Smart Machines and the Future of Enterprise Industrial Maintenance

Author: John Soldatos
Category: Enterprise Maintenance and Reliability

Some of the concepts we will discuss below may sound a bit futuristic, bringing to your plant floor scenes from popular science fiction movies.

You may wonder if smart machines could someday exhibit scary abilities that would enable them to outthink and manipulate humans, which underlines the importance of the security and trustworthiness of smart machine deployments.

You certainly do not want your maintenance deployment to end up like the replicants of the popular Blade Runner film, which deviated from their original mission.

Nevertheless, as presented in previous posts, most of the technology pieces are already part of the ongoing digitization of industry. It’s really time to consider what features of smart machines are you using today, but also how to best leverage the benefits of smart machines and smart equipment as the latter become available.

Future maintenance activities will rely on a wave of IT innovations in the areas of BigData, Machine Learning, AI and the industrial Internet of Things (IoT).

These technologies will enable increasingly flexible and more intelligent maintenance operations. Along with novel IT technologies, future plants will also deploy smart machines and smart equipment, such as smart objects with embedded intelligence.

Smart machines will be able to host part of the application logic of the maintenance process, through predicting their lifetime and scheduling maintenance tasks. In this way, they will also increase automation and maximize the effectiveness of maintenance processes.

In particular, smart machines and smart equipment enable the next generation of IoT-based maintenance applications. This is accomplished through supporting not only applications involving passive sensors and centralized maintenance logic over their data, as well as more dynamic maintenance systems that can distribute part of their intelligence in the machines and the equipment as well.

As part of these maintenance applications, the role of humans will shift from manual tasks to more intelligent supervisory and/or decision-making tasks.

The characteristics of these Smart Machines

In principle, smart machines and smart equipment are able to act in an autonomous or semi-autonomous fashion by performing quite sophisticated tasks. Their main characteristics are as follows:

Maintenance functionalities supported by smart machines

In the near future, the functionalities and characteristics of smart machines and smart equipment will provide a compelling value proposition for industrial maintenance tasks, through facilitating the following processes:

A typical maintenance scenario involving smart equipment could combine all of the above functionalities. Hence, a machine will be able to collect data about its state, process the data in order to predict its end-of-life and to decide the maintenance schedule that maximizes OEE. At the same time, the machine will be able to initiate orders of spare parts in line with equipment vendor SLAs.

In this scenario, humans will no longer need to engage in manual data entry and contract enforcement tasks, which can be error prone. Nevertheless, humans are likely to have new roles in the process of building, deploying and supervising the operation of smart machines.

The benefits and the human factor

The rise of smart and connected equipment will deliver a host of benefits for maintenance stakeholders including:

Most of the above benefits enable us to work safely and be more productive.

Author: John Soldatos

John Soldatos holds a Phd in Electrical & Computer Engineering. He is co-founder of the open source platform OpenIoT and has had a leading role in over 15 Internet-of-Things & BigData projects in manufacturing, logistics, smart energy, smart cities and healthcare. He has published more than 150 articles in international journals, books and conference proceedings, while he has authored numerous technical articles and blogs posts in the areas of IoT, cloud computing and BigData. He has recently edited and co-authored the book “Building Blocks for IoT Analytics”.

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