Predictive Maintenance: Marrying Safety With Productivity

Creating a safe workplace isn’t just an ethical imperative for manufacturers; it makes smart business sense, too.

Creating a safe workplace isn’t just an ethical imperative for manufacturers; it makes smart business sense, too. 

Workplace injuries lead to costly staffing shortages, and compensating workers in the form of benefits and settlements can have long-term financial consequences. That is why workplace safety in factories is a priority that should trump all others.  

Throughout history, this has been somewhat of a stressful juggling act for manufacturers. Improving safety often meant reducing productivity or output. Also, at the very least, new safety measures represented a major line item cost that delivered few benefits elsewhere. Therefore, any money spent on safety was often an investment made begrudgingly, which is not an ideal situation for employers or employees.

The advent of technologies such as machine learning, big data, and the Internet of Things are having dramatic effects on factories worldwide. Connected machines and systems have the potential to increase output and optimize efficiency in ways that seemed impossible just a decade ago. But, what often gets overlooked is the way these technologies can simultaneously improve safety as well.

The Maintenance and Safety Correlation

Equipment upkeep is not the first thing people associate with workplace safety, but there is a direct link between ineffective equipment and accidents. Machines that are not properly maintained can lead to fires, shocks, projectiles, and unpredictable operations. In short, they create a lot of health hazards.

There is an estimated $40 billion worth of outdated machinery currently in use at United States factories, and that figure does not account for equipment that is simply overdue for maintenance. As that machinery inevitably begins to break, it will lead to loss of uptime, breach of service-level agreements, quality issues, warranty claims, and, unquestionably, workplace injuries. In fact, as much as 30 percent of workplace deaths happen during maintenance activities.

Fortunately, improving maintenance and the long-term quality of machinery does not require a massive new investment in equipment or staff. Connected technologies can extend the life of existing machinery while reducing the overall maintenance burden significantly.

Rather than conducting maintenance on a set schedule, connected technologies empower you to conduct it if and when it is actually necessary. Automated analysis of data generated by each piece of equipment indicates when and where the attention of a technician is required. That way, you can address the issue before it leads to a machine failure, a work stoppage, or a major injury.

Maintaining Productivity in Safety

The most revolutionary aspect of connected machines is the fact that they allow you to invest in safety improvements and process improvements at the same time. Once the long-standing conflict between the two is erased, manufacturers can spend less than before yet achieve results that outpace predictions. 

Here are a few examples that illustrate how this balancing act works:

  • Connected machines allow for precise location tracking of all assets within a factory. When the location and function of each asset can be examined both discreetly and as part of a larger system, it becomes much easier to spot looming safety issues. That same omniscient view makes it much easier to spot inefficiencies and areas for improvement.
  • Predictive maintenance makes it easy to spot problems before they become catastrophic. As a result, factories do not suffer from costly, unscheduled downtime, and the technicians responsible for maintenance do not have to take on dangerous, large-scale repairs. 
  • The factories of today and tomorrow are largely automated. Some of the only humans required on the factory floor are technicians who help restore otherwise self-contained processes. When maintenance is handled proactively with a cognitive approach, it requires fewer people to spend less time in the dangerous environment of the factory itself. Employers may even be able to reconfigure their maintenance staff for cost savings. 
  • Once the burdens of machine failure and worker injury are reduced, factory managers can reinvest the saved time, money, and energy into more productive pursuits. Initiatives that once seemed overly ambitious or even impossible become potential engines of future growth.

The decision to implement connected devices often hinges on cost, and while these devices do require a significant investment, they offer a return that is broader and deeper than most people expect. 

Cognitive predictive maintenance doesn’t just help factories run smother, produce more product, and waste less resources; it also helps them avoid injuries and accidents while mitigating the kinds of dangers that inhibit output. Rarely — if ever — has an investment in one new capability had such a sweeping impact. 

From the C-suite down to the factory floor, connected machines and cognitive predictive maintenance can offer something to benefit everyone.

Sundeep Sanghavi is co-founder of DataRPM.

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