18 May 2022

Unlocking the potential of maintenance software

Maintenance Software

Removing silos is key to unlocking the potential of maintenance software solutions. Richard Jeffers* reports.

The case for the implementation of Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) technology is unequivocal for any manufacturing plant wanting to remain competitive and achieve efficiencies that will lead to tangible bottom line savings. At the same time, the emergence of IIoT is blurring the lines between traditional silos within businesses, specifically between the control and automation engineers working on operational technology (OT) and the teams within networking, security and applications (IT). This brings to the fore fundamental cultural differences between those two teams, which must be understood and addressed to gain real benefit from IIoT and the digitisation of manufacturing.

Applications that were traditionally based on local servers with defined functionality may have moved to the cloud and are expanding into different areas. Typical of this is in the case of Manufacturing Execution Systems (MES) and Computerised Maintenance Management Systems (CMMS), which are a great aid in climbing the maintenance maturity ladder and increasing visibility and control of manufacturing and maintenance process.

Collaboration between OT and IT teams

To effectively bridge the gap between OT and IT, and to build a scalable maintenance technology solution, there needs to be a shared vision for a future maintenance software landscape – bringing together IIoT and CMMS capabilities. Real consideration needs to be given to the deployment of this in a modular and scalable fashion, and a focus on the change management required to get real value from these platforms is vital.

A team of control engineers will sit in one silo, whose objective is to consider how to extract data from machines, and perhaps include elements such as condition monitoring and some kind of dashboard to compile insights. In another silo, an IT team will be considering or using enterprise platforms for functions such as procurement and stores management. There is often a huge void in the middle where not only do the teams not communicate effectively, but neither does the data.

Before decisions can be made about which solutions to invest in, or in the case of where an investment has already been made, those two departments – each with different objectives – need to work together throughout the decision-making process towards a broader strategy on how different bits of the architecture fit together, or can do in the future. Having a series of platforms, each performing various functions that don’t effectively integrate into a single infrastructure, will be a decision truly regretted until the end of time.

Consider your maintenance maturity position

Most organisations, even if on the lower end of the maintenance maturity scale, will have some ambition to grow this maturity. Whether at the purely reactive end – which works well for firms that have honed their reactive approach to facilitate fast action – or at the predictive level reaching for the Holy Grail heights of optimisation, the objective of moving up the ladder or pyramid will be there. Having a software solution that assists with this now, while fulfilling progression, is a key consideration.

Your maintenance approach may be planned – based on time intervals or usage – utilising historical data, or data gleaned from meters or sensors. It may be condition-based, based on data gathered using specific sensor technology combined with machine data. Or, it may be predictive, using the power of Artificial Intelligence/machine learning based on data gathered in the aforementioned ways. Understanding where in on the scale your organisation is and where it is looking to end up is an essential element to planning the journey in a cohesive way, for the most successful outcome.

Using the same data to serve different objectives is a real benefit of a using an integrated maintenance software solution. Combining the more sophisticated IoT data coming out of a plant with operational data assists with understanding the context and sits around it, and ultimately, will lead to better, more actionable insights that aids intuitive maintenance.

And on the IT team side of this, the mission is to ensure the right parts and resource is available to execute any identified required maintenance – so why would those teams not work together when deciding on software that will help democratise this data for a seamless flow to serve multiple purposes? The outcome of collaborative working is the driving down of the total cost of maintenance, not just in terms of downtime, but in terms of the entire broader maintenance structure.

You can’t just buy a CMMS and have it solve every single one of your maintenance problems, so collaboration is the only way to forge a holistic approach to the various goals. And by working together, any gaps can be identified. It’s ok to have gaps. It’s not ok to not know you have gaps.

If you’re operating a plant with data in disparate locations and not being channelled into a single destination, effective response to issues is hindered. But by deploying some simple software, reactive or event data can be distilled and aid response. Solutions can be really cost effective and don’t necessarily need to involve a big deployment of any enterprise level software.

With platforms to look at your condition based and predictive maintenance, platforms to capture maintenance schedules, available resources and schedule maintenance tasks, and finance platforms to buy the parts – to name just a few functions – it can seem like a minefield to navigate, which is why the process must be done holistically. Alternatively, working with a distributor whose buying platform you can push out purchasing requests to – or even use to manage your inventory and purchasing, can remove the hassle and significantly increase efficiency. So instead of having to move all this data through different maintenance platforms, by hand or by pasting, a trusted partner can manage these integrations and offer a full solution.

By joining up with the right solutions or working with a distributor, manual management and the issues that come with that, including labour, cost, and potential for mistakes, is removed and the process is more efficient, negating double processing.

Considering the connectivity and interoperability of any maintenance software system lays the strong foundation to grow in maintenance maturity and to build out an ideal end state. It may never be fully achieved, or there may never be the justification to build it all, but it will pave the way to move up that maturity pyramid. Removing silos in the organisation allows you to get better value out of your maintenance software. Players in this arena should look to technology service providers that can provide the know-how to support them in this mission.

*Richard Jeffers is Director, Maintenance Solutions at RS Components

Company info: RS Components Ltd