Maintenance managers can relate with the pressure to constantly deliver a high level of asset performance. They must keep all the systems under their supervision running optimally for as long as possible while keeping costs to a minimum.
Decades ago, this would have been a tall order but today, it’s easier to achieve with effective maintenance management solutions. Especially those solutions that eliminate or reduce the need for direct human intervention at every stage of the maintenance process.
That’s the major benefit of automation and control systems.
These systems combine hardware and software components to manage, command, or regulate the behavior of other devices to produce a desired output.
The following is a look at a few ways through which maintenance managers can use automation and control systems to manage the increasingly complex equipment and buildings available today.
Applications of control systems in maintenance management
Applications for automation cut across different areas of maintenance operations with many benefits such as higher productivity, increased reliability, better equipment performance, better safety performance, and reduced operating costs.
Some of the most common applications of automation and control systems in maintenance including building automation, predictive maintenance, and public utilities management.
Building automation and control systems are being used to maintain a wide range of facilities in every industry imaginable in the built environment. They monitor, control, and correct the functions of buildings with the aim of increasing efficiency.
Common uses include lighting control, heating, ventilation and cooling applications, and security.
According to the U.S. Department of Energy, lighting alone accounts for approximately one-third of electricity consumed in commercial buildings and over half the energy used in lodging and retail buildings. With these kind of numbers, it’s no wonder that there is a lot of interest from maintenance managers to find sustainable options to reduce their lighting-related energy consumption.
There are several kinds of controls available today and they range in complexity from the basic dimmer switches to more advanced systems consisting of controllers, sensors, drivers, and software. Some are motion sensors (mainly for outdoor security lighting), occupancy sensors for controlling indoor lights, or the more advanced networked lighting control systems. Networked lighting control systems can be integrated as part of a computerized building automation system and a major benefit they offer is that they allow technicians to monitor and control the lighting systems from remote locations.
Heating, ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC)
HVAC control systems regulate the operations of a heating and air conditioning system for the comfort and convenience of the building’s occupants and to save on energy consumption.
In its most basic form, a sensing device compares the actual temperature in an enclosure with the desired temperature and aims to keep it stable. When there is a deviation, the control system compares conditions and draws a conclusion before initiating an action. HVAC controllers today are becoming more and more sophisticated and can control indoor air quality throughout entire buildings from either a local or remote central computer. And like the lighting controls discussed above, they can also be integrated with building automation systems.
Automated alarm systems send alerts that warn a security provider of a possible security breach. Typically, the system is a network of different sensors mounted on the walls, windows, doors, etc., and all controlled from a central panel. Triggering any of the sensors sets off either audible or silent alarms that prompts the monitoring company to make quick assessments and take the required action in a timely manner. Other uses of building automation include plumbing systems, electrical systems, and safety.
Predictive maintenance is where the maintenance profession is moving to now. And, increasing asset availability by detecting and avoiding unplanned downtime before it happens is the major principle of predictive maintenance.
Achieving the above requires accurate analysis and understanding of the machine’s behavior by deploying systems that can monitor the equipment in real-time. Predictive maintenance delivers this through condition-based maintenance of parameters such as temperature, vibration, oil testing, pressure, and noise.
The control systems that are set up while implementing condition monitoring technology are programmed to monitor any trends within the machine that can lead to equipment downtime/damage and predict when the next failure will likely occur. They can identify the specific components in the machine that will fail and more sophisticated systems with machine learning capabilities can even go further to correct the process to be more equipment friendly.
The benefits of predictive maintenance are numerous and include:
- centralized monitoring,
- real-time direct feedback from all connected equipment
- automatically updated documentation
Public utilities management
There are many different applications of process automation in the management of public utilities especially in electricity, transportation, water treatment/supply, wastewater, and sewage systems.
In the case of wastewater management, for instance, the control platform typically consists of a control panel, embedded computer, automation software, and I/O terminals. Together, this system monitors every stage of collection, treatment, and purification from the outstation equipment, to the sewage plant, and down to the control room.
For potable water treatment, various sensors and controllers are part of a system that monitors and adjusts parameters such as temperature, pH levels, oxygen or nitrogen content at every point of the water treatment stations.
Making the switch to automation
Increasing the efficiency of equipment through automation sounds all good and most maintenance managers and machine operators would appreciate the possibility of more availability and fewer downtime.
However, even the best-designed systems will likely fail if rushed. Some areas to be wary of include the sheer volume of data, the analysis, and culture change that is required to switch from one maintenance strategy to another. Poorly managed culture change, in particular, is where many organizations struggle with such a transition and this one factor alone can sink many lofty projects.
There is no doubt that intelligent and smarter maintenance strategies can significantly increase productivity but it’s important to adequately prepare the organization – from top to bottom – for the changes to come.