Research & Best Practices

What is Predictive Maintenance?


What is predictive maintenance? This maintenance approach is quickly growing in usage as the understanding of its potential benefits continues to expand. Predictive maintenance uses various means of data acquisition and measurements to assess the health of an asset. 

Asset dedicated sensors are one example. This data can then be analyzed in order to monitor the performance of industrial equipment and generate the actions needed to drive key decisions about planned maintenance — well before potential maintenance issues lead to unplanned reactive maintenance, equipment shutdown, product quality degradation and other negative consequences.

With this understanding of predictive maintenance, we can now look at the general benefits: increased planned and efficient maintenance, increased operating uptime, long-term productivity, parts cost savings, labor cost savings, and more. Below, we will explore each of these benefits, as well as the tactics that enable predictive maintenance.

What is meant by predictive maintenance?

Gloved hand holding thermographic testing tool.

We will now take a more in-depth look at exactly what processes and monitoring methods are involved in predictive maintenance:

  • Thermographic testing: Operating temperature can be a reliable predictor of an impending maintenance issue. If equipment begins to consistently run hotter than it usually does, it may indicate that increased friction is occurring, cooling systems are not working as intended, or some other issue. Thermographic testing occurs at key points of a piece of equipment and can monitor and detect fluctuations in temperature — however minor — that are expected to lead to a maintenance issue. The issue can then be investigated and repaired well before it leads to a breakdown.
  • Vibration analysis: Vibration analysis monitoring is useful in any rotating piece of equipment. By tracking and analyzing vibration vectors, analytics software and personnel can identify vibration patterns that are out of the ordinary and might indicate the beginnings of an equipment malfunction. Personnel can then schedule maintenance for a convenient, low-impact time.
  • Oil analysis: Ongoing oil analysis tracks the content and turnover of lubricating oil in a machine. Since any machine with moving parts requires oil, this technique is useful across a wide range of equipment and can detect numerous types of problems. For example, if the oil contains particulate matter, it may indicate that unexpected wear or friction is occurring somewhere in the machine. If the oil is wearing too quickly or slowly, it can indicate that the equipment is not running optimally.
  • Ultrasonic leak detection: Leaks in industrial equipment can create major aberrations in operation, even when they are tiny. Ultrasonic leak detection is able to locate even the smallest leaks in air or gas movement channels by identifying the sound of the leak, which is often at a high frequency. By catching these issues early, maintenance personnel can zero in on the location and source of the issue and repair it before it leads to an unexpected shutdown or a dangerous situation.

The benefits of predictive maintenance

Here, we will look at the benefits that come from applying the predictive maintenance process, tactics and strategies to your operations:

  • A reduction in unplanned downtime: Predictive maintenance enables operational leadership and technicians to identify the beginnings of potential maintenance issues that may lead to downtime. At the time an issue — in the form of a minor fluctuation in performance — is alerted in a predictive maintenance structure, it is still, in all likelihood, a significant length of time until the issue would cause the machine to stop functioning. Thus, personnel can schedule inspection and maintenance at a time that is convenient for operations — i.e., a time that would have the lowest impact on production. By planning downtime, equipment is able to remain productive for a higher percentage of time, yielding great bottom-line benefits.
  • More effective maintenance processes: Predictive maintenance identifies the initial stages of actual impending maintenance issues — in contrast to preventive maintenance, which occurs on a set schedule, whether or not it is needed. With predictive maintenance, then, the facility can be sure that maintenance resources are being directed to the repair of actual issues.
  • More insight into operations and processes: Predictive maintenance is a data-driven strategy and one that operates based on the collection and analysis of a vast amount of performance metrics and vectors. This information provides unprecedented insight into equipment operations, which can yield additional benefits in equipment optimization as more and more data becomes available.
  • Root cause analysis: With predictive data on hand, maintenance personnel can engage in root cause analysis, which goes beyond a reactive, surface-level repair approach to identify and remedy the underlying cause of a maintenance issue. This approach can, over time, improve the health of equipment and reduce the overall amount of maintenance required.
  • Long-term cost and productivity benefits: Predictive maintenance has higher startup costs than other maintenance approaches, due to the utilization of technology and implementation of a data analytics strategy. The return on investment can often be significant, however, which is a major reason that predictive maintenance is being used in more and more manufacturing organizations.

The differences between predictive and preventive maintenance

As mentioned above, predictive and preventive maintenance are two different approaches. In predictive maintenance, data from machine health monitoring alerts personnel of potential issues that are in the process of occurring. In preventive maintenance, the organization adheres to a maintenance schedule that is typically determined by the OEM specifications, as well as by the standards of the facility. For example, preventive maintenance might occur on a daily, weekly, monthly or annual basis — depending on the type of equipment, criticality of the process, and maintenance steps being executed.

The key component to remember is that preventive maintenance occurs no matter what — whether or not it is needed. While preventive maintenance is an excellent baseline level approach to maintaining equipment health and operations, it is also, when compared to predictive maintenance, less targeted and, thus, less efficient. Predictive and preventive maintenance plans offer vastly different benefits through different tactics — but they should exist as complements of each other.

Who benefits from predictive maintenance?

Predictive maintenance is found across industries and applications, as the ROI potential is unlocked by affordable sensors and a better understanding of how to take advantage of this strategy.

Some key industries where predictive maintenance is making a major impact include:

Helping manufacturers around the world

ATS has over three decades of expertise in maintenance technologies and strategies designed to improve your operations, productivity, reliability, uptime and — ultimately — bottom line. We have implemented numerous predictive maintenance strategies, each tailored to the needs and objectives of the organization in question. We are ready to work with you to plan, develop and implement a predictive maintenance strategy with data-driven, measurable results.

Contact us to start the conversation.

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