'Predictive maintenance' should not be confined to a buzzword... It will be as integral in ongoing transition to Industry 4.0 standards. (Image used for illustrative purposes only.) Image Credit: AP

The 21st century digital technologies as well as hardware automation tools facilitated a transformation of manufacturing, maintenance as well as supply chain into the Industry 4.0 era and the advent of the ‘Smart Factory’.

The integration of cyber-physical systems has gone hand-in-hand with what is a significant element of modern industrial practices – Maintenance 4.0. One of its key drivers is the use of digitisation and data exchanges to perform cost-effective maintenance before the equipment actually fails or becomes damaged.

This requires a high level of trust in new technologies, as well as appropriate digital maintenance strategies, to ensure ultimate availability of critical systems.

Using a combination of Internet of Things (IoT), Big Data-related technologies, ‘Predictive Maintenance’ is already such a significant component of contemporary industrial processes that a 2015 McKinsey Global Institute report suggests it could save manufacturers around $200 billion to $600 billion by 2025.

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Realise in full

Businesses can utilise Maintenance 4.0 to unlock the full potential of Industry 4.0, ultimately contributing towards achieving autonomy of critical infrastructure. The three core elements to consider when deploying maintenance strategies are safety, security and availability.

In part inspired by its sustainable approach to 21st century production, the UAE has put in place a manufacturing skills strategy that includes cross-domain competencies training across sectors. By focusing on the development of future skills, at an International Standard Classification of Occupations (ISCO) level, the UAE aligns very closely with how we are guided in our approach in the region, through a focus on industry, education and innovation – in particular, ‘open innovation’.

Need talent to be in place

That is to say that despite all the automation and digitisation benefits provided by 'predictive maintenance', it is absolutely necessary to have the best trained personnel and innovative minds bringing ideas and new technologies to the table.

This operational concept identifies and brings forth the best solutions to ongoing or developing challenges. In addition, Thales and Tawazun Economic Programme launched Thales Emarat Technologies, a local entity 100 per cent owned by Thales in 2019.

The company intends to foster its contribution to the UAE’s ambitions to become a global leader, with outstanding civil infrastructure and defence capabilities underpinned by a strong local industrial technology base to support localization strategies of the UAE.

Cannot be exclusive

While government projects focused on critical systems such as electricity and water supply, nuclear power, or transportation and logistics often receive appropriate state funding, the costs of implementing a predictive maintenance strategy for private industry may seem daunting.

But just as you cannot put the roof on a house without supports, the same logic applies to scaling up your predictive maintenance approach.

For SME to mid-sized entities, small incremental steps can be taken to transition the company towards Industry 4.0. Condition-based maintenance (CBM), integrated across priority assets, demonstrate the value of early warnings on potential failures.

The learning experience gained from these initial applications will then dictate how the system can be rolled out across the whole operation. It can be easy to forget when talking about complex systems that the implementation of any new technology always starts with people. Undoubtedly, automated and digitised functions make human operators’ jobs simpler.

However, successfully transitioning to Industry 4.0 standards needs a solid foundation of experts to manage the processes and tools safely and securely and maintain availability.

For government-level critical systems, the technology and processes have many proofs-of-concept. And achieving 100 per cent guaranteed availability as a minimum requirement is not simply an ambition for the future – it is available now.

Maximum trust

With data at the very core of predictive maintenance, the more detailed and accurate information you have, the easier it is to access the full potential of your operations. However, the move to predictive maintenance will only happen when trust in the employed technologies, data and processes is guaranteed.

Introducing a Maintenance 4.0 strategy and predictive maintenance cannot simply be achieved through the acquisition of new technology. It must form part of a wider approach of seamless integration between industry, innovation and education.

- Bernard Roux is CEO of Thales in the UAE.