Pros and cons of different approaches for fixed and variable maintenance scheduling
Let’s first outline the context.
- What do we mean by remote assets?
- Why would you want to monitor them? How often?
- Why is scheduled maintenance needed? How often?
- What is IOT and it’s role in the context of remote asset monitoring for customer service?
Okay, we gave a hint. The goal and the theme is customer service of assets (mostly capital goods located in remote locations).
Examples of such remote assets are: Telecom towers, Diesel Gensets, Solar panels, ATMs, Chiller plants, PSA Oxygen plants. These are expensive capital goods, cause service disruption when non-functional and require varying degrees of monitoring to check functioning at optimal levels.
Types of asset health monitoring and variable maintenance scheduling
Scheduled monitoring can take two forms: fixed interval or varying interval. Let me explain this with couple of examples.
Fixed maintenance scheduling
Let’s say you maintain inverters with batteries. The led acid batteries need to be physically checked once in 3 months (let us say)- for water level, corrosion of the terminals and so on. So, your service CRM will need to create a fixed schedule of visits of the service technicians. And, of course, assign the visits to the appropriate resources in your team.
Variable maintenance scheduling
On the other hand, let us take your car. Let’s say the annual maintenance schedule is (duh) 12 months OR (and here’s the catch) 10,000 KM of running, whichever is earlier. So, if you are just using the car to commute 20 KM per day just to go to office and back, it is unlikely that you will need to get the car serviced before the year is over. However, this won’t be the case if your commute per day is 100 KM or more. Then, within six months or less, your car will require to be serviced.
I guess you get the difference between fixed and variable maintenance scheduling.
Practical challenge in fixed and variable maintenance scheduling
Let me now outline a practical challenge for an unmonitored fixed asset which needs to be maintained at an interval which can vary with usage- like that of the car. The car is monitored- the owner can check the odometer any time, but for many equipment, installed in remote locations, it is not possible to monitor usage.
Which are those? It is safe to say any equipment with moving parts- gears, pulleys, pistons etc – in them, are those that require servicing at varying intervals like the car. So, if any such equipment is installed in a remote location, we face challenges in scheduling maintenance. Because, we do not have up to date data on “run-hour” or mileage.
To solve the problem of gathering run hour data from remote assets, various approaches have been tried. IOT (Internet Of Things) is gaining in popularity. This is basically a remote device- fixed to the asset being monitored- which communicates the parameters of the asset over the telecom network to a central computer. This can be monitored centrally and maintenance can be scheduled when the target run hour is approaching.
The problem with IOT is of course that it is expensive- though the cost will hopefully come down. It depends on the cost of the asset being maintained and the cost of a visit to check status. If the asset is expensive and the manpower required to maintain it is expensive as well, it makes sense to implement a IOT based monitoring strategy.
Algorithmic fixed and variable maintenance scheduling
As discussed, IOT based variable maintenance scheduling can be expensive. But, fortunately, we can use algorithmic scheduling which can substitute for IOT based scheduling with a good amount of accuracy at no cost.
We use moving averages and past run rates to extrapolate in to the future. Basically, we capture run hours on every visit to the site, calculate the run rate and project when the next maintenance should be due.
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