Home > Opinion > Talking Points

Predictive maintenance tools can improve plant efficiency

Issue: October 2018

Predictive maintenance is the buzz phrase of 2018. European machinery manufacturers might argue that Industry 4.0 is on everyone’s mind, but in North America the concept generating the most interest is predictive maintenance.

As a defined concept, predictive maintenance has been around since about 2010 when Boliden, a mining company based in Stockholm, developed the idea. The railroad industry was soon on board, and it has been gathering steam ever since.

In the plastics industry, the most prominent disciple has been Conrad Bessemer, the CEO and managing partner of auxiliary equipment manufacturer Novatec Inc., who founded Prophecy Sensorlytics LLC in 2014. Prophecy Sensorlytics, now known as MachineSense, started by measuring pump performance, but has since grown to measuring other industrial devices and services. Bessemer’s vision is that MachineSense technology will work on a wide range of equipment in many manufacturing sectors.

Bessemer saw the value of predictive maintenance early and anted up to make things happen.

Ron Shinn, editor

In a couple more years, predictive maintenance is going to be as commonplace as scientific molding or vision inspection. It makes good sense (and cents) to maximize overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) — a best-practices metric that measures the percentage of planned production time that is fully productive — and predictive maintenance is a key to accomplishing that.

We have written frequently about predictive-maintenance products such as MachineSense and extrusion-specific products from Oden Technologies Ltd., but this month’s special report features predictive-maintenance functions that primary machine makers are now including in control systems. I think we are on the edge of predictive-maintenance functionality becoming part of every control system.

With so many new tools becoming available, it is worth taking a few minutes to think about your company’s machinery maintenance program.

Samuel Le Guen, field engineering director at Sidel GmbH, based in Frankfurt, has written thoughtfully about maintenance programs. He has identified three maintenance philosophies:

• Reactive maintenance — Fix it when it breaks. This is generally the practice of a plant with no regular maintenance program. This run-to-failure strategy requires no investment but puts stress on maintenance personnel and can result in significant, costly production interruptions.

• Preventive maintenance — Also known as scheduled maintenance, it is based on servicing, repairing or replacing items at fixed intervals. The aim is to replace components before they fail. Replacements are sometimes made regardless of the condition of the component.

• Predictive maintenance — This strategy combines original design data with diagnostic and performance indicators. Gathering and analyzing this data is possible because of Industry 4.0 technology.

The aim of predictive maintenance is to help operators decide when service is needed before failure occurs. The period between predicting the failure and actual failure is the optimal time for service.

Le Guen, who has directed Sidel’s maintenance engineers in the U.S. and Europe, says no single strategy fits everyone. Processors are recognizing that the best approach to maintenance is based on a combination of different criteria such as the age of equipment, a company’s strategic business priorities and its willingness to outsource.

Tight operating budgets, rising material costs and a shrinking skilled workforce put pressure on processors who need to focus on their bottom lines. Maintaining high OEE is the best way to maximize efficiency.

Most of the plants I visit are proud of their preventive-maintenance programs and have allocated people and resources to keep production running smoothly. But they often lament that they still do not have enough skilled maintenance people to replace the ones who were laid off during the recession 10 years ago or who have retired since then.

That makes these new predictive-maintenance tools even more worthy of consideration. Can you think of a better way to make your maintenance staff work smarter?

Do not be intimidated by Industry 4.0 or throw out your plant’s maintenance manual just yet. The predictive-maintenance tools can be slowly integrated into your program to make it more effective.

Ask your machinery sales representative about onboard predictive-maintenance functions the next time you are discussing a new molding press, extruder, blow molder or thermoforming machine. Chances are he or she will be anxious to discuss them. 

Ron Shinn, editor