EXPERT INTERVIEW

Digitalization is Not Simply a Set of Solutions You Can Buy

The digital transformation of industrial processes is currently driving the next generation of asset management solutions that are destined to be intelligent, automated and cost-efficient. Nevertheless, the transition from current processes to Industry 4.0 compliant, fully digital approaches to asset management is a challenging task. It entails changes in the technological infrastructure, the asset management processes and the business management of industrial organizations. Yet it also provides a host of competitive advantages and opportunities that organizations should be looking to capitalize on, despite what skeptics may say. As an asset management business leader with more than three decades of experience in maintenance, reliability and operations, Tim White offers a unique first-hand perspective on digitalization. In our conversation he highlights the key opportunities and shares best practice examples, of how it can bring real value to organizations.

INTERVIEW PETER MUNSON

Mr. White, almost everywhere we look in our professional and personal lives, we can see amazing examples of digital solutions and processes that have transformed how we live and work. Still, there are many skeptics who view digitalization merely as a buzzword or a gimmick. Then there are those who don’t yet fully understand digitalization, but realize the need to have it. What advice would you give to both of these groups about why digitalization is important and how they should approach it?

When you look at the underlying fundamentals of digitalization, you realize that it’s anything but a buzzword or gimmick. Take, for example, Amazon. The company has completely reshaped the way we buy products and services today. It has achieved this solely through the use of digital tools. That includes everything from its customer-facing websites and the digital tools used at its fulfillment centers to the advanced analytics used to provide specific customer insights and optimize productivity. However, digitalization is not simply a set of solutions you can buy. It’s a new way of doing business by integrating a wide range of tools to optimize your business processes and insights. The first step to implementation is to evaluate your existing processes, and identify complex areas that are often repeated and require a huge amount of human interaction. Then look at how you can use this new digital technology to automate or make tasks simpler to execute and more efficient.

In terms of asset performance management, particularly in maintenance and reliability, how effective is it at capitalizing on available digital opportunities?

There are varying levels of implementation and success within maintenance and reliability, but I’m amazed by the number of sites that haven’t yet taken advantage of digital opportunities. I regularly see sites where maintenance personnel and operators still capture work order and inspection notes on paper, and pay an administrator to type or scan these documents into their systems of record. Not only are they missing out on the efficiencies of using a computer, but, more importantly, the power of data and data transparency to drive actions and decisions. By contrast, those that have taken the step have gained a significant competitive advantage because of the efficiencies and insights digitalization affords them.

For organizations seeking to catch up, where do you recommend they start?

Successful companies don’t start by deciding to buy a certain software tool. They start by defining the main issue(s) they want to address, as identified by their overall business analysis process and resulting objectives. Then you need to define what success will look like and work towards meeting those goals. After an organization can see a few wins, they become believers. When deciding what issues to address, it’s common for a business to focus on maintenance savings. But instead you should focus on overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) improvement. This is where the biggest payback will come from and, ultimately, maintenance cost as a percentage of manufactured units sold will decrease too.

Tim White, Principal at T.A. Cook, is an asset management business leader with over three decades of experience in maintenance, reliability, and operations. Before coming to T.A. Cook, Tim was the Director of Reliability-Based Maintenance at Valaris, with responsibility for optimizing the maintenance and availability of the company’s offshore drilling assets. In his roles there, Tim tapped into the power of digitalization to optimize the company’s maintenance and reliability program, realizing multi-million-dollar savings and additional revenue streams.

Tim came to embrace the power of digitalization and operations technology from a position of extensive field and management experience in maintenance and reliability. He started his career as a machinist in the U.S. Navy, before advancing through technical and leadership roles. As such, Tim’s view of digitalization is deeply practical and grounded in the realities and challenges faced by leaders in the asset-intensive industries. Tim’s digitalization and operations technology projects have centered on harnessing the power of data and analytics to reduce costly and ineffective preventive maintenance actions, to enhance decision-making capabilities, and to improve asset availability and effectiveness. He did much of this in an off-shore environment where data quality, connectivity, and the distributed nature of assets represented more significant obstacles than those faced by most plants.

Tim White, Principal at T.A. Cook, is an asset management business leader with over three decades of experience in maintenance, reliability, and operations. Before coming to T.A. Cook, Tim was the Director of Reliability-Based Maintenance at Valaris, with responsibility for optimizing the maintenance and availability of the company’s offshore drilling assets. In his roles there, Tim tapped into the power of digitalization to optimize the company’s maintenance and reliability program, realizing multi-million-dollar savings and additional revenue streams.

Tim came to embrace the power of digitalization and operations technology from a position of extensive field and management experience in maintenance and reliability. He started his career as a machinist in the U.S. Navy, before advancing through technical and leadership roles. As such, Tim’s view of digitalization is deeply practical and grounded in the realities and challenges faced by leaders in the asset-intensive industries. Tim’s digitalization and operations technology projects have centered on harnessing the power of data and analytics to reduce costly and ineffective preventive maintenance actions, to enhance decision-making capabilities, and to improve asset availability and effectiveness. He did much of this in an off-shore environment where data quality, connectivity, and the distributed nature of assets represented more significant obstacles than those faced by most plants.

