01 Jul 2022

The growing importance of Plant & Asset Management

Maintenance engineering

Talking Industry’s latest panel discussion looked at the future of Plant & Asset Management. Andy Pye highlights the discussion.

Following an introduction by Aaron Blutstein, Managing Editor of Smart Futures and Plant & Work Engineering (PWE), the event featured two external speakers: Sally Sillis, Technology Centre Manager Schaeffler UK, who has specialised in condition-based maintenance for the past five years. She has 22 years’ experience in engineering, and also holds a BSc in mechanical engineering from University of Liverpool. And Tony Coghlin who was appointed as Managing Director of Turck Banner in January 2022. He has worked at Siemens and served in the Royal Australian Navy as an avionics engineer.

Setting the scene, Aaron Blutstein explained how the implementation of Maintenance 4.0 fits into an overall digitalisation strategy, often referred to as Industry 4.0, or the Internet of Things. It describes the current trend of automation and data interconnection, including wireless sensors, cloud computing, artificial intelligence, machine learning and big data.

It is often claimed that the UK is lagging behind in utilising digital methods in maintenance. Sillis challenged this assumption. “Schaeffler is predominantly known as a bearing manufacturer, notably the INA and FMCG brands. What we find in the UK that is, from that point of view, the UK is very mature. Much of the expertise stems from the oil and gas industry, with specific expertise in condition monitoring with vibration. But we do have old infrastructure in our plants in the UK. Maintenance 4.0 is easier to implement if you are building new factories from scratch, and there aren’t that many of them in this country.”

Blutstein injected: “Going back a couple of years now, on a visit to Germany, the feeling was that the UK was just dabbling in condition monitoring. But in order to get to a vision of Maintenance 4.0, we obviously need to get on the road of condition monitoring in the first place. Without these incremental steps it is hard to build up a strategy. Many smaller companies are still struggling to understand the advantages of condition monitoring and predictive maintenance. I don’t know whether there has been a change of attitude over the last couple of years, due to COVID? Has it had a game-changing influence?”

Coghlan responded: “I agree with Sally – Turck Banner has had success in the UK implementing condition monitoring. Customers are dipping their toe in the water a lot more now, especially following COVID. And now with raw material challenges, it’s even more important to gather this information. But a long way down the line is how machine owners can use this data to be more proactive in identifying savings in quality and cost. But we are definitely on the journey. And what I see is, like I say, across Europe, we are quite good in the UK – we are trying to be more proactive now.”

Referring to legacy machinery, Coghlan continued: “We have recently brought out products called IoT enablers. These make it possible to create a parallel digital network, which we call it digital shadowing. Legacy machines may feature old PLCs, or memory issues and users may not have an engineer that install condition-based monitoring; we can come along and create a parallel network. We see this as an advantage for brownfield sites.”

Prompted by the audience to expand more on the parallel digital network, Coghlan added: “Legacy machines might not be networked, they might not even be on SCADA systems. So we identify a parameter, like a liquid level or a temperature or some measurable condition and providing it in a platform where the customer may monitor it. It might just be checking the oil level in a hydraulic power unit, and then storing the data, instead of having a person walking around. This way, they do not have to install a whole infrastructure. “

“Maybe COVID has had an effect on the way that people are dealing with this – we were dealing with large scale processing plants who had had to furlough or send home all of their maintenance people,” Sillis agreed. “I remember speaking to one of the big multinational food manufacturers, their maintenance manager who’d started at the beginning of March 2020, and hadn’t been inside the plant and yet was trying to come up with suitable maintenance solutions for a plant that really they had no idea about because they weren’t allowed on site.

“Schaeffler takes a holistic approach to plant and asset management. We are predominantly known for bearings. We are not only bearing designers, but we are also manufacturers, and we have 75 plants globally. So we aim to practice what we preach. I manage a team of application engineers who are consulting on rotating equipment – selecting components to optimise the life of rotating machines, whether new or existing. One of my colleagues always says: ‘The way that you make a bearing fail prematurely is to take it out of the box!’ And that’s generally where things start to go wrong. So we tend to look at the full lifecycle of the bearing, which tends to be at the heart of every piece of rotating equipment.

“In 2020, during the first lockdown, we launched a new digital monitoring solution called Uptime. Because it is digital, you don’t need to put your hands on it to be able to see what it does. Uptime was designed to really try to put an end to downtime. In these big plants, we find that the critical cases being monitored represents maybe only 6% of machines, a tiny amount. But it doesn’t mean that an auxiliary pump or motor somewhere way downstream of production, if it fails, isn’t going to cause a major headache, especially if nobody knows that it’s happening. So, with Uptime, we allow people for the first time to be able to monitor everything in a scalable, easy and affordable way. It is just wireless sensors, with SIM cards and no special gateways. With our online devices, we provide OPC UA licenses. So unified architecture for speaking in whichever language is required. And then we’re also using a REST API server as well for integration into our customers’ clouds.”

Coghlan emphasised the used of RFID techniques for tracking equipment: “We use RFID for tracking equipment locations, identifying where they are, where they are in a production cycle. We have a software expertise within the organisation which handles the middleware to take the IOT data and port it into the IT world – and vice versa. We can manage the measurement of the asset condition and deliver the data to wherever it is needed. Or we can pre-process the data and send it vias Ethernet, PROFINET or Modbus TCP. Modbus TCP is an open system which allows you to go into CMMS systems or SCADA systems, some of which may already be linked to ERP MES systems.”

Company info: Smart Futures