, the drive was very different and enhancing safety was the prime driver, the financial business benefits came late.