Even Today, A Stitch In Time Matters!
Good maintenance is crucial for performance that is better than peers. Some experts believe it outranks innovation.
by Zurvan Marolia
GODREJ interio
The evolution and development of smart machines have disrupted the dependence on operator skills, but that has resulted in an exponential increase in dependence on Maintenance.

Maintenance has been around if humans have existed. From the routine sharpening of man's earliest spears and tools to the repair work needed for modern technologies, our tools and machines have needed upkeep and repair. Maintenance is the most underrated responsibility function within manufacturing, whereas it is this one single function that can make or break the success of performance of any technology or smart machine which we look upon as defining “Smart Manufacturing.”

The evolution and development of smart machines have disrupted the dependence on operator skills, but that has resulted in an exponential increase in dependence on Maintenance.

What is the image that comes to mind when you hear the M word? Dirty overalls? Oil-soaked cotton-waste? Grease-streaked appearance? Or all of the above! If manufacturing itself is not seen as glamourous enough to attract the best, maintenance is viewed as manufacturing’s “country cousin,” but reality could not be further from perception. With the advent of Smart Machines came connectivity and IoT which in effect brought about a revolution in the way maintenance functions. Maintenance, as Smart Machines today are capable of, in the form of self-diagnosis and calling for maintenance, has done much to improve the work of our maintenance engineers, but that is not enough. It still lives by the adage of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” but as we see in the graphic, Reactive Maintenance is not the most cost-effective way of maintenance.
In today’s competitive market, it is incumbent upon business to weed out costs, which forces us to move across the spectrum of maintenance systems towards a system of maintenance with precision, which comes from “Condition Based Maintenance.” This approach is rooted in the amply proved belief that machines talk to us, it is we who need to learn their language to understand what they are saying. This is where we need to read the signals by setting up sensors to detect changes in various parameters such as vibration, sound, temperature, current drawn etc. by which a timely corrective can bring the equipment back to the optimum operation parameters at a minimum cost and within the shortest possible time. Smart Machines today have a higher cost of acquisition and a shorter operating life as compared to their legacy predecessors, which is why they need to be operated as close to their potential as paybacks could get derailed by downtime and maintenance costs. Investments in automation and smart machines are done with the intent of improving productivity, consistency, and predictability, and this comes at a cost. The optimum window of operation is very small if we are to fulfil the criteria of Quality, Delivery and Cost, to remain competitive and grow profitably. This requires “Smart Maintenance” to support the smartness of machines and manufacturing.

Trends in Maintenance

The ongoing convergence of Information Technology with Operational Technology is completely changing industrial processes. Beyond these transitions, it is gradually transforming industrial organizations to digital enterprises. This is evident in trends in industrial maintenance as they are supported by IT based technologies such as...

Use of “Additive Manufacturing” in Maintenance

Use of wireless sensor networks and data analytics

AR / VR for training and maintenance

As the speed of changes in shorter life cycle make obsolescence a significant challenge to machine manufacturers as well as to the users, maintenance engineers turn to 3D printing when parts which are discontinued by the machine manufacturer are needed. This has opened the possibilities for equipment manufacturers to provide service in the form of part drawings to users which helps reduce costs of the spares and thereby cost of maintenance as well as reduce downtime and fight obsolescence.

The use of sensors across equipment as mentioned also helps machine manufacturers understand the performance of their machines which helps both in terms of building predictability for the users as well as serve as feedback to help manufacturers develop the robustness of their products. As industry transited from legacy machines to the earlier generation of machines fitted with controllers, there was a need to upskill the maintenance engineers which required their being trained by the manufacturers. This knowledge was limited to a few and could not be easily updated. With the use of AR / VR, today training is imparted at a fraction of the cost to a larger base of user engineers with the ease of providing refresher programs as well as updates.

G&B’s journey as Solution Developers into Condition Based Maintenance

Our young team at E&E Division has developed a home-grown Cost effective, ERP compatible Production and Condition Monitoring system. This is a modular, plug and play solution which is generating insights and enabling actionable dashboards in power BI in quick time. This has been realized through multiple, requirement-based explorations, aimed at developing and implementing various industrial IOT based solutions for all manufacturing plants across G&B. Coming back to the human body, we see how over the span of our lifetimes, there have been changes in approaches, from consulting a doctor when we are not well, to going for an Annual Executive Health Check-up, and with the advent of new wearables, having smartwatch which monitors your heartbeat, oxygen levels and other parameters and will even notify an identified contact in case of a fall. These are but examples of the changing trends in Maintenance. It is said that the more things change, the more they remain the same – at the base of it all is the age-old truth, “A stitch in time, saves nine”.