Maintenance Predictive Maintenance Reliability

Design Your Pilot For Success

EP Editorial Staff | April 8, 2021

A PdM pilot must make an impact on leadership by removing any doubt of the potential gains that will be missed if the solution is not embraced.

Answering three questions gives you the best chance to scale your pilot project.

By Justin Lesley, Motion

Industry 4.0 concepts will fundamentally change how manufacturing and industrial businesses operate, and technology adoption is accelerating across the world as you read this. One of the most impactful sectors of the movement is predictive maintenance (PdM), which is enabled through continuous collection and analysis of machine performance data. Most of us are familiar with the PdM concept and have likely begun to utilize some form of the technology already. Are you realizing the full potential of PdM by changing your day-to-day practices based on the insights derived from machine data?

All new technology should be vetted thoroughly and used in parallel with existing procedures before making a large-scale change in maintenance and reliability practices. Nobody wins if you bet the farm on something that doesn’t work properly or isn’t well-suited for a specific application or environment. That’s why pilot programs are generally conducted in relatively small and controlled settings before large-scale initiatives are rolled out. Following are questions to ask and answer before designing a pilot program:

Are you starting with the end in mind?

Before piloting a PdM solution, your team should conduct a meticulous review of its technical specifications. Let’s assume we are investigating a wireless vibration-monitoring solution. Among other things, you’ll need to learn about the wireless-communication protocol and range, the number of sensors that one gateway can support, and the battery life expectancy of sensors/devices (if applicable).

The goal is to understand what it will take to monitor equipment across an entire facility. How many sensors / repeaters / gateways will it take to cover the applicable assets? Are communication infrastructures such as Wi-Fi or Ethernet required? Have cybersecurity concerns been addressed? The technical functionality is the main purpose of this exercise, but equally important is the financial projection of a large implementation. What is the cost of installing and commissioning the system? What maintenance will be involved, e.g., changing batteries? Are there ongoing fees associated with connectivity or support?

Is the pilot properly scoped?

As noted above, technology vetting should be primarily completed before the pilot begins. The overriding purpose of a pilot is to obtain buy-in from stakeholders so you can expand the program. To do that, you need to document the financial impact of addressing failing assets before they turn into catastrophic breakdowns that interrupt production. Too many pilots fail to accomplish this critical goal because they were not designed with the proper scope. A successful pilot must cover a minimum critical mass of assets, it must last for a reasonable amount of time, and it must be in a high-visibility/high-value portion of the production facility.

Monitoring one 5-hp electric motor that powers an auxiliary function for two weeks is an example of a pilot that doesn’t stand a chance at scaling up. Well-meaning PdM champions who present a pilot such as this will be met with a firm “so what?” response from leadership when they review the pretty graphs of neat, consistent data collected from the sensor.

A PdM pilot must make an impact on leadership by removing any doubt of the potential gains that will be missed if the solution is not embraced. All applications are different, but a loose rule of thumb for PdM pilots is 10 to 50 high-impact, high-visibility assets for three to six months. This allows everyone involved to see variability in performance data and direct failure trends from sensor data. Any anomaly in the data must be acted on swiftly, and the financial impact of minimizing downtime must be documented and included in the pilot’s review.

Answering some basic questions will help you set up a PdM pilot project that will successfully scale to system-wide implementation.

How will full implementation change your day-to-day maintenance practices?

The most critical variable that will determine a PdM program’s success or failure is the mindset taken by leadership. It’s common to see a three-phase evolution of how PdM initiatives are perceived among industrial management. Initially, these efforts are purely seen as an expense. This is certainly reasonable as it does take time, money, and other resources to procure, install, commission, and manage the data-collection devices that are the foundation of a PdM program. It could take six months to a year to move out of phase one.

The second phase (the one in which most companies get stuck) is to perceive PdM initiatives as insurance. In this phase, traditional maintenance practices must continue, completely unaffected by the PdM technology being used unless a finding warrants specific action. That means routes continue, reporting standards don’t change, and staffing / human resources remain the same. PdM solutions are simply running in parallel, and their only purpose is to prevent catastrophic machine failure. Again, this is completely reasonable during the early-to-medium stages of a reliability transformation, and phase two could last for years.

The third phase is viewing the program as a powerful investment that produces valuable returns. Organizations in phase three recognize that it’s more efficient to use sensors to track asset performance than to perform manual inspections. They also understand that monitoring a higher percentage of assets creates more opportunities to proactively address issues based on condition rather than run time. In short, an investment approach to PdM leads decision makers to transform their maintenance and reliability practices and realize substantial returns on their investments.

Implementing technology solutions within manufacturing and industrial organizations isn’t easy, especially when teams are entrenched in traditional practices. It’s important to understand this truth and do what we can to set ourselves up for success during our journey toward a predictive-maintenance culture. PdM isn’t about spending a lot of money on fancy gadgets or creating extra work for an already overburdened maintenance team. It certainly isn’t about keeping things the same.

It’s a transformational process that seeks to leverage modern technology solutions to such that they have a positive impact on operations. It’s about maximizing production uptime in the most efficient way possible. If you’re preparing to begin your journey toward a predictive-maintenance culture, make sure you start with the end in mind, properly scope your pilot efforts, and allow the insights derived to change your day-to-day operations for the better. EP

Justin Lesley, Industry 4.0 Innovation Manager at Motion, Birmingham, AL (, directs IIoT strategy and partnerships related to the MRO industry. His career centers on operational efficiency supported by his Lean Manufacturing and Six Sigma certifications, combined with his engineering credentials. Lesley guides manufacturers along their digital-transformation journey by helping them implement connected, predictive-maintenance solutions.


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