ABB: Predicting the future of maintenance
In 1927, Thomas Parnell set up the pitch drop experiment, which examines the viscosity of a tar-like substance by the speed at which it flows from a funnel into a jar. The test has seen just eight drops fall in as many decades and, despite the experiment being displayed in the University of Queensland's physics department, no one has ever seen a drop fall. Just like this test, the need for factory maintenance often goes unnoticed.
Here, Gernut van Laak, group automation solutions leader of ABB's Food and Beverage Program, explains how plant managers can budget for maintenance and ensure optimum efficiency for all processes.
Paper to glass
In terms of research and development, food and beverage is a leading industry because of its use of new, innovative technology. However, when it comes to maintenance, many companies find themselves keeping paper records. While regulation and compliance requirements historically drove these companies to work with paper, advancements in digital tools mean this is no longer the case.
Unfortunately, once paper-based systems are in place, they can be difficult to eradicate. Companies become stuck in their ways, which leads them to ignore the significant cost savings, efficiencies and competitive advantages electronic systems can provide.
The most important driving force for a company's success is its employees. Today’s maintenance engineers have the computing knowledge to make the switch to digital. Providing them with a familiar interface that quickly connects employees across the organization allows staff to work faster and smarter, increasing productivity. Electronic records also eliminate time-consuming and error-prone data entries that are necessary with paper-based systems.
While staff are the most important factor of any company’s success, the biggest cost of manual maintenance comes from people. Human errors that occur during manual record-keeping can result in redundant actions, rework and audits. Electronic records also eliminate the costs associated with printing, reviewing and retrieving paper documents.
Giving maintenance staff access to electronic devices on the factory floor allows them to input data faster and gives them more time to spend completing maintenance tasks. Having a digital record of the machinery that regularly needs work also means that engineers have easy access to the data when it is time for the next round of maintenance.
Unplanned outages seem to occur at the worst possible moment, whether it be during high season or large batch production. These outages often lead to waste, as the product being made at the time of the outage often must be disposed of. If it doesn’t lead to wasted product, outages will most certainly cause varying degrees of downtime, which not only causes lost production but can lead to orders being cancelled and contracts being lost if deliveries are not made on time.
By considering potential problems on the production line, plant managers can reduce disruptions and help secure long-term competitiveness. All food and beverage manufacturers have periods where they are producing much less than during the high season. This is the ideal time to be carrying out maintenance. If a plant manager knows that their motor is likely to need repairing every year, they can carry out the work during quiet periods, minimizing the amount of downtime and lost production.
Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE) is a versatile measurement for production efficiency. It takes into consideration three factors — availability, performance and quality. Availability is reduced by equipment failure, setup and adjustment; performance is reduced by idling, minor stops and reduced speed; and quality is reduced by process defects and start-up losses. Improving these factors will majorly impact efficiency — carrying out preventative maintenance helps improve all three by reducing equipment failure, stoppages and defects.
Just like plant maintenance, the pitch drop experiment has recently gone digital. Anyone can log into an online platform to keep watch of the apparatus and hopefully catch the next drop, which might not happen for another eight years. Unlike the pitch drop experiment, factory maintenance can be predicted to save plant managers time and money, while keeping production on course.
Biden establishes Supply Chain Disruptions Task Force
The US government is to establish a new body with the express purpose of addressing imbalances and other supply chain concerns highlighted in a review of the sector, ordered by President Joe Biden shortly after his inauguration.
The Supply Chain Disruptions Task Force will “focus on areas where a mismatch between supply and demand has been evident,” the White House said. The division will be headed up by the Secretaries of Commerce, Transportation, and Agriculture, and will focus on housing construction, transportation, agriculture and food, and semiconductors - a drastic shortage of which has hit some of the US economy’s biggest industries in consumer technology and vehicle manufacturing.
“The Task Force will bring the full capacity of the federal government to address near-term supply/demand mismatches. It will convene stakeholders to diagnose problems and surface solutions - large and small, public or private - that could help alleviate bottlenecks and supply constraints,” the White House said.
In late February, President Biden ordered a 100 day review of the supply chain across the key areas of medicine, raw materials and agriculture, the findings of which were released this week. While the COVID-19 health crisis had a deleterious effect on the nation’s supply chain, the published assessment of findings says the root cause runs much deeper. The review concludes that “decades of underinvestment”, alongside public policy choices that favour quarterly results and short-term solutions, have left the system “fragile”.
In response, the administration aims to address four key issues head on, strengthening its position in health and medicine, sustainable and alternative energy, critical mineral mining and processing, and computer chips.
Support domestic production of critical medicines
- A syndicate of public and private entities will jointly work towards manufacturing and onshoring of essential medical suppliers, beginning with a list of 50-100 “critical drugs” defined by the Food and Drug Administration.
- The consortium will be led by the Department of Health and Human Services, which will commit an initial $60m towards the development of a “novel platform technologies to increase domestic manufacturing capacity for API”.
- The aim is to increase domestic production and reduce the reliance upon global supply chains, particularly with regards to medications in short supply.
Secure an end-to-end domestic supply chain for advanced batteries
- The Department of Energy will publish a ‘National Blueprint for Lithium Batteries’, beginning a 10 year plan to "develop a domestic lithium battery supply chain that combats the climate crisis by creating good-paying clean energy jobs across America”.
- The effort will leverage billions in funding “to finance key strategic areas of development and fill deficits in the domestic supply chain capacity”.
Invest in sustainable domestic and international production and processing of critical minerals
- An interdepartmental group will be established by the Department of Interior to identify sites where critical minerals can be produced and processed within US borders. It will collaborate with businesses, states, tribal nations and stockholders to “expand sustainable, responsible critical minerals production and processing in the United States”.
- The group will also identify where regulations may need to be updated to ensure new mining and processing “meets strong standards”.
Partner with industry, allies, and partners to address semiconductor shortages
- The Department of Commerce will increase its partnership with industry to support further investment in R&D and production of semiconductor chips. The White House says its aim will be to “facilitate information flow between semiconductor producers and suppliers and end-users”, improving transparency and data sharing.
- Enhanced relationships with foreign allies, including Japan and South Korea will also be strengthened with the express proposed of increasing chip output, promoting further investment in the sector and “to promote fair semiconductor chip allocations”.