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EUS082---Downtime-is-at-the-mercy-of-tenacity-(002).jpg EU Automation

The Automation Web Catches Downtime Demons

Claudia Jarrett, United States country manager for EU Automation, explains how the industry should take a similar approach to that of a spider, to minimize unplanned downtime.

The Darwin’s bark spider builds enormous webs, sometimes extending more than 80 ft across rivers and lakes. This super strong web can catch huge volumes of insects for the spider to eat. Tasty.

Perched in the center of its web, the Darwin’s bark spider can feast on a huge number of insects. Naturally, a web spanning large distances will be more successful than a smaller one. The same applies to the web of automation across the United States. By this, we mean the knowledge of where huge volumes of industrial parts are, including rare or obsolete parts. Put simply, the bigger the network, the more chance of finding a specific part.

But why is it so crucial for businesses to have access to this network? One minute of stopped production, or downtime, costs the automotive industry $22,000 a minute. Unplanned downtime halts production, but also leads to wasted raw materials or damage to the system itself — amplifying the cost beyond the loss of production.

While other industry sectors may not be faced with losses as high as the automotive industry, even losing a few hundred dollars an hour can have a significant impact on a business’s bottom line. Therefore, methods for minimizing this downtime are incredibly valuable. Having access to a wide network of spare parts is one way, but there are also preemptive approaches that can be taken ahead of breakdown.

Does it have to be this way?

Machines break down. However, there are signs of machine failure that can be monitored and managed. For example, vibration analysis or analyzing the speed of machines can provide insight into the condition of equipment, indicating that it may be about to break down.

Proactively monitoring equipment and scheduling maintenance in advance can drastically reduce the risk of a machine breakdown, which is why preventative maintenance is so highly regarded.

Gone are the days when manufacturers take a run-to-failure, calendar or usage-based approach to maintenance, which involves waiting for a motor to fail or a heat transfer system to leak before taking action. Plant managers can now plan regular inspections, upgrades, and troubleshooting on equipment to avoid breakdowns.

Industry 4.0 is increasing manufacturers’ capabilities to a stage where maintenance can be data driven — rather than guesswork. Information collected by sensors on the factory floor can be relayed to a plant manager and used to make real-time decisions on servicing and maintenance.

Using a digital twin, a virtual representation of a factory’s operations, combined with machine learning software, could allow the system to identify and plan for faults in advance.

In the future, this could involve a self-diagnosing and self-repairing system – ordering a replacement part or machine from an automation equipment supplier and planning automated maintenance.

Could zero downtime ever be possible?

Manufacturers seem to think so. Eight in ten companies surveyed by GE Digital thought digital tools could eliminate unplanned downtime and 72% of organizations said that zero unplanned downtime is a high priority.

In the meantime, a simple step to take is minimizing the time it takes to source replacement parts. While businesses can’t keep a duplicate of every part in inventory due to the financial strain of purchasing and storing each part, they can have contingency plans in place for when a part breaks down or need replacing as part of preventative maintenance.

There are tons of industrial parts in stock across the United States, but it takes a single source, with satellite-like vision, to know where each part is located. Even some of the oldest legacy parts will exist somewhere, collecting dust in stock rooms, while a business a few states away is in desperate need for it as a replacement to a broken-down part. Networking is vital.

A tale of tenacity

For most manufacturers, downtime is the single largest source of lost production time. Therefore, receiving a replacement part sooner, rather than later, can save businesses hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Patrick Losure, account manager at EU Automation, covers the Illinois territory. Recently, one of his regular customers in the plastics industry was faced with a breakdown. A Siemens Simatic S7 programmable logic controller (PLC) needed replacing and fast. Every hour of downtime cost the business $4,000 in lost revenue — ouch.

Using EU Automation’s network of parts suppliers, Patrick located the nearest replacement in Illinois. It turned out one of EU Automation’s network had the part in stock. 

Rather than depending on courier services to retrieve this part, which would have taken longer and therefore cost the plastic business huge sums of money in lost revenue, he got in his car and drove three hours to south Chicago to obtain the part.

From here, he brought the part back to the EU Automation warehouse, for validation and checks, before driving it to the plastics business. When Patrick arrived, his customer was overjoyed, and even took a picture with him to capture the moment of relief.

What’s the moral of the story?  Downtime costs are at the mercy of tenacity. The right parts are out there, they just need to be guided to the right destinations.

This anecdote represents the much wider need for businesses to join the web of industrial parts — a web that far surpasses the 80-ft web of the Darwin’s bark spiders. Joining is easy. Simply contact EU Automation on 877-830-2021.

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