Five Takeaways From America’s Leading Maintenance Conference

Recently, the Facteon team attended the 34th International Maintenance Conference (IMC). IMC and its parent, ReliabilityWeb, is a high profile thought leader promoting the global advancement of maintenance and reliability technologies.

Here are our key learnings from IMC, all relevant to manufacturers on their reliability and operational excellence journey.

Takeaway One: Maintenance & reliability as critical operational functions 

Top performing organisations have recognised that delivering uptime and reliability is only part of the equation. Once a baseline is achieved, how does an operation move beyond simple competence, getting the most out of assets, minimising costs and delivering operational agility to the rest of the operation?

Several speakers discussed the ‘C-suite to factory gap’ and how to achieve cross-functional buy-in and collaboration across the business, particularly within organisations where there are multiple sites. This challenge is intensified by geographical and cultural distance.  

Their advice was that being good was not enough. Maintenance and reliability professionals needed to understand the business and financial impacts of their activities. They also must manage upwards into the organisation to continue the cycle of investment and appreciation.

As Terrance O’Hanlon, CEO of ReliabilityWeb, remarked in his keynote:

“No one ever stops you in the parking lot after work to say:
‘Thanks, nothing happened today!’”

Takeaway Two: AI deployed at scale & functioning in real-world conditions is still a rarity

The adoption of big data, data lakes, production data and the capability of AI technologies is limited in the manufacturing industry. By contrast, sectors, such as banking, insurance and government, have deployed AI technologies to process and extract valuable information at scale.

According to the Industrial Internet Consortium, manufacturing in the United States generates around twice the amount of data the government produces. However, a mere 10% of the data collected is interpreted to inform decision making.

Many companies in attendance described their current state as ‘pilot purgatory’. They had successful proof of concepts (PoCs) but had not been able to make the leap into operational deployment.

This highlights the need for a credible partner with a track-record of deploying implementations in this space. The ability to not only design and deliver the solution, but communicate across the organisation as outlined in our #1 key takeaway is going to be the circuit breaker for operational teams looking to achieve technology transformations in 2020.

Takeaway Three: Human capital is still the ‘secret sauce’ 

Sometimes it feels like the empty “people are our biggest asset” mission and vision statement could fill a book. Organisations that can move beyond rhetoric and recognise the contribution their factory operations staff make are likely to have far more success when deploying complex manufacturing technologies.

With many companies stuck at the PoC stage, having the right people in the right place is more important than ever. This is the only way manufacturers can expect their teams to make sound engineering judgements.

Takeaway Four: Effective asset management requires a wide & data-rich connection

Effective asset-management was a central theme of the conference. The concept of managing an asset as opposed to simply carrying out planned maintenance is not a new idea. With new technologies promising to tell us how much life remains in components and consumables, the stage is set for condition-based maintenance.

Open standards for easy integration and interoperability is also a key piece of the puzzle when it comes to condition-based maintenance and asset management. As expected, vendors are making product decisions specifically to create lock-in to their ecosystem. Just as the IT and networking industry matured and rejected this concept many years ago, so too will the manufacturing technology industry.

According the IMC/ReliabilityWeb team working on the industry’s Industrial IoT (IIoT) Framework, 85% of industrial assets are still not connected. They will remain disconnected and un-intelligent so long as vendors insist on proprietary, closed systems.

Takeaway Five: Labour cost, availability & quality will help drive further automation & productivity investment 

IMC is held in the United States so takes on a local flavor. With the US economy running close to capacity from an employment point of view, tightness in the labor market is starting to bite. Combined with a push to rightly remove people from dangerous or un-ergonomic working environments, we expect demand for automated systems to remain strong. Industry commentators suggest the global market for smart factory technology will grow to $479b USD from $152b USD in 2017.

An important distinction is to define the types of investment. Often, we as manufacturers have a bias towards physical investment. A new machining center or a new robotic work-cell, for example. 

In many cases, Facteon sees investment in software, data and sensors as a means to boost productivity and performance without significant capital investment. For example, adding inline sensors and sampling for oil condition in a piece of plant. Augmenting an existing piece of equipment which was never designed for connectivity will automate a repetitive and possibly dangerous (depending on the design of the line) task. The value is not in collecting an oil sample or data in isolation but in what sound operational decision can be made with information, which is timely, accurate and rich.

Prepare your organisation for a new decade

IMC reinforced for us that once again, sound business and operational strategies need to underpin technology investments for organisations. All too often organisations suffer from failed technology transformations because in the rush to implement a solution, the underlying people, process and performance issues were not addressed.

To that end, we have created a handbook for manufacturing leaders in the digital age.  This document is your must-read guide to preparing your manufacturing operation for Industry 4.0. The Facteon approach to maintenance and reliability is the centered on utilising existing equipment wherever possible. It’s not a case of out with the old and in with the new. It’s about drawing value from the old through the practical application of Industry 4.0 and IIoT technologies to solve your manufacturing challenges.

Here’s to global manufacturing success in 2020 and beyond!


Handbook: Retooling Your Factory For The Digital Future

Packed with customer insights and backed by the latest research, Facteon's handbook gives you the tools to start your Industry 4.0 journey.

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