Industry 4.0 provides optimal efficiency by connecting business processes to the latest emerging technologies and leveraging the Industrial Internet of Things to its fullest potential. Companies can become leaner, more agile, and more flexible with Industry 4.0.

The practices involved in Industry 4.0 put more of an emphasis on reliability engineers than ever before. The strongest reliability engineers utilize all available tools and technologies to reduce downtime and unexpected outages by creating more effective asset management practices.

What Are Reliability Engineers?

Reliability engineers play a major role in contemporary approaches to asset management. They’re responsible for identifying threats and using that information to build efficient maintenance practices. The Society of Reliability Engineers provides networking opportunities and develops best practices for professionals in the area.

Predictive maintenance solutions like SAP give reliability engineers the tools they need to optimize asset management and reduce costs throughout their organization. They work closely with other departments and decision makers to create practices that work for everyone involved.

Reliability engineering involves a wide range of skills, and the talent gap is a major obstacle for asset-centric businesses. Effective reliability engineers are in high demand as the rise of Industry 4.0 has changed the skill set needed to manage asset condition and risk.

Reliability, Availability, and Maintainability

Reliability Engineer

In maintenance settings, reliability is typically measured by the mean time between failure, or MTBF. Reliability engineers aim to keep that number as high as possible while using the maintenance budget efficiently and only performing maintenance as needed.

Maintainability, on the other hand, is determined by the mean time to repair (MTTR). Finally, availability represents the rate at which each asset adequately performs its intended role. Large intervals between failures and shorter periods of downtime after each outage lead to a higher availability percentage and more efficient asset management.

Industry 4.0

Industry 4.0 describes a wide range of logistics practices and technologies that are changing the ways in which companies gather data and perform maintenance. The Industrial Internet of Things is a central component in Industry 4.0, giving organizations access to actionable asset information in real time.

The rise of the IIoT and other emerging technologies is a unique opportunity to improve asset management efficiency, but it also provides new challenges for reliability engineers. Decision makers need to interpret data in new ways in order to take full advantage of the potential of Industry 4.0.

An Ongoing Process

The term “Industry 4.0” is less than ten years old, and it has arrived as a series of small, gradual changes rather than an immediate paradigm shift. Many companies are still too conservative to adapt to these rapid advances in technology, which have often been used more effectively in consumer areas.

It’s impossible to predict where Industry 4.0 will be in five or ten years, but asset-centric businesses need to stay updated with these developments and continue adapting their practices to the latest trends. While companies are often reluctant to make these changes, the truth is that Industry 4.0 responds to some of the most important pain points involved in asset management.

Emerging Technologies

Emerging Technologies

Industry 4.0 is driven by cutting-edge technologies that give businesses more control over their maintenance practices than ever before. These are three of the most important technologies involved in Industry 4.0.

Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT)

IoT devices are becoming more and more common in both consumer and business settings, and the IIoT is one of the most critical elements in the rise of Industry 4.0. Decreasing costs and increasing reliability have allowed businesses to use IIoT-connected sensors to collect real-time asset information which automatically integrates with maintenance solutions.

Robust IIoT implementation gives companies access to large quantities of data which can be analyzed and used to predict future failures. Predictive maintenance depends on the information made available by IIoT connectivity.

Digital Twins

Digital twin technology is one of the most exciting developments in Industry 4.0, allowing users to visualize digital representations of parts. This data can be integrated with SAP solutions like Digital Manufacturing, Product Lifecycle Management, S/4HANA Cloud, and Asset Intelligence Network.

Digital twins work with machine learning and information from the Internet of Things to help reliability engineers monitor real-time performance data and make more informed decisions. More and more manufacturers are moving to digital twin technology as they become aware of its benefits.

Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning

These two emerging technologies enable reliability engineers to interpret large quantities of data more effectively. It’s used in several SAP applications to make processes more efficient, and reliability engineers are responsible for leveraging this information in new ways.

Machine learning is especially valuable for predictive maintenance, using historical data to identify upcoming failures before they happen. This leads to lower maintenance costs and much lower unplanned downtime, getting more out of each asset.

Interview with Andy Gailey

Industry 4.0 Collaboration

Andy Gailey, Founding Director at Uptime Consultant Ltd., pointed out that predictive maintenance is at its best when a number of providers are able to cooperate effectively. Convincing decision makers of the benefits of Industry 4.0-based solutions therefore represents a key challenge for maintenance efficiency.

We asked Andy about the best ways for providers to approach new opportunities:

“Providers in the new technologies would be best advised to think about the ‘what’s in it for me’ when exploring opportunities…. They have to start at a problem and work backwards, find out the real pain point of a client, provide a solution.”

Adapting to Industry 4.0

Andy also noted other critical obstacles for Industry 4.0 including a lack of understanding, access and skills. Many company cultures will need to adapt dramatically in order to fully prepare for the changes brought about by Industry 4.0

Further, he identified a distinction between engineers working in reliability and Reliability Engineers and explained the changes that need to happen:

“Engineers involved in reliability (not Reliability Engineers!) are best placed to make a big difference if they have the support and purpose to investigate, test, and deploy solutions…. I believe engineers who are in maintenance positions or aimed at reliability need to reset their mindset and the early evidence from these new technologies shows that new ways of thinking are required.”

Future Changes

Companies are just beginning to scratch the surface of what can be accomplished with Industry 4.0, and Andy believes that these technologies have the potential to revolutionize maintenance practices:

“From a predictive engineering point the challenges are mouth watering as the opportunities are huge; it has the promise to provide massive benefits on all levels for those that engage with the applications and technology.”

Prescriptive Maintenance

On the other hand, the large-scale changes envisioned at the beginning of Industry 4.0 will likely take much longer to materialize:

“The ‘holy grail’ is prescriptive and is quietly talked about in predictive circles, personally I believe that is a long long way off.”

Prescriptive maintenance has the potential to eventually transform the way businesses approach asset condition. It leverages the power of AI and machine learning to not only identify maintenance trends, but also respond automatically with the best course of action.

The move toward prescriptive maintenance will require companies to focus more than ever on integration and data sharing. That said, it could be ten years or more before companies fully invest in prescriptive maintenance solutions and leave less advanced options behind.

Reliability has always been a concern for asset-centric businesses, but Industry 4.0 gives reliability engineers the tools they need to be more effective than ever before. These changes won’t happen overnight, but reliability engineers are clearly on the rise and likely to take on an even greater role in predictive maintenance strategies.