Sage advice from an industry veteran about transitioning to Industry 4.0

For many reliability professionals, Jack R. Nicholas is the guru of reliability instruction, guaranteed to teach you something new with every session. In January 2020, he presented at a Best Practice Webinar for Fluke Reliability, sharing his advice on transitioning maintenance teams to Industry 4.0. You can listen to the webinar presentation on demand.

Here is a summary of Nicholas’ key points:

  1. Big data and advanced analytics will transform operations, maintenance, and reliability (OM&R).
  2. OM&R leaders should educate themselves on the business outcomes compared to current approaches and begin making the case for adding real benefits to their organizations.
  3. Selective application of new capabilities available through the Internet of Things (IoT), the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), big data management, cloud computing, and advanced analytics can pay off handsomely in almost any venue.

Nicholas is well aware of how daunting this kind of transition is for most teams, and his presentation stands out for the level of detailed instruction he provides. He breaks down sensor options, edge computing, connectivity options, digital twins, remote analysis, and what upgraded systems look like compared to current state networks and technology.

“The goal,” he says, “is to get wisdom on how your plant operates.” In his view, wisdom concerning asset condition and performance can be defined as prescriptive advice and procedures to help achieve targets such as safety, health, environment, quality, schedule, throughput, efficiency, yields, and profits.

In other words, he says, begin with the end in mind.

Don’t be intimidated by a seemingly large scope. Approach a digital transition like any other project to be organized:

  • Get the latest information about IIoT options for your priority applications
  • Understand what’s worked before and why
  • Acquire the skills needed
  • Revisit SCADA, Reliability Centered Maintenance (RCM), Total Productive Maintenance (TPM), Root Cause Analysis (RCA), Criticality Analysis (CA), and Defect Elimination (DE) to figure what to monitor and why
  • Develop a plan that has a chance of success
  • Gain support and resources to implement and monitor progress of the plan

Start by defining your ultimate goal for converting to a digital operations model. In most cases, it is to achieve a higher level of reliability.

Maintenance teams want fewer unplanned failures and the early warning of asset degradation. They want to reduce emergency actions in favor of more efficient planned activities, such as RCM, RCA, and DE. They want better data and more insights.

But many facilities have yet to move into an active pilot or even a planning stage for their digital transition, and the reason is often a lack of time and people.

Yes, Nicholas says, you do want a data scientist managing your asset health data. But that person can be what he calls a “citizen data scientist”—someone who comes from an equipment specialist background and trains up on data analysis. With the workforce shortage, this is not only increasingly common, it can also be highly effective, and his presentation describes some of what’s involved. He also recommends outsourcing where it makes sense.Other important considerations for an Internet 4.0 transition plan include:

  • Cybersecurity
  • Means for team communications
  • Roles and responsibilities
  • Management readiness to support and lead
  • Management buy-in
  • Budgets and schedules
  • KPIs
  • Hardware and software tools
  • Links to master plans by other divisions using the IoT or IIoT

“Make as many allies as possible with those whose support and knowledge may be able to help. This could include IT, HR, finance, and procurement,” Nicholas says.

Not only is the transition going to take time, but the full scope of benefits may not be apparent for a while. Some failure modes, for example, may only become visible with enough data mining and analytics. Nicholas’ parting advice: Keep a long-term perspective and share project successes broadly.

Listen to the full webinar presentation at any time.

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