Software / Digitalization / Smart Manufacturing

Make your move toward smart MRO

In this installment of Automation Zone, harness asset intelligence to optimize spare-parts management, reduce reliability risk.

By Ryan Williams, Rockwell Automation

Most manufacturers and industrial operators still take a discrete approach to managing their assets and inventory. When new machinery or equipment is rolled out, their maintenance and storeroom teams develop a maintenance strategy and determine spare-parts needs, and then enter that information into their CMMS to be used across the machine or equipment’s life cycle.

However, it’s becoming clear that this approach does not meet the needs of today’s operations. Many companies are making the move to smart manufacturing – they are upgrading their plants to be more productive in a highly competitive global environment. As a result, operations are faster, more high-tech, and more reliant on integrated machinery and equipment to increase throughput or produce a wider variety of products and packaging types.

These upgrades have added significant complexity to maintenance and storeroom activities. At the same time, organizations are under increasing pressure to get the most out of their assets at the lowest possible cost. Internal cost-cutting measures have put spare-parts inventories in the crosshairs, and engineering positions have been repositioned from the plant floor to central engineering.

On top of all of this, an evolving workforce is complicating matters. Companies’ most-experienced workers are retiring, and they risk taking their organizations’ critical “tribal knowledge” of equipment and processes with them.

The cumulative effects are 1) less support on the plant floor for ongoing maintenance needs, 2) greater complexity in spare-parts management, and 3) an increased risk of losing vital expertise. Many manufacturers and industrial operators are struggling to stay ahead of maintenance issues, and are creating a reactive or run-to-failure mentality and unnecessary downtime.

It’s time for manufacturers and industrial operators to evolve their MRO strategies from reactive or time-based programs to a proactive, modern, asset-management program. Using a connected, data-driven approach to do so can do more than improve maintenance repair and operations (MRO) – it can deliver bottom-line cost reductions through improved OEE and reduced downtime.

A smart MRO approach can help organizations be more proactive in addressing risks before they become downtime events. For example, workers can use centralized asset intelligence to easily locate and identify the status of troubled devices, keep track of device service cycles, and better manage device and system firmware. They also can use health-based alerts and notifications to identify devices that are experiencing problems and take action before they fail. From a storeroom perspective, asset intelligence can help optimize the management of critical spares.

From an MRO perspective, asset intelligence from converged information technology (IT) and operations technology (OT) systems can help organizations streamline maintenance and storeroom activities, reduce reliability risks, and create proactive maintenance strategies – all in support of greater productivity.

Implementing this “smart MRO” approach begins with a comprehensive understanding of a company’s installed asset base. Although this can be done through a manual audit of assets, a better alternative is a diagnostic reliability service that automates the data-collection process. This involves using a control-layer application that can scan and auto-discover all active networked devices. The application collects identity information for each asset, such as its location, series, catalog number, and firmware. It also collects health information, such as current, temperature, and voltage; this information is crucial to understanding asset integrity.

Once collected, the asset intelligence data can be sent to a database where it is stored, analyzed, and modeled and then delivered to workers in the form of actionable information through reports, dashboards, alerts, and notifications. The data also are continuously scanned and updated to support ongoing asset tracking and monitoring.

Automated device-identification and health-monitoring capabilities are at the heart of a smart MRO approach, and in 2017 and beyond, they will provide the foundation for creating data-driven maintenance and storeroom strategies.