Considering how maintenance and parts inventories have evolved in recent years, and the increasingly strategic approach to Enterprise Asset Management (EAM), it is apparent that visibility is one of the most important drivers at every step in the manufacturing and plant engineering process.
There was a time when the process for maintaining mission-critical equipment and replacing failing components was deceptively simple. That time has long since given way to intricate systems requiring infinitely more intricate management solutions.
“In the past, the unit failed, or it began to perform so far outside expected parameters that it clearly needed attention. A maintenance team checked it and got it back in working order,” advises Barry Diedericks, Enterprise Asset Management (EAM) Subject Matter Expert at EOH Infor Services, Infor’s Master Partner in Africa. “If they needed a part, they took it out of inventory. If there was no inventory in stock, they ordered it, and the repair was eventually done, whenever the part arrived.”
For some companies, that is still the way things are done, but these companies most likely do not enjoy the fact that their maintenance systems cost them more than they should, in more ways than they realise. It is far more expensive to rush in a part on an urgent basis than to post a routine order.
“If an essential piece of equipment has failed, it can bring a whole line to a sudden, screeching halt until it is back up and running,” adds Diedericks. “If your first inkling of a failing part is that a machine has stopped working, it probably means the unit has been sub-optimal for some time, slowing down or complicating the business process that depends on it. The final failure might even damage the equipment much more than if the initial problem had been caught sooner.”
There was a time when a purely reactive approach to maintenance management was the only choice companies had. Those days are gone; and this is great news for anyone who wants to run an efficient business, manufacturing enterprise or public sector organisation. Today, new integrated EAM systems pay companies back by optimising the efficiency and reliability of the core equipment and processes that managers depend on daily.
The shift to EAM emphasises visibility at every stage throughout the asset management universe. “Sensors monitor every step in a business process, every device or component it depends on, and issue real-time warnings when a piece of equipment falls outside its normal operating parameters,” advises Diedericks. “The monitoring system quickly accumulates a mass of historical data that is more reliable and easily accessible than paper records, and much more effective at pinpointing the early signs of equipment stress and predicting failures before they occur.”
Effective user dashboards at the front end of the system deliver proactive alerts and key metrics and performance reports, providing the right level of tactical detail or aggregate analysis at different levels within an organisation. At its most basic, an EAM system does a better job of keeping track of what’s going on with the critical equipment and infrastructure a business depends on every day. “However, its real power is demonstrated in the deployment of data to set targets, boost efficiency, optimise the distribution of equipment and maintenance personnel – delivering savings that go straight to the company’s bottom line,” he adds.
As the Internet of Things (IoT) technology spreads through the modern production environment, the need for a strategic approach to asset management is soaring to greater heights, and the benefits of adopting EAM are going into overdrive.
“An integrated EAM system spots the problem, supports a timely response, triggers the purchasing system to replace spare parts before they’re needed again—then applies the decision to future challenges, becoming smarter all the time,” concludes Diedericks. “It’s a far cry from the paper-based systems that generations of plant engineers have had to settle for.”