How preventative maintenance is shaping the production process

Whilst artificial intelligence doesn’t provide all the predictive solutions for production line issues, it can aid humans when it comes to taking action ahead of a major breakdown. In this article we’ll be exploring the role and effect of preventative maintenance in food production, which is consistently evolving thanks to increasing advances in artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning. 

Line managers are now able to use complex digital models to foresee when and where a line or specific piece of industrial food production equipment is likely to break down before it has the opportunity to do so. This will save businesses a lot of time and money in repair costs and preventing any downtime. 

Many large companies in the industry feel that some of the technology is already here, and food manufacturers are capable of starting to introduce the systems that are needed to future-proof their factories with automated monitoring. Human error will likely be reduced by removing the responsibility of equipment failure predictions from the workers. Also, the process of ordering spare parts can be automated at the same time, which frees up staff time for other tasks. 

The human touch 

That’s not to say that humans should be completely removed and replaced with AI. No matter how much technology is used, and data collected to try and avoid possible machine breakdowns, people still need to be involved.  

Whether it is having someone to interpret what the data means, manufacturing engineers or process engineers that can help your operation become more efficient, humans will always need to be part of the food manufacturing industry. Just knowing a part of the production line isn’t functioning properly doesn’t mean that the AI knows how to fix it. 

However, not everyone in the manufacturing sector agrees that the technology behind preventative maintenance has taken off in such a large-scale way. Some people feel that food manufacturers are only taking the first steps towards integrating predictive systems into their factories, and that some caution is necessary when approaching AI. 

Starting the maintenance journey 

For some manufacturers, getting the data collection right is the first step. This will then work as a stepping stone towards introducing an effective preventative maintenance programme. There is a feeling that the industry is still some years away from every food factory having the ability to fix mechanical and electrical problems with food processing equipment before they happen. 

By getting good accurate data collection in place and solid schedules for planned maintenance, it’ll be at that point where you can start to see what elements need to change before they fail. 

No matter where individual food and drink processors are in their preventative maintenance journey, there’s no doubt that being able to predict the future will have tangible benefits. 

Benefits of preventative maintenance 

There are said to be at least three benefits of having predictive or preventative maintenance in a food factory, depending on what role you work in. Firstly, and the most obvious benefit is if a machine is fixed before it has a more serious breakdown, then the maintenance and overall costs will be less. As previously mentioned, with advanced warning of a problem, you can be more cost effective and minimise any lost production opportunities by scheduling around downtime. 

The benefits span beyond just saving money and downtime though, one of the most important advantages to preventative maintenance is safety. For example, when large industrial machines break down, people can potentially get injured. This is because you’re five times more likely to have an accident when carrying out emergency maintenance to get something fixed quickly, rather than planned maintenance where you can take your time and not rush. 

Another important benefit is reducing the negative impact unplanned maintenance can have on the environment. It’s less common in the food industry, but still to some degree, when you have unexpected disruptions in your production, environmental releases can occur, including greenhouse gases, and water pollutants. This problem can be easily avoided if it’s circumvented by a predictive AI system. 

Final thoughts 

Even though there are some contrasting opinions and views on how ready the food industry is to welcome AI and preventative maintenance systems into their factories, it’s difficult to deny or ignore the practical benefits they can bring to manufacturing processes. 

If you need help and support with planning and managing your various processes and projects in the food industry, contact FESS Group today. Our team of production engineering consultants have extensive knowledge, experience, and resources to ensure your business is running as effectively and safely as possible to achieve your overall aims and objectives. Contact us today to find out more. 


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