2018 PdM survey results: More outsourced maintenance and monitoring

Our 2018 predictive maintenance survey suggests that obstacles to PdM success are being overcome by motivated plant teams and their partners.

By Thomas Wilk, editor-in-chief

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It has been more than 18 months since the last Plant Services survey on predictive maintenance – a stretch of time during which manufacturing has seen a resurgence in the United States, with 17 of the 18 major industries in growth mode, according to the Institute for Supply Management. Interest in the IoT and cloud-based technologies is sky-high and, at 3.7%, unemployment is way low.

The results of this year’s PdM survey reflect the optimism in our industry. We’re able now to look back across five years of data, thanks to your continued interest and input into this research project. Although much of the data indicated only slight differences from 2017, several new insights emerged that had not been observed across previous years – specifically, increased outsourcing and servitization of predictive maintenance activities, and fewer perceived obstacles to PdM program success.

The full set of 2018 survey data are available at http://plnt.sv/1810-PDM. Read on for survey highlights, and come back in November for additional analysis from several leading industry experts.

Servitization and outsourcing

The first big surprise in the survey data came within responses to the first three questions, which are designed to establish a basic demographic profile of respondents. Figures 1, 2, and 3 chart out the primary job function of this year’s respondents, the number of plants their organization manages, and the size of the maintenance and reliability staff.

When it comes to reported job titles, we observed a moderate rise in the number of reliability engineers, maintenance technicians, and controls engineers; in fact, since 2014, the number of people in these roles has in each survey. Also of note, the reduction in the number of plant managers seems to have halted in 2018, after a significant drop from 2014-2017. It’s more difficult to identify patterns in the data on number of plants managed, aside from a trend in the rise of companies that manage 2-5 plants.

However, the data in Figure 3 (the size of maintenance and reliability teams) point to a very interesting trend: a significant rise in the level of outsourced MRO. After staying relatively stable from 2016 to 2017, the share of people reporting that they fully outsource this function jumped by nearly 150% from 2017 (2.8%) to 2018 (6.9%).

The rest of the data from Figure 3 indicate that the middle ground is shrinking on whether to outsource work in this area, as the numbers of both smaller (2-4 people) and larger (51-100 people) teams increased, and the number of teams in the middle fell, especially teams of 5-10 people. One possible explanation for this trend is that plants used the industry momentum of the past year to either add to their teams or seek out maintenance/reliability partners external to the organization.

Data from Figures 4 and 5 help put these data in context. When asked if they are using OEM-enabled remote monitoring technologies or services (see Figure 4), respondents indicated an increase in their current use of these services and forecast an increase in use within the next three years; there also was a drop in the share of those who reported they have no plans to engage with partners outside the organization.

Figure 5 illustrates the frequency with which survey respondents share their PdM data, and with which types of teams they share. Plant teams seem increasingly willing to share their data on a quarterly basis with partners outside the plant, and that the share of respondents who would “never” totally outsource PdM work is dropping.

Taken together, these data reflect an increased interest in the servitization of PdM work and an increased opportunity for third parties to partner with industrial organizations to deliver these services. This trend also aligns with the general challenge in our industry to bridge the skills gaps left by retirements in a period of low unemployment: If full-time talent is difficult to find, then it makes sense to explore which partners might be available to drive PdM program success.

Holding your programs together

At the heart of the Plant Services PdM survey are the questions on which technologies respondents are using and how satisfied they are with their PdM programs. Figure 6 provides the data on the first question, with many of the responses holding steady from 2017 to 2018. After several years of having three PdM technologies (infrared, vibration, and oil analysis) achieve a reported use rate of 70% or higher, this year saw vibration analysis fall back to 64.1%. Also, ultrasound continued its gradual rise in use, breaking through into the 60s this year with a reported use rate of 60.9%.

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