The Case for Remote Maintenance in Manufacturing

In the highly competitive, fast-paced manufacturing marketplace of today, time is money. In fact, for manufacturers in the auto industry, downtime can cost an average of $22,000 per minute, with costs escalating as high as $50,000 per minute. Those in the industrial space know that such a high cost of downtime is common across many other manufacturing companies.

Considering these costly figures, it’s clear that when a machine requires maintenance, a quick response time is critical to the profitability and productivity of the plant. The problem? Not all machine problems are simple fixes. Situations can arise where a multi-person team is needed to identify a solution. A problem may be too complex for local teams to troubleshoot on their own due to a skills gap, or an unexpected event may limit the available workforce.

In these circumstances, companies often look to offsite domain experts for help. Experts are asked to travel to the plant leading to more lost time as well as travel costs.

In the event of the COVID-19 pandemic where teams are looking to minimize in-person exposure, local teams defer to conference calls where they must verbally explain the issue, often causing delays or confusion. Managing maintenance problems digitally is critical in this era.

Leveraging New Technologies to Increase Machine U­ptime

With today’s constantly evolving technologies, companies no longer have to pay or wait for an expert to make an in-person visit to their manufacturing site. Instead, companies can use handheld devices or wearables to connect virtually with team members across the globe.

Let’s dive into an example of machine maintenance and augmented reality.

Assume an inexperienced worker is sent to repair a piece of equipment. In the past, that operator may spend precious time hunting down an instruction manual that – because it’s a static document – is outdated.

By implementing augmented reality, the worker can put on a pair of smart glasses that projects up-to-date instructions directly onto the part on which they are operating. This cuts out the time needed to search for instruction manuals. It also allows less-seasoned workers to perform the repair. If the repair is more complex, the worker can connect virtually via video conference with a non-local expert on their team who can guide them through troubleshooting, helping them quickly identify a solution. In addition to video chat, participants can diagram instructions on their respective devices that will appear in real time for anyone in the virtual meeting.

From real time video, augmented reality, web conferencing, instant messaging and more, these advances allow maintenance personnel to access the information they need in real-time.

The Role of Sensors in Remote Maintenance  

The foundation of remote monitoring is connectivity through wireless sensors and gateways. These sensors gather data about your equipment, regardless of if employees are physically there or not. Sensors can monitor for abnormal machine conditions, such as excessive motor vibrations or high temperatures, to  notify maintenance personnel of a potential problem, avoiding unplanned downtime.

Facilities can leverage hundreds, even thousands, of sensors to gather data, providing greater transparency into their operations. The data that this technology gathers can then be saved, stored and analyzed for better decision making. Sensor technology and machine connectivity is positioning manufacturers to maximize efficiencies and minimize cost.

The first step is enabling and collecting data through connectivity.

3 Benefits of Diagnosing Maintenance Problems Remotely

1. Reduce machine downtime.

Virtual collaboration allows for quick diagnostics and troubleshooting, getting equipment up and running again quickly.

2. Bridge the skills gap and retain talent.

Manufacturers report that attracting and retaining a quality workforce is a top business concern.  Real-time collaboration between local teams and seasoned experts allows for the transfer of tribal knowledge and best practices.

3. Decrease operating costs and improve productivity.

Increased machine uptime and reduced repair times boost plant operating efficiency allowing facilities to run smoothly.

How do I get started with remote maintenance?  

With more access to data than ever before, digital technologies are providing data and analysis methods to increase uptime and diagnose problems remotely.

As we continue to find ourselves in unprecedented times, digital technologies are providing opportunities to adapt to the challenges of a global pandemic. Remote maintenance allows for better efficiency while providing a way to protect teams in critical industries.

If unplanned downtime is causing your facility costly delays, Wesco's team of digital technology experts can work with you to define and build a custom solution by utilizing our portfolio of industry-leading manufacturers and integrator partners.

Article originally published May 25, 2020 and updated for accuracy and relevance.