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Improve Uptime Through Connected Equipment Infrastructures

Improve Uptime Through Connected Equipment Infrastructures

   Eric Rice

Improve Uptime Through Connected Equipment Infrastructures

Compared to other industries, the distribution and fulfillment (D&F) sector has been relatively slow to embrace industrial internet of things (IIoT) technologies. To be sure, our industry has a unique set of complexities, barriers to adoption and opportunity costs. But those distribution center (DC) operators who are waiting for the right time to make the leap to industry 4.0 risk falling short — and fast.

The reality is, DCs will need to adopt IIoT-enabled capabilities if operators want to be viable within the next three to five years, let alone the next decade. As e-commerce continuously ratchets up the pressure to reduce cycle times and delivery windows, consistent uptime is emerging as a true differentiator. At the same time, the industry is staring down the prospect of a generation of skilled service technicians retiring — with few qualified specialists poised to take their place.

More than ever, DCs need to limit their downtime through predictive maintenance strategies. That’s where industry 4.0 comes in. By building an IIoT-enabled infrastructure, operators can gain insights and capabilities that will keep their operations running efficiently, reliably and consistently.

Three steps to digital transformation

The lack of a strong business case, unfamiliarity with digital supply chain technologies and difficulties proving a return on investment (ROI) are often cited as key barriers to adopting IIoT programs in the D&F sector. But operators who elect to do nothing will increasingly find it difficult to compete against those DCs that have successfully connected their assets.

Here’s the good news: It doesn’t need to be all or nothing. Digital transformation is an iterative process. In fact, it’s better to start small with a strong business case and a clearly defined scope. By first launching a pilot project, operators can make course corrections without putting the entire operation at risk.

We generally recommend that operators take the following approach to creating a connected infrastructure:

Start with existing control system data. Most operators have ready access to hundreds of thousands of data points from their machine control systems. The key is to invest in the right software and analytics tools to derive value from all that data.

With the proper tools in hand, operators can view real-time performance metrics of their control systems. More importantly, they can receive email, text and mobile app notifications when operational issues arise. Armed with these insights, operators can not only triage immediate issues, they can also begin to identify and address root causes of recurring problems. 

Gradually expand data sources. As operators fine-tune their digital approaches, they can expand their data sources with condition sensors on equipment motors and gearboxes. By pairing vibration and temperature sensors with analytics software, machine-learning algorithms and artificial intelligence, operators can better detect and track performance deviations. This accrual of data becomes an early warning system for predicting and averting equipment and system failures.

Integrate prediction into maintenance processes. As their use of IIoT technology becomes more sophisticated, operators can gain a crucial edge by connecting analytics insights to other fulfillment technologies. For example, they can integrate one or more of these key enabling technologies with a connected DC infrastructure:

  • Computerized maintenance management system (CMMS)
  • Voice-directed maintenance and inspection technology
  • Augmented reality smart glasses for live troubleshooting

By transitioning to a true predictive maintenance model, operators can mitigate the service technician availability shortage and leverage data-driven insights to upskill their existing staff.

Connecting to the future

Whether you are looking to retrofit existing operations with IIoT technologies or integrate connectivity into a new DC, Honeywell Intelligrated has the technologies to build a more connected present and a more predictable future. Our Connected Assets offering is helping our customers enhance their operations today while laying the groundwork for ongoing, data-driven performance improvements. The results: improved uptime, continuous productivity gains and a healthier bottom line. 

For more details on how you can successfully harness IIoT technologies to limit unplanned downtime, read our On The Move article, "Connect to the Power of Predictive."

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