Predictive maintenance and smart glasses take the stage in MRO

MRO Predictive Maintenance Technology

These technologies promise to improve MRO efficiencies while reducing costs and downtime quite noticeably.

How plants and warehouses operate is changing every day. There are no great revelations in that statement. However, the real revelations are in the unseen consequences of those daily changes when it comes to MRO. What will it take going forward to keep those facilities humming along at ever more demanding throughput levels? Not to mention cope with the constant shifts in how equipment assets are deployed.

Or the expanding role of automation to cope with labor shortages. Clearly, reactive and preventive maintenance practices are unlikely to be sufficient going forward. The early days of nextgen MRO technologies such as predictive maintenance and smart glasses are here. But only for the most advanced of companies. As Mike Weinberg of Synovos points out in this NextGen Supply Chain interview, roughly 70% of companies don’t even have a list of their assets.

“Not only don’t they have basic information,” says Weinberg, “but they haven’t identified their asset hierarchy with the parts needed to maintain their assets.” That’s a problem when hard data about every asset is essential to a predictive maintenance program. At its essence, predictive maintenance is real-time maintenance. Instead of waiting for equipment to break or maintaining it to a preset schedule, predictive maintenance occurs only when needed.

In other words, only the specific section of conveyor that requires maintenance is maintained today. Nothing more. Nothing less. The general outcome is minimum downtime, maximum equipment efficiency at the lowest cost and with the least disruption. That’s in stark contrast to predictive maintenance that typically requires an entire section of a facility to be down for a time that can interfere with expected throughput levels.
People such as Kevin Reader of system supplier Knapp focus on the potential to reduce operating costs with predictive maintenance. He talks about a German grocer that has been using predictive maintenance for three years in seven DCs. The overall goal, says Reader, was to reduce operating costs by 3%. Without revealing the actual number, Reader says that goal has been exceeded. Just to reiterate, that’s more than a 3% savings in overall operating costs across seven DCs with the advent of predictive maintenance.

Like other nextgen technologies, predictive maintenance doesn’t just happen. To know what needs attention requires an extensive database. And that database is built with the use of sensors and a network such as an Internet of Things (IoT) to collect and manage that data. Then the data has to be analyzed to determine exactly what requires maintenance and when.
Predictive maintenance is a complementary nextgen technology to CMMS – computerized maintenance management systems. CMMS manages the history of equipment assets as well as spare parts and repair and operations supplies. In addition, CMMS tracks maintenance costs and executes work orders.

Some see CMMS becoming an even more valuable tool when the data from predictive maintenance programs are fed into it. There’s also the matter of having the right technician working on the work order he or she is best suited to. Knapp’s Reader says, “if you know what needs repair and specifically what that is beforehand, it’s much easier to assign the right technician to the job.”

Unfortunately, matching the right maintenance person to the job at hand is not always easy, especially without predictive maintenance. Too few operations have on staff highly trained maintenance people ready to step in with just a moment’s notice. However, smart glasses are starting to change that dynamic.

Smart glasses typically combine a video camera, augmented reality, microphone and a bar code scanner. They are lightweight, mobile, wearable hands-free, facilitating repairs even if the technician is inexperienced. With a WiFi or Bluetooth connection, an experienced remote technician sees what the on-site person sees and guides the repair using augmented reality and voice directions. The augmented reality capability allows that remote technician to supply much more information than previously possible to expedite the repair.

Smart glasses are a lot like the iPhone’s FaceTime. And fortunately, they are not plagued with the same drawbacks as were the original Google glasses. As a result, smart glasses are taking off. According to Lance Anderson of smart glasses supplier Vuzix, his company has more than 500 active deployments globally. David Krebs of VDC Research sees the total number of glasses in MRO applications in the “hundreds of thousands” by 2021. Clearly, predictive maintenance and smart glasses are a long way from today’s world of skeleton asset databases. At the same time, these two nextgen technologies are already gaining notice for how they can mitigate the unseen consequences of rapidly changing supply chain facilities.

Gary Forger is the special projects editor for Supply Chain Management Review. He can be reached at