Reliability, maintenance and asset management... the terms are not completely interchangeable. Yet they share a lot of common drivers, and Industry 4.0 has got to be one of the most talked about and potentially revolutionising of these driving forces right now. In 2015, the Boston Consulting Group defined that broad marriage of the cyber and physical worlds, Industry 4.0, as a transformation powered by nine foundational technological advances: autonomous robots; simulation; horizontal and vertical system integration; the industrial internet of things (iIoT); cybersecurity; the cloud; additive manufacturing; augmented reality and, finally, big data and analytics.

Three real examples of novel Industry 4.0 approaches

Many of these advances are already in widespread use in industry; others are more novel. Take drones. In-person inspections form a vital part of reliability and maintenance in many industries. But they can be slow and costly and sometimes yield incomplete, poor-quality results. Enter the unmanned aerial vehicle. Speaking at the Reliability UK conference in Manchester last September, Jenny Frances, PwC’s UK Drone Projects specialist, explained how using a drone for wind turbine inspection could cut current costs of $1,500 per tower by about 50 per cent. Additive manufacturing is another great example. In Singapore, a 3D printing service bureau, called Spare Parts 3D, has entered a joint industry project with DNV to develop standards for using additive manufacturing to generate mission-critical replacement parts in-situ in remote offshore environments. Then there’s the potential of augmented reality to connect on-site technicians with remote experts. For example, service technicians working with the stair-lift manufacturer Thyssenkrupp use Microsoft’s HoloLens to visualise and identify problems ahead of a job and have remote, hands-free access to expert information when on site. Similarly, the founder of UtilityAR, Irish engineer Patrick Liddy, believes AR applications have tremendous potential to cut costs in training technicians for maintenance roles. In fact, Mitsubishi Electric has gone as far as to say that the single most useful application of AR is in maintenance in the manufacturing environment.

Bolder vision, strategies and actions required

According to research by PwC, global industrial products companies will invest $907 billion per year on Industry 4.0 through to 2020; focused on digital technologies like sensors or connectivity devices, as well as on software and applications like manufacturing execution systems (MES). Similar research by KPMG finds that while many are working towards creating the ‘factory of the future’, most are still experimenting with discrete pilots or trialling point solutions and have yet to start developing their roadmap for integrating Industry 4.0 into their business and operating models. To win in tomorrow’s competitive environment, KMPG’s analysts believe that manufacturers will need to start “being bolder in their vision, strategies and actions”. This synched-up approach to maintenance would see the stalwarts of the plant reliability toolkit work together. For example, we know that mechanical wear and corrosion account for about 70 per cent of industrial machine failures – and that, in turn, the majority of mechanical failures can be attributed to poor lubrication practice and failure to properly and proactively analyse lubrication oils.

Smart factories and 'perfective maintenance'

The smart factory of the future could see lube oil analysis being combined with data from other key condition monitoring tools, such as ultrasonic, thermography, visual and vibrational analysis, and seamlessly analysed to provide an optimised maintenance schedule, maximising plant uptime, availability and lifetime. This has been referred to as perfective maintenance. We’re not there yet. Convincing the ‘guys in finance’ to bankroll the required sensors and systems, designing and integrated the software to get clean, meaningful data; hiring or training the right people and getting the overall cultural buy-in required are very real obstacles in many organisations. According to another of the ‘big 5’ – Deloitte: “CXOs get it—they understand Industry 4.0 will bring dramatic changes, and they need to prepare. Yet they are less certain as to how to take action.” This creates a powerful competitive advantage for organisations that get to the party early, and reliability and maintenance engineers are ideally placed to provide the leadership and roadmaps for this future that is far from business as usual. Reliability Ireland 2019 is a two-day learning and networking conference for reliability, maintenance and asset management engineers, taking place in the Radisson Blu, Cork, on March 26-27, 2019. See Author: Mary Sweetman, member of the co-ordination committee for Reliability Ireland 2019 at TE Laboratories.