Trio of Technologies Improve Industrial Maintenance

Oct. 30, 2023
How augmented reality, computerized maintenance management and enterprise asset management are increasingly being combined for more effective maintenance operations.

Just like regular inspections and repairs keep your car as a dependable mode of transportation, industrial maintenance does the same for the equipment you rely on to do your job and your company relies on to stay in business. Fortunately, there are three powerful technologies available to ease the processes involved with industrial equipment maintenance.

These three technologies are augmented reality (AR), computerized maintenance management systems (CMMS), and enterprise asset management (EAM). Comparing this trio of technologies side-by-side helps illuminate the advantages, differences, and similarities to help in determining which of them are best suited for your maintenance requirements.

Technology explanations

If you haven’t yet been exposed to augmented reality (AR) technology in maintenance operations, it is essentially the overlaying of computer-generated graphics and notes on a real-world video stream. AR views are accessible via mobile devices as well as specialized glasses and headsets. The views and notes provided by AR help maintenance technicians more easily identify problem, pinpoint specific failed parts and report on availability of replacement parts.

A computerized maintenance management system (CMMS) is software that centralizes maintenance information and facilitates workflows associated with maintenance operations. The software also optimizes the availability and use of assets, e.g., vehicles, machinery, plant infrastructures, etc. A CMMS relies on a database, which enables a data model for organizing information about the facility’s assets.

Similar to a CMMS, enterprise asset management (EAM) is a combination of software, systems and services used to maintain and control a variety operational assets and equipment. Like CMMS, EAM encompasses workflow management and asset maintenance, but can also extend into supply chain management, as well as environmental, health and safety initiatives.

Key differences and similarities

Tim Shope, vice president of digital transformation at Endress+Hauser, said that AR, CMMS and EAM should be viewed a collective set of tools for maintenance applications. “While there are similarities among each individually, it’s not uncommon to see all of these tools working together,” he said.

According to Praveen Sam, offering management director, Honeywell International, “CMMS and EAM systems support the maintenance lifecycle of industrial assets and help with activities like setting up asset installation information, establishing maintenance schedules and generating work orders for maintenance. These work orders are supportable by AR to enable the workforce to effectively perform maintenance tasks.”

Shope added, “AR is increasingly being used for training, augmented maintenance and remotely connected services to some degree, where a vendor or OEM supports an on-site technician during troubleshooting or maintenance activities.” In contrast, “CMMS often combine asset management components like connected-equipment health indications, calendar entries and work orders. The CMMS is the basis for managing the activities that keep a plant running.”

EAM systems are often viewed as the master management platform of all physical facility assets over their lifecycles, said Shope, because “it includes drawings and documents for installation, maintenance, qualification, training and other business functions related to the assets.”

Sandy D’Souza, director of product marketing for Fiix by Rockwell Automation (Fiix is Rockwell Automation’s CMMS technology), said, “These three technologies are quite complementary in nature. The key benefit of any maintenance-focused technology is to enable operations teams to execute their strategy more effectively. CMMS/EAM solutions typically focus on four key areas, including asset management, work order execution, parts-and-supplies and reporting and analytics. AR can be beneficial to augment the execution of work orders as it can simplify the dissemination of work instructions and training for technicians.”

Making the selection

As with most decisions around automation technologies, choosing among AR, CMMS and/or EAM for your maintenance operations depends on the application. D’Souza noted, “All of these technologies are highly beneficial in production-oriented, asset-intensive industries.”

Shope said AR is particularly useful to any industry with heavy electrical devices because of the ability to troubleshoot electrical equipment without exposing workers to high voltage, while CMMS is well-suited for extensive preventative maintenance requirements. “Today’s CMMSs are becoming more aware and prescriptive around when to perform predictive maintenance,” he said.

Based on his experience working with Endress+Hauser customers, Shope added that EAM is the platform of choice for pulp and paper, mining, and other industries that rely on heavy rotating equipment.

“Asset intensive industries such energy, mining and metals, chemicals, as well as power and utilities are industries that can benefit from all three technologies,” said Sam. “For example, in offshore oil and gas facilities, for guided remote work or within facilities in renewable energy in remote locations, AR has applications supporting installation and maintenance. And CMMS and EAM suits all these industries.”

Technology integration

To better explain how this trio of technologies can be used together, Shope offered an example of work Endress+Hauser conducted with an engine manufacturer that incorporated all of the manufacturer’s control documents, inspection lists and reference calibration documents—including data from the company’s CMMS—into an EAM system. With all this information in the EAM system the manufacturer can “assign a work order for a technician to inspect an engine, and ultimately complete a test plan in the context of quality,” he explained. “Some of the more complex products [at this manufacturer] have checklists with over 100 items to inspect. Prior to AR support, even the most experienced technicians were typically 85% to 90% accurate, at best, and newer technicians with less experience were performing around 60%. With the AR system, individual checklists and test plans load from the [EAM’s] master database to ensure all variables like air flow, temperature, pressure, viscosity and fluid levels, plus mechanical tolerances and key visual elements are checked before the products are placed into service. The EAM system leverages the CMMS data and creates entries that are vital for long-term performance and warranty analytics.”

The convergence of these technologies could lead one to wonder if they’re moving toward integration into a single platform.

Praveen said many of the capabilities provided by these technologies are converging within larger platforms that support Asset Performance Management (APM). “As systems and processes become more integrated, capabilities exist today to bring together data from these underlying applications to derive new value such as for performance optimization and not just maintenance management,” he said. “Honeywell Forge Performance+ for Industrials is working toward driving this convergence between systems and people to have a holistic approach to asset management beyond maintenance and extending to the sphere of asset performance optimization.”

But there are still clear examples of why these technologies will likely remain separate for some time. According to D’Souza, the growing use of cloud and software-as-a-service is creating a shift toward companies choosing best in class solutions for each functional area. “For example, an organization may choose to deploy the industry leading CMMS application for their maintenance team, while implementing an enterprise resource plan (ERP) or accounting system that suits the needs of the finance and accounting departments. Customers of the Fiix CMMS will typically use the Fiix Integration Hub to integrate Fiix with their purchasing and inventory system. This allows the maintenance team to use the best application for running maintenance operations in the plant while the ERP maintains and manages all financial and operational controls."

Shope added, “Convergence is not happening overnight, but as users begin realizing the value and start incorporating these tools into their culture and workflows, they’ll begin creating new efficiencies in related IoT platforms.”

What to watch for

Like most automation technologies in use today, AR, CMMS and EAM are in a state of evolution. Part of this evolution, according to Shope, is greater business-level connections. He believes EAM is a logical connector between partners, very similar to how B2B systems link procurement teams. “Likewise, CMMS is a logical connector to in-plant, real-time condition monitoring. Imagine assets or devices automatically creating work orders based on common remediations and reference documents, along with the capability to put onsite technicians in touch with live support via AR-enabled headsets.”

Sam believes industry will move “beyond traditional maintenance approaches with CMMS and EAM and shift towards APM to reach higher-level objectives of asset performance optimization. By doing this, these systems move away from managing maintenance costs and toward generating additional margin opportunities through improved performance of the production process.”