Blake has worked as a Market Analyst at Interact Analysis since 2017. Covering the markets for low voltage AC motor drives, predictive maintenance, and mobile hydraulics, Blake has developed expertise in automation systems, industrial digitalization, and off highway-electrification.
The methods for performing predictive maintenance on motor driven systems are evolving. As these methods evolve, so should the business model of service providers offering predictive maintenance on their client’s assets. Historically, these service providers have performed analysis on the health of assets by going to a client’s facility and physically interacting with critical assets using portable monitoring devices. Examples of these devices include Fluke’s 810 Vibration Tester or Megger’s Baker EXP4000. These types of devices provide the highest amount of resolution into the health of an asset and therefore are currently the preferred method of data gathering by most maintenance technicians.
There are notable downsides with this approach however. First, while these devices offer more visibility into the health of an asset, they are very expensive. Additionally, they require a trained technician to physically be present at the asset in order to perform the analysis. This requirement is a severely limiting factor for a service provider’s business as it is very labor intensive and thus constrains the number of clients a service provider can take on. Fortunately, there is a product that addresses both of these issues.
Smart Sensors, like ABB’s Ability Sensor, Augury’s Halo System, or PetaSense’s Vibration Mote, are a more cost effective alternative to portable monitoring devices which allow for remote monitoring of assets. These devices have the potential to radically reshape the business models of service providers. Currently, the time it takes to reach a facility and perform asset health analysis is a necessary investment of labor for providers to complete their service. With the remote monitoring capability offered by smart sensing, this becomes less of a necessity. Instead of making trips to every client, service providers can now have a window into the status of monitored assets to help more efficiently plan on-site maintenance trips. This allows service providers to expand their client network geographically as suddenly the time burden once felt of driving from one facility to another becomes lessoned.
With all this in mind, it is clear that smart sensors offer many benefits to service providers. However, these devices are still very limited in terms of the resolution of data they can achieve. Compared to portable monitoring devices, smart sensors operate at a significantly narrower bandwidth and a higher noise floor. Additionally, outside of very well-known applications, the application expertise provided by maintenance technicians is difficult to displace with current smart sensing technology. This is why we believe these devices will be more complimentary than competitive to their portable monitoring device counterparts.
You can view how this trend manifests in our forecast for the market below. This data comes from our soon to publish Predictive Maintenance in Motor Driven Systems report and shows portable monitoring devices making up the majority of revenues early on yet still seeing low single digit growth even as smart sensor products surge:
Our view is that smart sensors will be used to flag an initial issue, and portable monitoring devices (and their operator) will be utilized to further investigate and diagnose said issue. Unfortunately, we are under the impression that many service providers do not share this viewpoint (yet). Many of those making the decision to use, or not use smart sensors, are the same people whose core skills lie in their application expertise and asset health analysis capabilities. There is a tendency of people who perceive the threat of obsolescence to be bearish on new technology. This leads to a generally more conservative approach to the technology and can drag out the timeframe for adoption. We believe this is currently the position smart sensors are in as it pertains to service providers. During such a time in a product’s lifecycle, sometimes an event will occur which will push the product through the sludge of slow adoption more quickly than the path it would have naturally taken.
With nearly 400,000 cases worldwide and growing, it is not hyperbolic to describe our current situation as monumentally historic. As cases grow, so do orders by governments for citizens to shelter in place. As of when this article was written, approximately 1 of 4 US citizens are under government mandated lockdown. This means mandatory restrictions of movement of non-essential workers. As a result of these orders, businesses are facing an unprecedented challenge and must get creative on how they can continue offering the products or services they provide.
These restrictions are particularly troubling for predictive maintenance service providers utilizing the model outlined above. With no ability to travel to client facilities to perform asset health analysis, service providers cannot offer their services. Consequently, many manufacturers who rely on these services to maintain the health of process critical assets are ‘flying blind’ and thus face high risk of costly downtime during these unprecedented times. To address this problem, predictive maintenance service providers need to adapt quickly.
Smart sensors are a readily available tool that would provide a remote view into client assets which in turn eliminates the immediate need to travel to a facility. This could be an effective solution for service providers that would help them maintain some level of visibility into the assets they are servicing while maintaining the social distance needed to prevent the spread of COVID-19. While this solution is not ideal because many service providers will still be unable to visit facilities to actually perform the maintenance, it is a solution that would allow service providers to communicate detected issues to their customers. Ideally, the insight gathered from the smart sensor would be enough to enable service providers to diagnose the issue and remotely instruct an on-site technician on how to provide the minimum amount of maintenance needed to ensure the asset does not fail. This keeps client’s facilities up and running, and more importantly protects service provider employees from possible infection.
Remote monitoring and diagnosis will be key to enabling predictive maintenance service during this time of social distancing which will likely stretch on for months. We believe this surge in need for remote monitoring could further the adoption of smart sensing, pushing the product over the barrier that is conservative minded service providers. If this is achieved, the use of smart sensing by service providers will become normalized and will continue to grow after we’ve moved past the days of COVID-19.