What is Plant Maintenance?

We look at what plant maintenance looks like in a post digital era, and identify five key steps to achieving best practice.

Plant maintenance is undertaken in any equipment-centric industry, and involves condition monitoring of assets, repairs, and the scheduling of future assessments and repairs.

Typically, the practice looks at key operating variables of an asset, such as product flow; temperature; vibration; and pressure, as well as interdependencies across these, with a view to improving effectiveness. 

The scope of maintenance strategies of course varies substantially depending on the scale, industry and complexity of the work environment, as well as safety parameters and considerations.

However, all maintenance strategies share a common goal, which is to minimise costs and equipment breakdown, reduce risk, and boost production efficiency. Organisations can ill afford to suffer loss of production, and associated operating costs and reputational damage, as a result of ineffective equipment maintenance.    

Harnessing complexity  

The challenge in deploying the right strategy, is that modern plant machinery is complex, often encompassing the latest automation and robotics features.

While on one hand this brings unprecedented productivity benefits, the sophistication of such machines means that it has become almost impossible for them to be maintained effectively by staff alone.  

Often, equipment requires very specialist skills, training and expertise to ensure optimum performance. This inevitably requires investment in talent, but at a time where skills are in short supply, and labour costs are rising, this only adds to the complexity of the issue.  

The good news is that advances in digital have brought new capabilities in the way in which plant assets can be maintained.

Sensors, dedicated cloud platforms, AI and the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), are all converging to increase asset and system connectivity. Crucially, this allows non-skilled business users to manage equipment of all types, and necessary spare parts, across the entire work environment.  

Here are our five key steps to capitalising on these advances to establish a modern plant maintenance strategy:         

Plant maintenance is dynamic, not static 

While it is easy enough to design an efficient maintenance programme based on pre-existing knowledge of the environment, effective practical management of a programme can be a challenge. Ensure that maintenance strategies encompass a dynamic approach, fulfilled by real-time data, and underpinned by continuous improvement principles. 

Reactive; Preventative; Predictive? 

Up until relatively recently, the most common approach in most organisations was a combination of reactive maintenance (which in today’s fast-paced production facilities, typically addresses problems too late resulting in failures and compromised production efficiency) and preventive.

While a preventative approach might seem sufficient, as it involves routinely maintaining assets, it doesn’t take into account need and condition status.  It therefore typically sees excessive amounts of money spent on spare parts unnecessarily.     

Predictive maintenance addresses the shortcomings of this combined approach, allowing plant managers to take action before equipment fails. This mitigates downtime risk and ensures high levels of consistent operational efficiency and product quality. 

In establishing the right plant maintenance strategy, it’s important to understand where you are currently and identify gaps which need to be addressed.  

Leverage digital  

Digital is key to getting the most out of your equipment’s performance. Machine learning in particular is bringing a level of prediction and accuracy to predictive maintenance that simply wasn’t possible before. 

To achieve the best outcomes, it relies heavily on data collection and analysis, with the speed at which that data can be collected and analysed, a critical driver. The trick is building the right combination of computing and machine learning to match the specific needs of a company or industry.

Third party platforms such as Senseye PdM deliver cloud-based, machine learning infused predictive maintenance capabilities, at scale, which are focused on delivering advanced predictive maintenance insights.

Through monitoring all assets for greater visibility and accuracy, work orders can be prioritised and stock can be allocated in a more timely and targeted way.  

Talent first   

While digital is key, people are of course the most crucial component of a plant maintenance strategy. At an operational level, most work environments ensure visual checks on equipment are undertaken to complement virtual monitoring in order to ensure the most comprehensive picture.

Predictive maintenance can support safety by minimising the need for as many people on the shop floor as might have been deployed previously, thus reducing risk. But strategically, it’s important to leverage predictive maintenance to allow appropriate skills and expertise to be deployed where a need dictates, rather than taking a blanket approach across the broader shop floor.  

Beyond production  

As well as delivering more targeted, cost effective and effective plant maintenance, predictive maintenance can drive down inventory costs substantially. Certain spare parts can be expensive to hold as stock, and can take time to source.

Through establishing patterns and insights which create a comprehensive picture of what spare parts are most likely to be in demand in a given timeframe, stock can be shrunk to fulfil precisely what’s needed.     

One model to fit all?   

There is no one-size-fits-all asset management model. However, any organisation which is using anecdotal information from which to manage complex, high-tech assets, is arguably on borrowed time.

Adopting predictive maintenance capabilities which facilitate full visibility of asset performance across the organisation, and manage both planned and predictive maintenance as appropriate, is crucial for all plants.  

The unprecedented complexity of equipment and systems, combined with skills shortages and rising costs, mean that working smarter has become a prerequisite rather than an ambition.

In the same way that the industrial revolution introduced machinery which transformed the way in which we live our lives, the digital revolution is accelerating and pushing the boundaries of what is possible when it comes to optimum plant maintenance. 

Is Senseye PdM right for me? 

Want to find out more about how Senseye PdM can enhance your plant maintenance strategy? Book a meeting with us today.