Richard Howells is VP of solution marketing at SAP and has been working in the supply chain management and manufacturing space for over 25 years. Richard has implemented ERP and SCM systems at companies such as Nestle, Gillette, Colgate Palmolive, Rohm & Haas, Wyeth, Royal Worcester Spode, and Dairy Crest. Plant Services editor in chief Thomas Wilk caught up with Richard in February at the ARC Industry Forum, where Richard outlined some of the ways he sees maintenance and reliability roles changing in a data-rich, Industry 4.0 world.
PS: Tell me what’s been going on inside SAP in the past year.
RH: We’ve been investing heavily in all areas of the digital supply chain. On the intelligent asset management side, we’ve delivered a series of cloud solutions that enable predictive maintenance, including the Asset Intelligence Network. This solution allows the manufacturer, the maintenance people, and the owner of the asset to have visibility of how that asset is performing and track that information.
Let’s say you are a pump manufacturer, and you design a new, smart pump that you sell to hundreds of companies. If you have visibility about how that model of pump is performing at every different location, you can make a lot of important decisions about the next generation of that pump, such as any preventative maintenance you want to perform, or any predictive maintenance you want to perform. If 10 of them are broken down after 100 hours of usage, there’s a good chance that you might want to do some preventative maintenance on the other 90 before they break down and have a major overhaul required.
So the whole concept around digital manufacturing and intelligent asset management are big components of our design-to-operate story, and where we’ve invested heavily in the last 12 to 18 months.
PS: We’ve seen greater willingness among our readers to work with assets that collect the data and then report back on it. Are you seeing that similar willingness in the market?
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RH: Oh, absolutely. And it just depends on which data. Sometimes it’s data that can be shared and sometimes plant teams may see some of that data as a competitive differentiator. Sharing data can be a win-win for both parties. The operator can get better products and service, and the equipment manufacturer can improve the design of future models.
PS: Some trends that we’ve seen are that some traditional maintenance teams are dissolving due to retirements, and basic tasks flow over to operations and perhaps more advanced tasks flow over to OEMs or OEM-based partners. What is your take on these trends, given that you’re working so closely with customers?
RH: I think what’s changing is the skill sets of people that are in the maintenance teams. In many cases, they become the first level of customer service – customers are not interacting with the sales department, they’re interacting with the maintenance people who are physically on-site. They need to be more digitally aware and digitally capable. And that may mean reskilling existing people or, when they are retiring, looking for digitally-enabled people in all maintenance functions.
We are also seeing an increase in the use of new technologies such as augmented and virtual reality by service technicians, both before they go on site, and during the actual maintenance task. They can visualize the facility in advance to make sure they have the right equipment and tools. And once on-site, they can be shown step-by-step how to make the repair.
So the skill sets are changing, which means that the role is changing as well.
PS: We’re also starting to hear the first case studies for maintenance and reliability where AR and VR is added as a requirement of the overall project, and not as a pilot. For example, a VR component would be required for new technician to gain familiarity with an asset in advance of working with it in the field. It’s interesting that those technologies are becoming mature enough.
RH: Absolutely. In these examples, technology is not intended to replace us, but to augment and improve our ability to do our job more efficiently, in a safe environment.