The Impact of Industrial Automation on the Maintenance Department

The Impact of Industrial Automation on the Maintenance Department
The Impact of Industrial Automation on the Maintenance Department

As one of the so-called “global mega-trends” of the past five years, automation has changed the world around us. Undoubtedly it has been a driving force in the economy. Automation has had a wide impact across all industries–it has increased productivity, safety, and quality in many areas.

Automation has also changed the nature of work for many people. As such, it is sometimes met with fear and trepidation over rapidly changing work environments.

As for the maintenance department, automation has been a bit slower to make an impact. The nature of the work, and the conservative tendencies of industry are perhaps some reasons for this. Recently though, there has been more focus on automation in maintenance. These efforts have led to influence maintenance in several ways, which will be covered below.

1) Impact via productivity improvements

One of the more obvious areas that automation impacts an operation is through an increase in productivity. This is also true in maintenance, where repetitive and low-skill tasks can be automated out of a technician’s workload.

The first area where automation is applied is often in preventive maintenance (PM) tasks. Simple things, like oil sampling, meter reading, and vibration checks can all move to automated states rather easily. This frees up the maintenance tech to work on more complicated tasks.

The aim is to better utilize human capability. In fact, automation can create opportunities for workers as it allow them to develop their skills working on more difficult issues. Additionally, tasks that are automated are not prone to human error which reduces the chance that a certain maintenance task needs to be repeated because it was done incorrectly.

2) Impact via safety improvements

Automation also impacts through safety. Through automation, some maintenance tasks can be either made safer or entirely replaced. This chiefly includes remote inspections, which can be done through robotic methods.

Take internal tank inspections, for example. These are not only very hazardous, but time-consuming in prep for safely entrance. These concerns can be circumvented by using a remotely operated robotic inspection vehicle.

Additionally, by automating preventive maintenance work through cloud-based maintenance solution, maintenance managers can ensure its completion. Better PM compliance means better running equipment and less breakdowns. Responding to an equipment failure can be risky, so reducing the number of those events in the first place makes the plant floor a safer space.

3) Impact via data quality and availability

Another area that automation can impact maintenance is through better use of data. There are many positive effects by using software (such as a CMMS) to automate and manage the maintenance program.

First, scheduling maintenance jobs can become semi-automated. For example, time-based tasks can be generated automatically and you can set up a system in place where the maintenance software automatically generates a work order based on data from condition monitoring sensors installed on your critical assets. This helps to remove burden from maintenance schedulers.

Second, tracking work over the year is much simpler because a database is built of all work records. It becomes easy to understand how the maintenance hours are spent and what assets are getting the most attention.

Reports on performance, inventory stock, and operational maintenance costs can be generated with a couple of clicks. Armed with this data, managers can be more confident in their decisions.

Third, maintenance history is stored and rapidly accessed with software. A technician can use this history to their advantage. They can quickly find what happened last time the equipment was worked on, and use this info to assist their decisions. Without software, this information can get easily lost and forgotten.

And lastly, access to condition monitoring sensor data has enabled the evolution of predictive analytics that use this data to build algorithms that predict when a part/equipment will fail with great accuracy. This has two big impacts on the maintenance department. The amount of excessive maintenance is significantly reduced which lowers overall maintenance workload. Also, it requires that maintenance managers and technicians acquire new skills so that they can make the most use out of their condition monitoring equipment and predictive maintenance programs.

Final thoughts

Industrial automation is making its impact throughout the global economy. The barriers to automation are lower than ever before–and as such, inroads are being made into all areas. Naturally, this includes the maintenance department.

Thus far, automation has affected maintenance by improving productivity, safety and overall data management. Despite the somewhat negative connotations with industrial automation, it is making the daily work of maintenance personnel easier.

About The Author

Bryan Christiansen is the founder and CEO of Limble CMMS. Limble is a modern, easy to use mobile CMMS software that takes the stress and chaos out of maintenance by helping managers organize, automate and streamline their maintenance operations.

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