We are well into the midst of a fourth industrial revolution with initiatives like Smart Manufacturing and Industry 4.0, depending on which side of the Atlantic you reside. Smart Manufacturing aspires to what has been called the “smart factory.”
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Within modular structured smart factories, cyber-physical systems monitor physical processes, create a virtual copy of the physical world, and optimize a complex web of decentralized decisions and orchestrated processes across multiple departments. Over the Internet of Things, cyber-physical systems communicate and cooperate with each other and with humans in real time via the Internet of Services. Both internal and cross-organizational services are offered and used by participants of the “value chain” that, in turn, provide a valuable product along with services to the market. This ubiquitous networking of people, objects, and machines is leading to entirely new production environments, supply chain processes, and efficiencies heretofore unimagined.
How Smart Manufacturing Addresses Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul (MRO)
Advanced robotics, 3D printing, and knowledge automation are examples of where Smart Manufacturing is going, driven by the forces of digitization. The discussion of where the digital thread will be used by manufacturing has often excluded the more mundane processes such as maintenance, repair, and overhaul (MRO). In a recent column in Composites World, Dr. Leslie Cohen makes the point that “the digital thread goes from conceptual design through detail design and into manufacturing and MRO.”
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Indeed, it does. The implementation of Industry 4.0 or Smart Manufacturing is having a profound effect on MRO processes, as the use of data from advanced sensors and process control through intelligent components is also influencing maintenance processes. These technologies are enabling manufacturers to extend new maintenance services along with their products.
Example: Product Lifecycle Digital Records
The “as-built” digital data collected during production can continue its life along with the physical product into “as-maintained” records. These digital records help minimize downtime and optimize the timing of maintenance services for each product unit depending on its usage and maintenance history. Further, other “Smart” technologies such as augmented reality and speech control promise to speed and simplify MRO processes by displaying essential information (e.g., charts, graphs, instructions) in the technician’s field of vision or speaking it directly to the worker while he or she is performing the work.
In Smart Manufacturing, MRO systems will make it possible to execute all the administration, planning, and organization of operation and maintenance work, including documentation, in a single integrated system. This means that any changes due to service bulletins and maintenance operations will be communicated through the digital thread, in real time, to both engineering and services departments. Safety will also be improved through “virtual training” that also optimizes maintenance work.
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