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How Industry 4.0 helps in Plant and Equipment Maintenance?

Time to Read: 3 minutes

Industry 4.0 is making great strides in transforming the plant maintenance function. Traditionally, the maintenance team work on machinery breakdowns or perform preventive maintenance tasks that are established by the manufacturing unit’s PM program. There’s always significant pressure on the maintenance leadership and work crews, particularly when the whole unit is down and production is lost. If these problems sound familiar, you need to read further and seriously consider the value Industry 4.0 brings to the maintenance scene.

Industry 4.0 is a suite of technologies that will deliver superior maintenance performance, reliability of plant machinery and better returns. The impact is revolutionary because Industry 4.0 is also called as the Fourth Industrial Revolution. It has its origins in Germany, a country that is known for its engineering and manufacturing prowess.

Condition monitoring is a critical activity in many reliability focused organizations. Sensors are a big part of this activity and the cost of these sensors has dropped more than 70% during the decade gone by. As a result they are increasingly used, improving monitoring on the chosen machinery. These sensors are digital and they help generate a treasure trove of data that can lend insight into the performance and help predict future performance.

Engineers and technologists need to analyze this big data and generate insight and intelligence on machinery performance. This requires Artificial Intelligence or AI, another important Industry 4.0 technology to develop predictions and solutions for better machinery performance. Such intelligence needs to be deployed to refine maintenance strategies such as preventive, predictive and prescriptive maintenance. Lessons learned from such events can be applied across the organization and at different manufacturing sites. A healthy data driven approach using IIoT, Big Data & Analytics will prevent costly downtime, drive down maintenance expenditure, meet production targets and ensure the safety of the process and personnel.  The above actions delivers and overall improvement in plant economics and keeps production and controllable costs within established KPI targets.

Another exciting area that Industry 4.0 introduces is the creation of Digital Twins. Every manufacturing unit has critical equipment upon which the entire manufacturing process hinges on. These could be turbines, pumps, compressors, conveyors etc. A digital twin is a fully functional digital version of its real life physical equivalent in the plant or shop floor. They can be used for operations, maintenance and reliability monitoring, predictions, analyses at the facility or remotely etc. In addition to performance monitoring, digital twins can be used for scenario simulations and drive changes in operations, maintenance strategies. It also provides valuable insight for design upgrades and next generation model development. In addition, the Digital Twin when combined with the Digital Thread brings value to the entire lifecycle of the plant equipment.

Immersive technologies such as Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality from the Industry 4.0 stable provides solutions such as Maintenance Training Simulators (VR-MTS) for operators, technicians and engineers. VR training has been found to be 4 times more effective than conventional classroom training. It also has been found to ensure better retention and increased employee confidence when executing tasks.  These revolutionary training approaches have been found to develop competency, reduce the risk of training in hazardous environment, making it more gamified and delivering the overall benefit of reduced training time and training costs.

Augmented Reality is deployed for maintenance using wearables and handheld devices to provide guidance on assembly and disassembly of equipment. Critical troubleshooting and guidance is provided through remote support using such devices. Such devices are intrinsically safe or explosion proof for use in hazardous and classified environments. It’s important to note that the development and implementation of AR & VR solutions requires the identification of VR solution providers who have experience across different manufacturing domains.

In addition to the above, Industrial Drones are being used for monitoring and inspection services during normal operation and turnarounds often in hazardous or inaccessible places. This is safer and such services avoid travel and reports are generated with the aid of multiple specialists at different locations. The end result is that better inspections lead to greater understanding issues or damages quickly and enhance maintenance planning and execution timelines. In such scenarios, the availability of critical components that are unavailable and require long lead times is addressed by another Industry 4.0 technology called additive manufacturing or more popularly 3D printing.

It is quite obvious that Industry 4.0 is bringing about revolutionary changes to the manufacturing industry particularly in the area of maintenance. COOs and CTOs need to invest time and resources to understand the critical pain points in their maintenance teams, develop use cases and work with Industry 4.0 experts to implement these technologies in their organization. Vision and firm commitment to increased digitalization is the need of the hour for delivering maintenance excellence with Industry 4.0

This post is authored by Dr. CSS Bharathy, Founder, Fusion VR, India. He is a certified Industry 4.0 expert with nearly three decades of experience in this industry. He has authored many publications and addressed key industry conferences.

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