A U.S. paper mill, whose goal is to increase safety for field service, has asked us to help them migrate away from a traditional preventive maintenance approach involving field engineers completing physical rounds and being routinely near electrical or hazardous areas.
This is a perfect demonstration of how digital can be a link to best practices and expertise. Instead of the engineers walking around to record data manually (subject to distractions that may lead to input error), and being in high-risk situations, they can use their knowledge, experience and peer network to interpret accurate, digitally-acquired data collected from smart sensors to take more informed action when on the mill floor.
Comparatively, without the information acquired from the sensors, the mill loses on productivity as unnecessary preventive maintenance tasks may be performed or are completed out of order of what’s critical. And, on the flipside, if a mill only had smart technology in place without process expertise, whomever is asked to service the assets will be inundated with thousands of data points, not knowing where action is truly needed. Transitioning to digitalization means embracing a digital toolkit for field service work to ensure the right service is performed at the right time with the right information.
Regaining accumulated experience through digitalization
Another concern among some manufacturers is the risk of losing ‘tribal knowledge’ as more people leave or retire. A digital infrastructure can actually help overcome this by performing retrospective analyses of problems that arise, identifying trends and describing corrective action, effectively connecting information between generations of employees. The new employees will then have a knowledge platform they can more readily start with, further improving information sharing and process expertise growth.
With data extraction from machines creating an accumulated experience, it can also be used to start predicting failures. Our dream is that we can use this combined knowledge of machine learning and process expertise to eventually prevent physical failures in the mill completely, always catching problems in time or at the very least, mapping failures to scheduled downtime rather than waiting for that dreaded midnight call. This would allow our customers to focus on producing the best quality paper, rather than troubleshooting asset or process issues.
Optimizing the human factor
ABB has been leveraging data and digital tools within pulp and paper and other process industries for decades and knows its value. The trouble is when digital is presented as a cure-all. It’s very clear that technology without process expertise will only get manufacturers so far. In fact, digital is an excellent tool that allows us to further leverage human potential. It’s critical to our role that we clarify this for our customers, so that it feels real to them, and can be backed with action.
There’s no doubt that digitalization will transform mills when it’s done right. The only way is through digital infrastructure and analytics that are aligned to process expertise so that actions can be pre-qualified to find the right person at the right time with the right solution.