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Last week we talked about personnel; I promised to talk about maintenance this week.
If skilled operating personnel are in short supply and the future is bleak as far as finding adequate numbers of trained operators, then the supply of qualified maintenance personnel is 10 times worse. A couple of years ago when the oil patch suffered a downturn, some of us thought maintenance workers would be knocking on our doors, for their skills are largely transferable. It never happened.
Yet, even though the situation is bleak in the near future as far as maintenance personnel are concerned, I'll state in the long term it has a possibility of becoming much brighter.
Why? Additive Manufacturing and IoT.
I have been touting additive manufacturing as a solution to some of our maintenance costs for several years. Simply, instead of having a warehouse full of unique spare parts that we have no idea when we will use, we will have Additive Manufacturing Work Centers (3-D printers) and bins of appropriate sintered alloys and plastics nodules from which we will make our own parts on site. From uhle box covers to ball valves, we'll make what we need when we need it, from fungible bins of appropriate raw materials.
Save the date! The Pulp and Paper Industry Reliability and Maintenance conference, sponsored by IDCON and Andritz, will be held March 19-22, 2018 in Raleigh, North Carolina.
But there's more. For decades we have had NEMA frame motors and ANSI standard pumps. Why can these not be joined as a new skid-mounted fusion assembly with standard inlet and outlet piping locations and dimensions as well as standard disconnect electrical service? Sort of a NEMAANSI power pump set. Then, when a unit has problems, you slip it out, slip in another and send the whole unit to a central repair center for refurbishing. No service in your mill's shop--it goes directly to a specialized service center that can economically and quickly refurbish it. Power pump sets are just the start of the implementation of this concept.
IoT is the Internet of Things. It is the idea that everything is linked to the Internet. Our fusion pump assembly described above is an excellent example of a candidate for IoT. The manufacturer can then monitor it on a continuous basis and let the mill know when it is trending towards falling out of an acceptable operating specification range. The supplier will notify the mill that a replacement will be on its way for the mill to exchange at the next outage. This scenario takes predictive maintenance to an entirely new level and requires no mill personnel except for the quick disconnect/reconnect activity.
This can be done for nearly everything in the mill, from dryer bearings to machine clothing, to slice lips. Hook it all up to the IoT and let the manufacturers tell us when we are out of specification.
IoT can and should be used for all of your electronic control systems right now. Instead of an instrument tech making rounds or sitting at a computer screen in your facility trying to ascertain what might go wrong with your drives and so forth, the supplier should be able to monitor these items right now at its own facility and let you know what you need to change today. At the same time, the supplier can automatically restock your lightly loaded spare parts inventory when you use a part. After all, they can get you more via overnight services, to be on your shelves in the morning.
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Suddenly, with the implementation of the scenarios I have described here, your onsite maintenance skill level requirements and personnel count fall drastically. Your maintenance inventory melts away. Your mill runs closer to like-new specifications than it has in years. Downtime is reduced, for now you have truly predictive maintenance, provided by IoT.
What's the downside? We need better Internet security, for when you open your mill up to the sort of IoT I have described here, many, many parties will be able to reach into your mill and gather data. Sophisticated encryption will be required to make sure that only those with a need to know, know. This may be the largest challenge of them all and the only one that is stopping you from beginning your conversion to the maintenance scenario of the future right now.
Safety can join the IoT world, too. Sensors in dangerous areas monitoring sensors built into clothing can warn us when we are getting too close. Barriers can arm themselves and gently push us out of the way if our path to peril continues. We can do this right now, too.
Be safe and we will talk next week.
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