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Looking ahead to a ‘smart’ future!

13 December, 2017

Smart Machines & Factories spoke to Board members of the British Compressed Air Society (BCAS) to discuss Industry 4.0 and the smartening process within the compressed air industry.

With the growing push for businesses to aspire to a smart engineering vision, there is little doubt that the 'smartening' process of manufacturing is going to change the face of global industry forever. David Gillies, Ingersoll Rand UK & Ireland Country Leader – Sales & Service, says significant developments have been made in the industry over the past 12-18 months including advancements in remote monitoring, use of modelling in R&D and rules based analytics. He adds that major challenges continue to include cyber security, employee skills, clear use of data, lack of standards and speed of change. Compressed air users, according to Gillies, will see significant benefits including greater productivity, increased efficiency and reliability as the industry accelerates progress in this regard.

Mark Ranger, Oil-Free Air Business Manager, at Atlas Copco believes that Industry 4.0 now has a greater exposure and understanding across the wider manufacturing spectrum. The challenge is now, he explains, is to integrate intelligent remote monitoring technology within customer/end user visualisation packages such that the user benefits from the suite of technology enhancements available” Without doubt the compressed air user will ultimately gain through better operational efficiency and system reliability, whereby his compressed air provider has the potential to offer continuous productivity improvement, without compromising his compressed air supply and quality.”

However Tony Wilson, Business Unit Manager, Parker Hannifin Manufacturing Limited, is concerned that the industry is only just waking to the potential opportunities of Industry 4.0. He highlights that traditionally manufacturers in the compressed air industry have a development resource based heavily around mechanical engineering and are not necessarily equipped to develop "IoT" technologies. Also many end users, according to him, will be unable integrate such technologies into their customers facilities without major cost/ infrastructure upgrade/ training (distributors may also need to employ engineers from adjacent industries, not their traditional mechanical engineers).

James Maziak, managing director of Maziak Compressed Services reiterates this sentiment by commenting that the biggest challenge will be to get people to invest in new machinery that is capable of communication with new BMS/Industry 4 control systems.

The Smart era

Many in the compressed air industry believe the Smart era will change the industry.

But as Gillies says the use of IIoT and big data analytics has the potential to increase the productivity and efficiency of how we develop, operate and service our customers compressed air systems: “The implementation of smart devices is a part of our everyday individual lives and this change is also starting to occur with industrial customers. Speed of product development, increase in service responsiveness, maintenance intervals based on real time analytics versus rule based time intervals and how our customers access information will provide substantial benefits to our customers in improving the overall operation of their compressed air systems (asset availability, efficiency, reduced costs, etc)”

Ranger believes the ‘smart era’ will drive faster response times, whether via human or intelligent system intervention, or a combination of both. It is conceivable, he explains, that routine service interventions could be undertaken remotely from the customer premises in the not too distant future: “3D and 4D remote visualisation software and tooling technology is already out there, it won’t be long before the compressed air industry looks at how this technology can be used.”

Mark Scot, at Compressed Air Solutions emphasises that the Smart era will particularly affect servicing: “Having the ability for the incumbent service provider to dial into an installation and control/interrogate the equipment offer huge savings to the end user. With this type of feature not only is there the prospect of eliminating expensive callouts, but it can also reduce travel which taken as a whole reduces our carbon emissions.”

Colin Mander, Regional Director, Industrials Group, Gardner Denver, also believes that preventive maintenance will be easier ”with compressors fitted with service indicators that will be sent messages to the provider’s phones/tablets so you are aware of maintenance requirements”.

Maziak also highlights that remote monitoring and telemetry in the industry is becoming more prevalent, and because of this service, suppliers can be more proactive regarding condition monitoring (Oil levels, bearing temperatures) and therefore can be more proactive in their maintenance and overhaul planning.

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