Smart maintenance describes the development of maintenance in the age of digitalization and Industry 4.0. In this context, smart maintenance deals with the strategic, tactical and operational management of industrial production facilities. It has a direct influence on the factors of time, costs, quality and flexibility of a production system.

Especially during a pandemic, it is important to avoid unplanned disruptions in the production of important products, such as respirator masks or components for the manufacture of respirators. But there are more aspects to advancing to smart maintenance. We have summarized “TheTen” for you here.

1. continue to push smart maintenance – who else is going to do it?

Maintenance has been increasingly valued for years. Companies recognize that availability can only be maintained and increased with intelligently acting maintenance staff. Almost every change in production takes place with or through maintenance. Accordingly, it is precisely now that maintenance personnel are called upon when it comes to converting production. Because it can’t be done without them. Because no one else can do it.

2. producing disinfectants instead of whiskey, respiratory protection masks instead of bras

Numerous examples prove what no one would have thought possible. Production can be changed much more than thought. Companies successfully produce products that no one would have expected for a variety of reasons. In this context, maintenance plays a decisive role, because who in the company could better judge which changes to production facilities are possible and necessary? Intelligent maintenance staff.

3. Responding to changing supply chains

It is now becoming apparent that the dependence of our production on global supply chains can lead to unpleasant bottlenecks. Politicians are calling for urgently needed products to be manufactured locally. New opportunities and requirements arise here. Production capacities must be reclaimed or newly created. It has long been clear to the majority of manufacturing companies that this cannot be done without taking maintenance into account. Regardless of whether we are talking about procurement, transfer from other locations, or upgrading old plants, maintenance personnel will have to have a say everywhere.

4. Permanently recording plant conditions – from anywhere

Permanent recording of machine condition is an important aspect of smart maintenance. So-called condition monitoring is based on measurements and analyses of physical variables. For example, changes in vibrations, the temperature of components or the alignment of elements to each other are important indicators of possible malfunctions. Deviations are detected and reported by sensors. The advantage is that the data does not have to be read off at the machine, but can be displayed via laptop in the office or home office. This means that employees do not have to be permanently on site – a clear plus point in terms of current safety regulations.

5 Managing knowledge

What happens if the supposedly only expert falls ill and is absent for a longer period of time? Condition monitoring from home won’t help. That’s why Smart Maintenance is based on structured and comprehensive knowledge management. Production and maintenance processes are recorded in detail. By analyzing the condition data, assistance systems can make suggestions for maintenance measures. These, as well as a large knowledge base about processes, help with important decisions when staff absences make it impossible to keep track of the situation. With the right knowledge management, it is no longer just a few people in the company who are informed and able to act. When employees are absent, information and detailed knowledge is available digitally to the remaining staff.

6. act predictively

A key component of smart maintenance is predictive maintenance. Sudden, unexpected malfunctions of production equipment are prevented. Based on the current condition data of the machines and systems, the probable time for possible malfunctions and the best time for maintenance are predicted. Why this is particularly important in the current situation: Because anticipatory action always brings decisive advantages when the overall situation requires rapid action. Spare parts have to be ordered for preventive measures, important parts for a cold storage facility are only ready for operation for another two months, or production facilities have to be retooled because wearing parts have reached their wear limit.

7. act in the short term

Smart Maintenance provides an overview of maintenance measures at any time, which can be carried out immediately if plants are available for this at short notice. This is because it is not only a matter of exhausting the wear reserves of components, but also of carrying out all suitable measures in as coordinated a manner as possible at the appropriate (downtime) point in time. Just as the water pump in a car is replaced when the timing belt is changed. Even if the current situation naturally poses completely different challenges, examining which (perhaps long overdue) maintenance measures can be taken now also offers an opportunity.

8. Continue to promote new technologies

Just as we are learning to dispense with on-site appointments and meetings through the home office, which is necessary in many cases, a shift similarly applies to maintenance. “We’ve never done it that way before!” doesn’t help when service technicians aren’t allowed to travel and want to connect remotely to the plant. When we are forced to embrace new process flows and equipment, we notice benefits. Discussions about adopting new technologies and processes inevitably take on a different meaning when we realize at critical times that the old ways no longer work. In the past, maintenance has already been a pioneer in the introduction of new technologies, such as remote services, augmented reality or mobile devices. The companies that have already been active in this area in the past are now benefiting.

9. further motivate employees

New technologies such as mobile devices, augmented reality or the hype surrounding artificial intelligence are finding excellent application in maintenance in particular. Younger employees in particular are excited when elements from the gaming world can also be applied in operations. Currently is not the right time for lavish new acquisitions? More than understandable. But maybe it’s the right time to give the workshop a new coat of paint and spruce up the furniture? Even a maintenance technician feels valued when he doesn’t have to work in an ambience from the 1980s. And it doesn’t cost much – but it makes a statement.

10. don’t be put off – on the way to smart maintenance

No one can say how deep the valley we will fall into will be. Perhaps there will be critical voices questioning the elements of smart maintenance. But in the future, reliable production with high plant availability will continue to be decisive criteria for being able to produce in Germany. Don’t let up in the pursuit of smart maintenance.

Our Expert:

Dr. Thomas Heller
Fraunhofer-Institut fĂĽr Materialfluss und Logistik IML