The Smart Factory and its related digitalization offer wide-ranging potential for long-term and predictive maintenance. But what exactly are the benefits for manufacturers? And what has to be done to ensure that the necessary planning, processing and documenting maintenance measures are in place? Keep reading.
Today, good maintenance technicians need to be familiar with the hardware and software of their machines in order to schedule repair work and procure any required materials," explains Peter Strohm.
Maintenance staff are, by definition, production service providers -- even if the job description has changed considerably in recent years. "Today, maintenance staff are no longer called in only when there is a mechanical, hydraulic or pneumatic problem that has brought a machine to a standstill," explains Peter Strohm, Global Service Project Manager at Emag Systems GmbH.
"Today it's crucial for maintenance technicians to be fully familiar with the hardware and software of their machines in order to plan repairs in advance and procure any required materials. They increasingly have to use digital services to help them monitor the condition of the machines," says Strohm.
Management Tool for Structuring Plant Maintenance
But what is the most effective way for companies to structure and implement their maintenance processes? A new EU standard provides a useful management tool here: DIN EN 17007:2017 structures and describes the typical maintenance processes of a company in a universally applicable form. These processes serve as a reference for companies coordinating their own processes with the services of service providers or for comparing themselves with other companies. The standard also suggests suitable key figures for measuring the individual maintenance processes.
"As a trailblazer for Industry 4.0, maintenance staff needs reference points for the key operations," explains Prof. Dr. Lennart Brumby.
"In the networked world of Industry 4.0, it will be important not only to coordinate the information systems, but also to mesh the respective business processes with one another," says Prof. Dr. Lennart Brumby, head of the Service Engineering Department at the Baden-Wuerttemberg Cooperative State University in Mannheim.
"Like all standards, this standard is not mandatory. However, it is advisable for all companies to adapt their own maintenance processes to the DIN EN 17007:2017 processes. Only then will they be ready for the world of Industry 4.0," adds Brumby, emphasizing the need for a structured and comparative approach.
Predicting Axis and Spindle Failure
EU manufacturers are orienting their daily operations to the new standard. "At Emag, we have been working for some time on a product that facilitates wear analysis of the machine axes and spindles using a vibration sensor. Based on a defined dry run of the machine, we will in the future be able to use an algorithm to evaluate which machine components are likely to fail. This gives the maintenance engineer optimum support for his repair and maintenance planning," says expert Peter Strohm, citing one example. The aim of such preventive and predictive maintenance is to eliminate downtimes in the future. The Emag system has already proven itself in practice; it is currently being successfully tested by pilot customers.
Mobile, digitalized maintenance makes use of a whole range of sensor and production data that is generated to assess machine status.
Another example is a service app from Emag. "This makes it easy for maintenance staff to get in touch with our Service department. The app scans a QR code on new Emag machines and recognizes the machine type and location. This then allows the appropriate service staff member to be contacted. Old machines are retrofitted free of charge -- and there is no age limit," explains Strohm. Customers can then choose to contact the specialists by telephone, e-mail or live video chat.
Companies Must Train Employees
Today's experts not only have to maintain and optimize machines and automation systems, they must also ensure that the different systems communicate with each other. Furthermore, they must ensure that it is possible to conduct data analysis across different interfaces. This should ultimately help identify further potential for suitable efficiency measures.
"It's important to realize that maintenance is an area of corporate expertise which is worthy of protection," says Dr. Jens Reichel.
The interface between IT and maintenance is an important cornerstone of modern maintenance. "This is also a major challenge for the companies because they have to ensure that their employees are appropriately qualified in this complex environment," says Dr. Jens Reichel, Head of Technical Services & Energy at thyssenkrupp Steel Europe AG in Duisburg. This is sometimes difficult, particularly in view of the shortage of good IT specialists in the labor market.
Ensuring Data Security
For Reichel, data security is another important issue in digitalized, mobile maintenance. Smart services today often involve production companies feeding production data into the Cloud via an interface. Appropriate background analyses are then carried out in the Cloud: these provide an insight into what is happening in the plant but can also be used to issue alerts of possible failures.
"Many production companies are reluctant to give third parties access to their data. For one thing, it allows conclusions to be drawn about process parameters which could reveal company know-how. And it also opens up access channels to the production processes, which could lead to abuse," Reichel explains.
To counteract this, dedicated filters -- firewalls -- are created for the open channels. Companies use these to make intrusion as difficult as possible. A second way is to open up data access only to the extent required by the case at hand. This means filtering available data in advance to reduce it to the appropriate level for the intended analysis. In this case, employees must know which security procedures need to be installed at the appropriate interfaces. "Basically, it's important to realize that maintenance is an area of corporate expertise which is worth protecting," says Reichel.
In a pilot phase, thyssenkrupp is testing the intuitive use of mobile devices, the deployment of which is planned jointly by maintenance staff and knowledge managers.
Machine tool manufacturer Emag guarantees data and access security by granting access to defined machine control data via a separate evaluation PC. "This writes the data to a local server at the customer's premises. The customer can then decide whether and which data should be synchronized with a cloud server. This means that the machine control system is not directly connected to the internet and the customer can then choose how he wants his data to be handled," explains project manager Peter Strohm.
Competitive Advantage Through Precisely Tailored Condition Monitoring
However, maintenance also offers potential for greater efficiency. At thyssenkrupp Steel, experts are currently refining condition monitoring systems which will then allow them to be coupled with data from process control, process automation systems and quality management. "The aim is to be able to draw conclusions regarding optimum operation of the system, i.e. optimized either for maximum service life or, depending on the parts involved, for the maximum throughput or the best possible quality," Reichel explains.
What is certain is that maintenance is a very complex field that offers a lot of potential for increasing efficiency, but that also holds many challenges. The new standard will reflect this and provide practical guidance. Brumby emphasizes: "Maintenance processes have never been described so comprehensively before. Previous descriptions only ever focussed on individual aspects of maintenance. But what was often ignored was the networking of the processes -- which is where the real complexity of maintenance lies."
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