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Has the new normal changed the way that we do servicing?

14 September, 2021

Traditionally, drives and motor users have paid service companies to come to their sites to carry out maintenance. But Mari E. Haapala, who leads the ABB Motion digital solutions unit, believes that the Covid pandemic has changed the way that companies are approaching service. Drives & Controls asked her to explain.

The past 18 months have had a profound impact not only on our personal lives, but also on the way that way that we run our industrial businesses. The pandemic made it impossible to service and maintain industrial equipment in the way that we have traditionally done.

Mari E. Haapala, who leads ABB Motion’s digital solutions business, believes that this experience has fundamentally changed our approach to industrial servicing. The possibility of connecting assets via cloud-based services such as condition monitoring and remote assistance means that servicing will be very different in future. Drives & Controls asked her to expand on her views.

D&C: How has the Covid-19 pandemic affected the maintenance of assets such as motors and drives? How have end-users – and service providers – responded to the challenge?

Mari Haapala: Maintaining the reliability of business-critical equipment such as motors and drives became a significant challenge during the pandemic. Travel restrictions and social distancing made it difficult to get service teams on site to carry out traditional maintenance and repair.

Many of our customers therefore re-evaluated their service needs to embrace digitalisation and remote access. Now, they want to take the next step by using digital technology to add tangible value across their business.

How are digitalisation, enhanced connectivity and cloud technologies affecting servicing? What benefits can end-users expect from these technologies? Are there potential spin-off benefits in other areas of industrial activity?

Digitalisation and enhanced connectivity through the cloud have been crucial in tackling the access problem. Remote-access services have increased safety, since teams don’t need to be on site. Yet companies can still receive the services they need to keep their operations up and running.

Gathering and processing real-time data on how equipment is performing adds significant value by delivering sharper business insights. The result is better decision making that maximises productivity, improves resilience and reduces costs.

Many potential users are worried by the prospect of digitalisation. They feel it means they will have to operate outside of their comfort zones, and that such schemes are costly and complex to implement. How difficult are these technologies to realise in practice?

We aim to help customers understand that digitalisation should not be compartmentalised. Rather, it complements their traditional service activities, offering a new aspect that expands and enhances what we offer.

It does not always have to be a “big bang”. A stepwise approach is possible that enables customers to progress at whatever pace they find most comfortable. Digitalisation will deliver tangible benefits even when applied to a single motor or drive. Although the benefits multiple rapidly when connectivity is rolled out to an entire industrial powertrain.

An important, and often overlooked, point about digitalisation is that success requires rather more than simply connecting equipment. A partner with service expertise is essential to make effective use of the data collected.

Another concern is that relying on cloud-based services can mean that users can lose control of their data and that have to trust the service providers to safeguard the data. Are these worries justified?

Before the pandemic, customers often said “We don’t want to be in the cloud”. However, over the past year, industrial companies have needed cloud technology so that employees could work remotely from home. Now, they are becoming aware of its broader possibilities.
At ABB, we have found that customers are much more open to sharing data with us. That is a very useful development, because connectivity is crucial to enable us to provide remote services and deliver the full advantages made possible by gathering data. However, we never lose sight of the critical need to ensure stringent cybersecurity and data privacy at all times.

What effects can optimising maintenance cycles have? Could it change the way that users deal with their maintenance activities?

Good maintenance is the key to keeping equipment and operations running safely, reliably and profitably. At the lower end of the spectrum are “run to failure” regimes, in which corrective action is taken only when a machine or one of its components fails. This approach runs the highest risk of unplanned downtime, which can be very expensive. Other costs related to inadequate maintenance include extra repair bills, shortened asset life, poor machine performance and higher energy consumption.

Preventive maintenance using pre-set calendar-based schedules for replacing parts that are likely to wear out reduces downtime risks. However, it can waste time and materials, as some parts might be replaced in good condition with a significant amount of life still remaining.

Condition-based maintenance deals with this by measuring and monitoring various parameters and combining them with analytical algorithms which indicate wear or deterioration. Service engineers can then intervene to prevent breakdowns. In some cases, intervention might be indicated well ahead of a planned replacement. In others, service intervals could even be increased.

Could you give some examples of how these changes are being implemented in real-world applications, and the results being achieved?

Among the growing number of customers that ABB has helped to adopt remote condition monitoring is the Japanese chemical giant Denka. Three of Denka’s Singapore plants have implemented service agreements based on smart sensors fitted to hundreds of motors. The ambitious aim was to reduce motor failure by 80%. This has been surpassed since no motors have failed in the past two years.

How are these changes affecting the relationship between service providers and end-users? Do you expect new business models to emerge?

There is a trend to holistic service agreements in which the service provider takes responsibility for the outcomes of its work. Effectively, the customer buys agreed levels of uptime, productivity, energy efficiency or some other KPI. This will fundamentally change the relationships between service providers, customers and other businesses, who will now become partners.
These partnerships will ultimately become part of an ecosystem which brings together service providers who can contribute to the overall success of the business. They might include insurance companies, investment and pension funds, finance institutions and businesses in the cybersecurity, AI and machine learning fields.
As an example, ERGO Hestia, one of Poland’s leading insurers of industrial and service facilities, is working with ABB to use our remote monitoring services to minimise electric motor breakdown risks for insured customers.

Where do you see the digitalisation of service activities heading in the future? Are there potentially new areas in which users could see benefits?

In time, we expect to see every device on the factory floor becoming part of the connected world, enabling better decision-making that maximises productivity and reduces costs.
Looking further ahead, augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) already have applications in service provision, giving engineers an effective telepresence, and we expect that area to grow. There is also growing potential for remotely supporting activities like repairing, installing, commissioning and controlling equipment.

While these may be viewed as emerging capabilities, the remote condition monitoring services readily available today can immediately enhance industrial operations and increase their resilience against pandemics and other future crises. Furthermore, the insights gained can benefit the entire business, such as identifying areas where upgrading with VSDs (variable-speed drives) and SynRM (synchronous reluctance) motors can improve energy efficiency.

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