In most cases, maintenance activities are based on preventive measures, which focus on regular maintenance of machines, components and other infrastructure elements in order to prevent them from failing.
However, these preventive maintenance measures are not always optimal, as they usually perform maintenance earlier than needed, which reduces Overall Equipment Efficiency (OEE).
As a result, infrastructure operators and maintenance engineers are increasingly considering a shift towards predictive maintenance. This approach promises cost savings over routine or time-based preventive maintenance, because tasks are performed only when warranted. Implementation of predictive maintenance practices thus leads to optimized maintenance activities.
Many plant operators consider predictive maintenance the ultimate maintenance vision, providing many benefits, including:
Overall, predictive maintenance will minimize planned downtimes, while leading to better management of employees’ time and effort.
Despite the acknowledged benefits of predictive maintenance, its adoption is still in the early stages because the successful deployment is particularly challenging from both a technical and an operational perspective. Some of the main challenges include:
A recent report from Mckinsey looked at data coming from approx. 30,000 sensors on an oil rig and found that 99% of the data was unused. The 1% (or less) of data used was mostly to detect and control anomalies and not for optimization and prediction, which provide the greatest value. (img source: Agência Brasil)
The advent of Big Data technologies provides the means for overcoming the above challenges.
Big Data is generally an overhyped term which is sometimes used as a marketing pitch but predictive maintenance provides an ideal business case for deploying Big Data technologies. Big Data is about developing and deploying distributed, data-centric systems that extend the capabilities of state-of-the-art databases in order to handle datasets featuring the four Vs:
By handling the four Vs, Big Data technologies alleviate the data challenges of predictive maintenance through facilitating the unification, integration and real-time processing of very large, maintenance-related datasets.
They pave the way for predictive analytics that can provide credible insights on the condition of equipment and subsequently facilitate the anticipation of failures.
Predictive analytics are also propelled by the rise of Deep Learning technologies. These provide the means for processing not only numeric sensor data, but also multimedia data, such as imaging data and information from acoustic sensors.
Deep Learning goes hand in hand with Big Data, as it is usually deployed in conjunction with BigData infrastructures and technologies.
Big data technologies are certainly key elements in realizing the transition from preventive to predictive maintenance based on an optimal exploitation of available datasets.
They can derive insights on the condition of the equipment, including hidden patterns of maintenance. However, they can go much further to realize the full potential of predictive maintenance. Future predictive maintenance systems will be able to close the loop back to the plant floor through actions such as configuring devices or even stopping engines.
Such actionable intelligence will be achieved based on the integration of Big Data technologies with industrial automation.
Overall, the big data revolution will enable plant operators and maintenance experts to complete the transition from preventive to predictive maintenance.
This evolution will not be only a matter of technology deployment, but also a matter of investment in complementary assets, such as new maintenance processes and employee training. The era of big data analytics and predictive maintenance is fast approaching and we should be taking steps to prepare for the transition.
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 blog posts in the areas of IoT, cloud computing and BigData. He has recently edited and co-authored the book “Building Blocks for IoT Analytics”.