Predictive Maintenance & Wireless Sensors

Taking condition-based monitoring to the next level – The Dollars and Sense


There has been much written about predictive maintenance and the benefits over preventative maintenance. From an engineering perspective, predictive maintenance targets the most critical functional parameters, senses a potential problem, and provides a call to action: send someone; shut down something; DO something to prevent a catastrophic failure. Preventive maintenance merely guesses at what might happen, and the catastrophic failure may happen in any case.

What’s the difference between condition-based monitoring and predictive maintenance? While condition-based monitoring detects changes that can eventually lead to a future breakdown, predictive maintenance takes condition-based monitoring to another level through software that analyzes and applies logic to predict when a full failure is likely to happen. An engineer may completely understand the need for predictive maintenance, and while any engineering program can demonstrate the performance capabilities of such a program, the real challenge is how does an engineer convince the finance and product groups to fund and adopt such a program, given the priorities of limited engineering funds for maintenance versus new product feature development? And how does one fully implement a program in difficult field conditions?

Ideally, a complete solution would combine sensors that measure change, with software to analyze the data that will accomplish much of what is needed, but another important element of a complete solution is the ability to power the solution regardless of environment or field conditions. A wireless sensor can mitigate the problem of running wires for remote locations, and through energy harvesting, can power the sensor and enable it to be self-sustaining, thus eliminating the need to replace batteries and creating a perpetual, predictive maintenance solution.

The two part problem
First, one needs to identify and quantify the financial benefits of your program for predictive maintenance.
Second, drive an effective and efficient engineering project that will yield reliable results (regardless of environment) in as short a time as possible.

Financial Benefits Track the Operational Benefits to Your Company and to Your Customer

Financial folks make it simple – tell them what is going to change from your baseline operation, explain to them what that means in real money, and then they can do the rest. Be careful however, because there can be much more to the formula, and it is the engineer’s job, as the champion, to assure that those things are known and communicated.However, you create an effective team with the financial resources if you provide a clear explanation and understanding of the re-engineered effects of the program.

Tangible Metrics: there are several areas:

  1. Repair Costs: Avoided catastrophic costs; extended useful life of the equipment; reduced overtime; reduced preventative maintenance costs; for off-site – reduced travel and expenses (especially important in remote area operations). This is the most obvious arena for improvement because this is the most tracked item. But it is not necessarily the most important criteria.
  2. Increased Uptime: Less planned downtime, increased productive output. More often than not, this metric is the one yielding the greatest impact. The challenge is to work with finance to adequately show an estimate that is agreeable to them.
  3. Increased/incremental Revenue: in addition to an increase in revenue from increased uptime, if yours is a maintenance services business, predictive maintenance can become a product line unto itself. This is really important.
  4. Inventory reduction of spare parts: May not mean that much, except that cash not in inventory means better financial performance.

Intangible Metrics: just as important, but more difficult to put a monetary value on it.

  1. Safety: if you have been keeping safety records, and there are injuries associated with your specific program or piece of equipment, use them. It may be hard to find workers comp payments, or even other kinds of payments made, perhaps OSHA findings etc. All of these have an impact and are extremely important to the entire company, not just your project. It is your job to do this.
  2. Employee Benefits: with a focus on safety and quality, a well-run project internally makes employees see the conviction of the company to their well-being.
  3. Brand Reputation: For service businesses, offering new products and increasing customer uptime, quality and customer profitability yields an appreciative customer.

Well, there you have the benefits (and essentially your business case) of your program. But that is only half of the issue financially. There is a cost to designing this product/program, testing it and implementing it. If it becomes part of your service offering, there are costs associated with productizing, branding, marketing and selling.

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