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Challenges and Opportunities facing the Maintenance Sector

Written by Rudy Gunst, journalist for Maintenance Magazine & Engineeringnet

Challenges and Opportunities facing the Maintenance Sector

An engineer using a TOUGHBOOK G1

The Maintenance sector is facing interesting times as a number of business and technology trends begin to disrupt the market. It could mean trouble for those organisations that don’t adapt but for those embracing change there could be a number of interesting opportunities. Here are my top 5 challenges for the Maintenance sector and how they can be turned to advantage.

 

1. Digitization

The Internet of Things (IoT), where sensors connect machines, components and measuring devices to the internet to generate usable data, is having a major impact on the very fabric of maintenance.

The more elements are connected, the greater the data flow. As a result, maintenance is moving away from traditional check and maintain. The challenge is to combine the Big Data from the IoT application with the expertise of the technicians. This allows the company to create efficiency gains and improve the customer experience through proactive intervention and more targeted action.One example is the maintenance of the Belgium national railway by Infrabel. Smart sensors report if an installation is compromised and real-time maintenance schedules are delivered to the engineers via their Panasonic TOUGHBOOK tablets.

In addition, more and more maintenance companies are using PSA (Professional Services Automation) software that links projects to customers and collects data that supports the maintenance company to make important decisions. Sensible reading of PSA data can ensure that more customers can be served with the same number of employees or additional value services can be offered to the customer.

 

2. Sustainability

Maintenance managers play a leading role in the field of sustainability. Every day they make decisions that have a direct impact on energy efficiency, CO2 emissions and waste reduction. After all, every maintenance or repair job offers an opportunity for sustainable improvement. That’s something Siemens also realised. For example, Siemens Mobility Ltd.’s Rolling Stock Business has equipped its train maintenance engineers in the UK with Panasonic TOUGHBOOK notebooks. This doesn’t only make train maintenance more efficient, but also makes it much more sustainable, as it is now completely paperless thanks to the use of a computing device.

So, efficient maintenance management can have a major impact on the organisation’s profitability. Maintenance managers are in one of the best positions to identify potential sustainability gains and develop a ready-made solution. Often these sustainability initiatives do not lead to immediate cost savings but they benefit the business in the longer-term – driving down total cost of ownership whilst benefitting society.

 

3. New business models

New business models are also emerging that impact the industry. Subscription models, where the customer rents an installation and pays for extra services, are becoming increasingly popular.

A large number of installation and maintenance companies offer a continuous service in which all costs of installation, maintenance, repair, waste processing and recycling are poured into a monthly fixed fee.

For example, the customer does not invest in an HVAC installation but rents heating, ventilation and air conditioning by means of a performance agreement. Thanks to IoT, the maintenance manager remotely monitors indoor air quality. If they receive an automated notification that the air quality is deteriorating, the filters are replaced. The maintenance provider can intervene before the customer has noticed anything wrong.

This approach is not just being adopted in major system installations. Panasonic, for example, has launched TOUGHBOOK-as-a-Service, a subscription model which makes it possible for businesses to use rugged tablets, handhelds and notebooks for a fixed monthly fee. 

 

4. Artificial Intelligence (AI)

Artificial Intelligence, although still some way off, has the opportunity to turn the maintenance industry upside down. It will deliver software and machines that can recognise patterns in very large and complex data sets, both from inside and outside the organisation; patterns that cannot even be grasped by the human brain. Installations will use machine learning to improve their own operations by learning from that of their own performance and others. These systems will propose solutions or execute them automatically to continuously improve efficiency and performance. Many of the day-to-day activities of the current maintenance engineer may be replaced but the opportunity will be in familiarisation with the AI software and technologies to advise businesses and help them put these systems into place.

 

5. Partnerships

Collaboration and new partnerships look set to be the platform for successful maintenance organisations moving forward. Getting in touch with colleagues, experts and organisations who can assist you in taking advantage of these new technologies and developing new services. Partnering with companies offering other products or services will be an interesting new avenue to expand your business.

In the long run, collaboration will provide a competitive advantage over the competition, and cut the time and cost associated with adapting and developing new services and solutions.

As in many industries, the maintenance sector faces many challenges but those organisations that embrace the change and adapt their ways of working will thrive.

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