Maxing Out Your Maintenance Software

May 30, 2024
How modern maintenance software combined with pervasive sensing and advanced analytics is enabling more predictive and responsive maintenance strategies.

Thanks to pervasive sensing technologies, improved connectivity and advances in analytics, manufacturers are increasingly well situated to not only better manage, but maximize maintenance strategies for industrial assets, ensuring that operations run smoothly with little to no risk of downtime.

Maintenance software, long a pillar of the industrial automation tool stack, has evolved significantly over the years. New functionality, including mobile capabilities, widen visibility into asset health to a broader range of stakeholders, providing both technicians and management insights for making better decisions about when and how to perform maintenance. Manufacturers are also doing a better job of unlocking data silos, ensuring asset health data is collected and aggregated across the enterprise with advanced analytics that leverage artificial intelligence to shore up predictive and preventive maintenance activities.

To get the full picture of how maintenance software continues to evolves and how that could impact manufacturing automation strategies, Automation World spoke with two industry leaders, Drew Mackley, director of sales enablement for reliability solutions at Emerson Automation Solutions, and Jason Pennington, director of digital solutions for Endress+Hauser.  

AW: How can maintenance software help manufacturers optimize their maintenance processes and reduce downtime?

Mackley: The business case is boosting efficiency, safety, productivity and competitiveness—those are the ultimate goals. Managing asset risk is understanding which assets need maintenance actions and which assets don’t.  It’s about eliminating surprises, reducing inventory levels so you’re just buying the parts needed to do the maintenance work that’s needed, and only servicing equipment that requires maintenance, thus eliminating unnecessary work.

At the end of the day, it’s about avoiding unplanned outages. It’s about doing the right work at the right time with the right resources and people. It’s about planning your maintenance work and being in control of your assets rather than your assets being in control over you.

Pennington: Today we think about maintenance as being corrective or, in some cases, preventative, but it’s largely been reactive. Over time, maintenance software has moved into more of a risk-based process, analyzing data to determine how to maximize uptime and putting failure mode effect analysis plans into place to problem solve and enable more condition-based maintenance strategies. Digitizing maintenance has moved the needle further to enable more preventative and predictive maintenance. Platforms have become more inclusive and intuitive, serving as a central repository for many stakeholders and delivering a 360-degree view of the enterprise.

AW: What are the key features and functionalities that maintenance software should offer to be effective?

Mackley: The software should provide value to an individual technician who’s got assets or a unit they’re responsible for, allowing them to start their day and see what their priorities will be. But the software should be scalable, meaning it works across multiple, different kinds of assets and stakeholders, facilitating collaboration and delivering a corporate view as well.

Maintenance software should work across production assets such as motors, pumps, compressors, fans, blower, and turbines as well as automation assets like valves and temperature, pressure and flow transmitters. These are equally important, but sometimes get overlooked. You don’t want point solutions or pockets of data.

Pennington: If you’re trying to build the factual basis for instituting continuous improvement or preventative maintenance, you need to know the history of the asset and the downtime reason—a code won’t tell you that. Maintenance systems need an ability to collect data from users as well as the equipment. The software must also be able to ingest data from other parallel systems like MES (manufacturing execution system) or ERP (enterprise resource planning) and provide a connected and collaborative view of the enterprise and the stakeholders. 

AW: What typical challenges do manufacturers face when implementing maintenance software and how can they be addressed?

Mackley: One of the biggest challenges is that there’s not a good corporate direction or top-down maintenance strategy that every site will follow. If each site gets its own solution for their own assets, you have a smorgasbord of maintenance solutions that don’t work well together and you end up with disparate, siloed sources of information. Without direction from management at a corporate level, those involved in maintenance will move to something else in a few short years. Without a foundation to build on for tracking, managing and setting KPIs (key performance indicators) for maintenance practices, everything is ad hoc and sporadic.

Pennington: There are also financial challenges—for example, establishing an ROI (return on investment) that applies to a company’s unique business and variety of assets. Bridging the IT/OT (operations technology) divide is another challenge, and we’ve worked with customers that might not even know the depth of data that’s available to them. Once people trust the data and understand what the goals are, that’s when the predictive and preventative maintenance strategies really start to take off.

AW: Should maintenance software be integrated with existing manufacturing systems such as ERP or MES?

Mackley: Absolutely, because it comes down to prioritization and planning. You need to know which assets need maintenance and which don’t. You need to prioritize maintenance actions based on production schedules and planned outages. You need to know if you have a part on the shelf included in the fix, and that involves the ERP system. You have to have a closed loop to know that alerts identified through the maintenance software have been addressed and corrected. It’s part of covering all the assets and giving stakeholders across the enterprise a single pane of glass view. If the systems aren’t connected, it’s hard to coordinate all of that.

Pennington: If you think about a maintenance person going to the procurement department because they are in need of a part, that part will reside in the ERP system. Now, start to consider the complete value chain, including multiple stakeholders from procurement to operations to maintenance and so forth. If you integrate the maintenance software with reliability, operations and procurement systems and create a common data pipe between systems, you’re then able to share common data objectives. In that way, there’s little room for error and everyone is working with the same baseline data.

About the Author

Beth Stackpole, contributing writer | Contributing Editor, Automation World

Beth Stackpole is a veteran journalist covering the intersection of business and technology, from the early days of personal computing to the modern era of digital transformation. As a contributing editor to Automation World, Beth's coverage traverses a range of industries and technologies, including AI/machine learning, analytics, automation hardware and software, cloud, security, edge computing, and supply chain. In addition to her high-tech and business journalism work, Beth writes an array of custom editorial content and thought leadership pieces.

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