Automation Column

Companies Struggle To Digitize Maintenance

EP Editorial Staff | February 1, 2022

The year 2021 was challenging for most with trends and norms causing disruptions and opportunities.

Efforts toward
Industry/Manufacturing 4.0 have already been integrating digitization. However, social distancing, remote work, innovation, changing mindsets, and new business models have all affected plans. 

When I look at and refer to the evolution of reliability and maintainability (R&M) tools and technologies, I mean elements such as IIoT, big data, real-time data, prescriptive maintenance, wireless technology, mobile devices and apps, improved analytics, machine learning, collaborative robots, digital twins, digital models used to enable 3D printing, augmented reality, and higher levels of automation.

As I’ve stated often, implementation of R&M concepts and technologies is a sociotechnical journey. This means successful results are dependent on a balanced focus of organizational health (engaged workforce) and operational performance. Similarly, instilling digitalization is a journey, not an event. This journey requires a long-term strategy with a systematic perspective (plan) on the relationships between Industry 4.0 and TPM (Total Productive Maintenance) practices.

To better understand the overall digital-transformation movement, the Univ. of Tennessee Tickle College of Engineering (Center for Advanced Systems Research & Education), Univ. of Melbourne, the UT-Reliability and Maintainability Center, and numerous global contributors collaborated to develop a study titled the Digitization of Maintenance: International Report of Total Productive Maintenance and Industry 4.0.

The study focused on the widely known TPM approach and Industry 4.0. The survey studied the adoption level of 31 TPM practices and nine Industry 4.0 technologies from 335 international organizations. Examples of TPM practices included establishing standard operating procedures, standardizing autonomous maintenance checks, fostering operator ownership, applying 5S in office and work areas, and periodically evaluating and updating skills.

Fig. 1 shows the percentage of significant correlations between Industry 4.0 adoption and 31 TPM practices in developed economies.

As mentioned above, the Industry 4.0 technologies included were wireless sensors, IIoT, big data, cloud computing, remote control/monitoring, 3D printing, collaborative robots, machine/deep learning, and augmented reality/simulation. Data was compared by size of organization, emerging versus developing countries, years of TPM, level of technology in the sector, and how well the numerous TPM practices paired with the Industry 4.0 technologies (Fig. 1).

As would be expected, large organizations had a higher digitization adoption frequency (through both TPM and Industry 4.0).

Critical pairs (TPM practices and Industry 4.0 technologies) were identified so they could be prioritized toward improving digitization implementation. Four were TPM practices (fostering operator ownership, standardization of autonomous maintenance checks, constant search for next-generation technology, and setting 3M (machine/man/material) conditions. Internet of Things and big data showed significant correlations with TPM practices.

When looking at TPM practices in developed countries (Fig.2), there are fewer correlations than appear in emerging countries. This indicates potential skepticism and/or leaning toward more proven and practical methods in digitizing maintenance. Setting the conditions of materials, machines, and manpower was the only TPM practice that correlated with all nine Industry 4.0 technologies shown in Fig. 1. Depicted in Fig. 2 are all of the TPM practices that were correlated with at least five of the nine Industry 4.0 practices (56%).

Based on a follow-up study of 30 companies, representing more than two hundred facilities, digital technology adoption in North America is still relatively low (Fig. 3). When looking at individual technologies it’s not unusual to find 50% at “no adoption” and 0% at “full adoption.” Three percent of the 30 companies were 75% implemented, 17% were 50% implemented, and 30% were 25% implemented.

The study results will be discussed in more detail on the final day of the MARCON Training Symposium, which will be held virtually, March 8 to 10 ( The results of this study provide guidelines to suggest pairs of TPM practices and Industry 4.0 technologies that work well together toward implementation. As stated in the report: “This should allow the practitioners and decision makers in maintenance to prioritize their technological implementation efforts and TPM practice deployment toward the digitalization of maintenance.” EP

Based in Knoxville, Dr. Klaus M. Blache is director of the Reliability & Maintainability Center at the Univ. of Tennessee, and a research professor in the College of Engineering. Contact him at


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