We've embarked on a new decade, and the industry of maintenance and reliability is experiencing the transformation of an exciting age. In the last ten years, advancements in technologies have radically altered the reliability industry—and these changes are accelerating, necessitating improved reliability solutions. Companies are going to need to adopt, or expand their use of, reliability engineering practices if they want to remain competitive. But that's often more difficult than it sounds. There are challenges that companies need to face before they are able to evolve.
Here's how the reliability industry has changed in the last ten years, accompanied by a glimpse into what we can look forward to on the horizon.
Digital and Physical Reliability Solutions Continue to Integrate
Reliability engineering has to evolve as the industry continues to integrate both digital and physical technologies. AI and machine learning are being used to analyze data, and IoT devices and sensors are being used to collect information. The industrial applications for the new digital and physical technologies are virtually endless—including automation to increase efficiency, new and improved analysis and reporting software to enhance data, and inspection technology that identifies defects that lead to failure. As advancements such as 5G are introduced, the use of these technologies becomes even more feasible.
5G is going to make it possible for IoT devices to operate with lower latency and better connections. More data will be able to be transmitted lightning fast, enabling industrial plants to effectively and efficiently move their PdM programs from route-based data collection—which occurs once a month, quarter, semi-annual, or annual—to multiple times a day. Importantly, IoT devices will increasingly be accepted and adopted, given their security, processing and analysis speed, and edge capabilities. As more processes are automated, the way that skill sets are applied within roles will shift, and additional skill sets will become important. As an example, the advancement and adoption of IoT has necessitated new skill sets and personnel needs, such as Data Scientist, to the industrial workspace. Five years ago, no one knew of or understood the need for such a position within an industrial plant environment.
In addition, the significance of the potential for cost savings and thus wider adoption cannot be ignored. The advancement of true 5G cellular enables plants to forgo establishing a traditional wired or wireless network that would easily cost a plant $500,000 to $1,000,000 to implement.
Predictive Maintenance Continues to Evolve
In the past two years, we have seen the rapid transition of PdM from a human labor-intensive function to an assisted and unassisted machine learning delivery. As the insights of predictive maintenance integrate with those from the operational side of a business (i.e., IT & OT), adoption becomes necessary for companies who want to remain competitive. Those who have not chosen to implement predictive maintenance are likely to be left behind.
But not every company feels that it's equipped to switch over to a predictive maintenance strategy, because it does require a change in business culture and processes. This has also given rise to services and partnerships that are dedicated to digital transformation and specialists in reliability solutions.
Leaner Margins and Increased Competition in Industrial Sectors
Lean margins and increased competition are making reliability and efficiency even more important. As competition in industrial sectors increases and resources become scarcer, companies have to improve their Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE) and reduce their maintenance costs. Better technology results in a host of benefits for our industry: automation, for one, along with improved efficiency that comes from innovations such as inspection technology that can identify defects which cause failure. Companies in the industrial sector need better maintenance and reliability to improve their own survivability, allowing them to build buffers and pivot as needed.
With markets now being global, every organization is essentially competing with organizations from across the world. This is something that is only going to become more evident as resources become scarcer, as tax wars continue to be levied, and as countries react more aggressively to secure their GDP in the wake of economic struggles.
Industrial Maintenance Continues to Get More Complex and More Essential
A decade ago, the average maintenance technician could rely upon a single technical manual to repair and maintain technology. Today, technicians need to read thousands upon thousands of pages of information, and the information itself is more advanced. As the industry continues to evolve, technicians are also going to be required to evolve with it. To effectively implement this, organizations will need to shift their management and processes and engage in additional training and support.
Allied offers a foundational course on digital transformation in the reliability industry. This is a great place for company leaders and management to start, as it provides the basis for understanding how human skill sets and technology can integrate to enhance operations. With this knowledge, companies will be able to better support workers in understanding the equipment they operate, how it fails, and how it should be maintained.
The Industrial Workforce is Changing
Companies have always needed to ensure that all their technicians were up to speed on industry innovation, and now that things are changing rapidly and will continue to do so, it’s even more important to be invested in workers’ development and growth. Will companies engage in more training? Will they hire more experienced employees? Or will they start outsourcing some of their operations? How they choose to adapt to this shift is not as important as the fact that they do choose to evolve.
Many industries have a dearth of talent already, leaving them unable to find experienced professionals within their industry. As the industrial workforce continues to change and the demands made of them continue to grow, companies are going to have to increasingly consider how they're going to manage their resources.
There are many changes coming down the pipeline for companies in terms of maintenance and reliability. The next decade will likely continue to see an increased reliance on technology. But every industry shift is as much opportunity as it is a challenge. Companies that are able to improve their operations to accommodate and capitalize on these shifts are going to be able to outlast the competition.