How would you carry out a maintenance and reliability focused digital project that would yield an OEE improvement?

First, you need to identify any production critical assets with mechanical availability problems. Next, conduct a failure mode and effects analysis (FMEA) to identify how those items could fail and the effects that would cause, particularly in terms of lost production from throughput, availability and quality impacts. From the FMEA, identify the dominant failure modes and mitigations to address them. Historically, these mitigations have been time-based preventative maintenance tasks such as inspections or the replacement of worn parts. They have also included condition monitoring rounds including vibration monitoring or oil analysis. There’s a wealth of data that can be used to help. Companies are usually sitting on a host of process data that has been collected yet is almost never used for maintenance and reliability purposes. Advanced analytics can also be applied to identify potential failures and provide automated alerts and notifications to proactively address these issues before production is affected. This can provide a significant return on investment as well as a focused scope for piloting digital tools.

Often an organization doesn’t know where to start on its digital journey. There are so many different vendor and software choices. It can be daunting and cause skepticism. What should an organization do to overcome these issues?

In fact, there is a wide range of digital technologies on the market, but not all of them fit to every company and bring the desired result. Therefore, a structured approach to digital transformation is important, in which concrete goals should be set and clearly communicated at the beginning. This has the advantage that the actual goal and the associated benefits become tangible for everyone involved in the company. In order to give companies orientation in the jungle of digital solutions and to define strategically relevant fields of action, T.A. Cook has developed the ‘Digital Visioning Workshop’.

Some companies are getting started with the basics of the digitalization process already, such as simple mobile solutions for operators and maintenance personnel. Yet, many managers don’t feel that simply by providing staff with tablets in this way makes much of a difference. What would you tell them are the benefits of using mobile solutions?

When I hear that a mobile solution isn’t making much of a difference, it usually means the upfront work hasn’t been completed. What was the expectation of the initiative? What does success look like? What metrics will be tracked to show that success? Implementing a mobile solution just for the sake of it is like throwing mud against a wall and seeing what sticks. There are many ways to realize benefits from using mobile devices. For example, your maintenance department will spend more value-added time making repairs because the right information is available while executing the maintenance. Supervisors can also spend more time in the field due to a reduction of administrative tasks. In addition, craft workers can save travel time because they don’t have to return to the shop for their next assignment. All of these add up to one of two factors. If you haven’t optimized your equipment availability, these efficiencies enable more maintenance work to drive greater production and revenue. If you have, then these efficiencies can be translated into maintenance fixed cost savings. The benefit goes far beyond just efficiency, though. Once users fully adopt the mobile solution, they can capture more and better data to drive analytical and decision-making processes. Instead of typing out work order notes at the end of their shift, technicians can now write up their notes as the job is completed. What’s more, they can capture specific data points at the job site that would rarely be included at shift-end.

One important issue that gives many organizations pause for thought is data quality. They feel that they won’t get much out of digitalization because their data quality isn’t good enough. That’s because they haven’t aligned their processes and systems to improve opportunities to capture more and better data. How can they solve this problem?

Data quality is important. In some cases, cleaning up master data may be an enabler for digital solutions. In other cases, tools such as natural language processing can be used to interpret existing data. It doesn’t have to all be fixed at once, though. Processes can be defined on how to collect and clean existing master data over time. New initiatives should also have strategy sessions at the outset to define what new data will look like. Good data governance is a key priority.

So, how does this all come together? Give us an example of an organization that has started this digital journey and derived tangible benefits?

A corn milling plant wanted to move from a time-based approach to maintenance to an online predictive analytics program. The goal was to reduce the intrusive maintenance so that machines weren’t required to come out of service as much. The analytics was applied across the balance of all machinery. In the first year after the two-year implementation had been completed, plant capacity was increased from 92% of defined nameplate to 117%, increasing gross revenue by $30MM per year. In another instance, an offshore drilling company had to perform two and a half-year special periodic surveys on its vessels. Each inspection would take the vessel out of service for 10 to 14 days, equating to a lost revenue opportunity of $5 to $7MM. A solution was implemented to replace the inspection divers with miniature remote operated vehicles that streamed video back topside while they performed hull thickness inspections. The result was that each ship no longer had to stop their operation for the survey to be performed, increasing annual revenue by $70MM. Both of these examples show that digitalization can bring significant value, especially when there is a focus on improving OEE, and the groundwork is done properly to align the team defines the issues, goals and requirements to achieve them.

Peter Munson is Senior Manager and Global Expertise Lead for Maintenance at T.A. Cook. He has more than two decades of maintenance and operations experience in the aviation, utilities, facilities and petrochemical sectors. He served as a maintenance manager, operations manager and general manager in the United States Marine Corps, where he flew the KC-130 Hercules cargo aircraft. Since retiring, he has worked with a range of organizations to improve operations, and maintenance planning and execution. He is a Certified Maintenance and Reliability Professional and a Certified Reliability Engineer.

Contact: p.munson@tacook.com

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