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How digitalisation will redefine industry’s approach to equipment monitoring

Image credit: ABB

Adoption of digital technologies, accelerated by Covid-19, is having a major impact on the way companies approach service contracts.

The current pandemic has driven industrial businesses to reshape their service activities by embracing digital solutions that provide them with sharper business insights and long-term benefits. But even before the emergence of Covid-19, many companies were starting to re-evaluate their service philosophy, focusing on how to ensure the reliability of critical equipment such as drives and motors. The past year has seen that process accelerating as travel restrictions and the need for social distancing made it challenging to get service teams on site to carry out traditional maintenance and repair.

The situation has given a major boost to digitalisation and remote-access-based services. Not only does digitalisation address the access problem, it also adds significant value by delivering sharper business insights. This helps maximise productivity, improve resilience and reduce costs. Remote-access services also increase safety by eliminating the need for teams to be on site during the pandemic. Yet companies can still access the services they need to keep their operations up and running.

The main driver for digitalisation is the need to enable condition monitoring that supports key industrial assets. Real-time data can be collected from connected motors and drives and transmitted wirelessly to a secure cloud. When data is analysed and processed by algorithms, service experts can help customers make better decisions. Customers can draw on the deep insights they gain into the status and condition of their assets to take timely action.

Adopting condition-based monitoring saves time and money as it avoids unnecessary maintenance and replacement activities and reduces the need for travel to site. The approach can range from individual drives or motors to covering an entire industrial powertrain.

Among the growing number of customers that ABB has helped to adopt remote condition-monitoring is the Japanese chemical giant Denka. Three of Denka’s Singapore plants have implemented service agreements based on smart sensors fitted to hundreds of motors. The ambitious aim was to reduce motor failure by 80 per cent. This has been surpassed since no motors have failed in the past two years.

There is an important, and often overlooked, point about digitalisation, which is that successful implementation does not rely only on connecting motors and drives. A partner with service expertise is essential to make effective use of the data collected.

We are all familiar with science-fiction visions of fully autonomous factories. They will surely come, but the transformation required will rely on massive investment. The good news is that digitally enabled services are available here and now. Even better, they can be implemented in a cost-effective, stepwise approach where the business benefits mean that connected assets will soon pay for themselves.

It’s important that customers do not compartmentalise digitalisation. It should be seen as something that complements their traditional service activities, allowing them to progress towards digital services at whatever pace they find comfortable.

Digital technologies are also starting to change the way in which service contracts are conceived. For example, we are seeing a trend for holistic service agreements. As an example, rather than asking for service support, customers could agree a contract that requires an agreed level of uptime, productivity, energy efficiency or some other KPI. This is shifting the nature of the relationships between service providers, customers and other businesses, so that they are becoming business partners.

Already, we are seeing the development of new service ecosystems, bringing together providers who can contribute to the overall success of the business. Potential partners might be insurance companies, investment and pension funds, finance institutions and specialist suppliers in cyber security, AI and machine learning.

In the longer term, ecosystems will surely define the future service landscape. However, there is no need to wait. Digital service solutions are available today, and they have never been so accessible and affordable. It is simply a question of seizing the opportunities available in the connected world to achieve new levels of reliability, safety and profitability for industrial assets.

Mari E Haapala is digital lead at ABB Motion.

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