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2017 PdM survey: How plants are employing predictive maintenance today: Part 1

Our 2017 predictive maintenance survey reveals how plant teams are tying fresh approaches into their PdM programs.

By Thomas Wilk, editor-in-chief

Last year you told us that, despite planned and actual investments in predictive maintenance, you were not all that happy with the results of these.

What a difference a year can make – more PdM technologies than ever are being deployed, often in targeted and complementary fashion, and your levels of satisfaction are on the way up. Even the challenges to success have shifted away from how to define expected benefits and more to whether you have enough people (and the right people) to execute effectively.

Read on for the survey highlights, and then download the full set of 2017 PdM survey data.

Read Part 2

Read Part 3

Decision-making authority and prescriptive analytics

Data from the first two questions of the survey – what is your job function (see Figure 1) and how many plants does your organization manage (see Figure 2) – demonstrate further progression of the trends identified last year.

A plurality of 2017 respondents (22.5%) still identify as maintenance managers, with reliability engineers as the next largest category (15.7%). Technicians were more strongly represented this year in both maintenance and reliability, and several non-MRO job categories continue to hold steady over time (controls and applications engineers, sales and marketing, and executive-level).

The decline of traditional “plant” job titles continues, as these positions seem to be evolving into one of the more-specialist categories listed under both maintenance and reliability. However, it is worth noting that you also told us that decision-making power over monitoring tools and configurations still resides primarily in the hands of the plant manager (37.5%) and the maintenance manager (57.9%), despite the fact that significantly fewer of these job roles seem to exist now than in 2014. Some decision-making authority does rest with the reliability engineer (25.0%) and maintenance engineer (23.0%), perhaps reflecting that those job titles are on the rise.

It’s useful to consider these data in the context of the trend in total number of plants organizations are managing. Figure 2 spotlights the continuing trend toward plant consolidation, with the number of single-plant operations having dropped by almost 40% since late 2014, and the number of operations with 15 or more plants having increased by 43%. When contrasted with job title data, it suggests that plant managers are often being asked to take responsibility for more than one plant at a time – a finding that was reinforced by our 2017 Workforce survey, in which 47% of respondents told us that their current responsibilities include additional plants beyond their primary location (see our February 2017 cover story).

For this year’s survey, we also wanted to ask about how and your teams are approaching the Next Big Thing: prescriptive analytics. If predictive maintenance is concerned with what is likely to happen to an asset based on a given set of condition monitoring data, prescriptive analytics is the logical next step, using those data sets as well as other less-traditional data sets (such as MES, ERP, and/or GIS data) to identify a set of actions or decision options that will address the earlier prediction.

In essence, prescriptive analytics extracts actionable insight from piles of data, answering the question, “What is the best course of action for a given situation?” Also, as machine learning and predictive modeling offerings get more sophisticated (and affordable), prescriptive analytics can continually take in new data to re-predict and re-prescribe, thus learning with plant teams by improving prediction accuracy and prescribing better options over time.

This year’s PdM asked two brief questions to identify where on the prescriptive maintenance spectrum you and your industry peers would place yourselves (see Figures 3 and 4). The good news is that almost half of respondents (45.1%) indicated they were engaging in some form of proactive maintenance approach, whether predictive or prescriptive. Of those who indicated they were exploring prescriptive options, 37.4% said they were engaged now with prescriptive maintenance, and an additional 10.7% said there was money in this year’s budget for prescriptive. (Just under 30% of respondents indicated that they have no plans in this direction.)