Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Predictive Maintenance and the Internet of Things: Problems Solved

If you live on the East Coast of the United States, then you know that it’s cold and snowy. If you live in central North Carolina, then you know if it’s snowy in the rest of Eastern US then we have to deal with ice and as I’ve known for years, ice means power outages. In my case this past weekend, 30 hours of power outage. Do you know what happens when you have 30 hours without power and no generator? You actually talk with your family. For the first 12 hours, I was quite content talking to my wife and kids, playing Monopoly® and enjoying the sound of silence. Then it happened. The silence was broken by my lovely wife asking why our generator did not start 12 hours ago. It’s a long story that I won’t go into but the result was me standing in line at a home improvement center waiting for the truck load of generators. During this extended wait I pondered the importance of preventive maintenance (PM). If I would have spent a bit of time with the generator over the past couple years, it would certainly have made this storm much easier to bear and look a lot less like standing in line waiting.

So that brings me to today’s topic. PM, or close to it.  Predictive maintenance (PdM) to be exact. For those who may not be aware, PdM is the same as PM with one important difference - instead of preforming routine maintenance based on a time frequency, the maintenance is performed when the asset tells you it needs it. For example, changing your oil in your car every three months is preventive while changing your oil every three thousand miles is predictive. In today’s world of maintenance management PdM can be achieved by monitoring the growing number of maintenance assets that exist in the internet of things (IoT).

I recently read a white paper about unlocking the full potential of PdM as a direct result of the many assets that are part of the IoT. That is to say, the assets are present on the intranet or internet and are therefore addressable. It was an interesting article which mentioned the challenges and rewards of PdM in the world of IoT but did not tactically address many of the challenges presented in the article. I’d like to address some of those challenges in this post.

The article refers to the IoT as new technology. That’s not really true. I’ve been utilizing the internet since 1989 and although the number of devices on the internet has changed, the technology is essentially the same. Communicating with an asset, such as an air handling unit, a thermostat or database, is not any different than accessing a website via your mobile phone or computer. It is, essentially, the same type of data going across the same internet and then through the same network appliances. It may travel through different ports and have its own set of security rules, but the actions, tools and ideas are the same. The tools we use to manage this data may be changing but the IoT is far from new. It’s just the acronym that’s new.

Data security is a challenge left unanswered in the article. In the case of data, the firewalls and other appliances that are currently in place should be adequate. Usually the only need for upgrade is to handle the additional network traffic created by talking with so many new devices. A good relationship with a trusted IT company or competent IT staff is essential to managing the safe and effective transmission of data. As a note to this point, it wasn’t too long ago that a major big box store had huge amounts of credit card information stolen form their database. The thieves accessed their network via a hole in the firewall used by the HVAC system. This fact shouldn’t make you scared, just aware. It’s not difficult to secure your network but you must make sure all network traffic has the right amount of security. Leaving one unsecured hole in your firewall puts your entire network at risk.

The integration of applications is also left as a challenge without answer. TeamWORKS most recent blog discusses integration. If you’re looking for answers, I suggest you read the post. In short, data is data. Move it to a single location for integration, link the common elements and use one system to trigger the other. It’s not complicated. It’s not necessarily easy but it’s not complicated.

The next challenge discussed is managing the huge number of devices on the IoT. The solution to this problem is all in planning. Create standards for what data is to be acquired from what assets. Get only what you need - you can adjust and add more data requirements later if needs be. Don’t get the data only because you can. If you get all the data accessible, the data becomes like SPAM. You get so much information you don’t know what’s important and what’s junk and you end up missing important information because it gets lost in the noise. Be selective in the data you gather.

The IoT is a great tool to be used in your maintenance management efforts. Unfortunately, there is a lot of knowledge needed to manage the communication of this data effectively and safely. Cutting edge technology is usually not in the wheelhouse of maintenance personnel and just like any other tool you use or service you provide, you need to either hire the person qualified to do the job or find a trusted vendor to work with. The vendor should be able to work with your existing process or make only minor changes. Trying to force a process built by and for a software on an organization doesn’t often work well for anyone.

As always, if you have any questions on this topic, feel free to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.  or call TeamWORKS. We’d like to make your job easier, and after 30+ years in maintenance, we do know a thing or two.