For decades, in-house maintenance staff numbers have been in decline, thanks to business financial restructuring, reallocation of resources and, of course, that diminishing pool of skilled maintenance engineers and technicians. Where once an organisation was able to call upon a well-equipped and skilled team of in-house professionals to oversee both planned and unplanned maintenance operations, these tasks are now more likely to be in the hands of a third party – usually an onsite contractor who may lack the insights and competence of a highly experienced in-house team, but who, nevertheless, must work harmoniously with operational staff to help keep machines and processes running smoothly.
If the issues surrounding onsite maintenance contractors are likely to pose problems, then a somewhat less ‘invasive’ approach (if, indeed, contractors are viewed as ‘invaders’) is to move them offsite, but keep them in touch with operations via nothing more than an Internet connection. This is termed ‘remote monitoring’ – a method by which all the condition monitoring data from a plant is logged, collated using a proprietary software system and transmitted over the Internet to a remote location where a team of maintenance experts can analyse machine performance and issue remedial advice or recommend site visits, as necessary. The advantage of this approach, thanks to the capability of the software and the volumes of data analysed, is a move towards a more predictive maintenance paradigm, which can have a significant impact on machine uptime and, therefore, a company’s productivity.
Thus far, remote monitoring has largely been the province of the marine, offshore oil & gas and wind energy sectors, where it is used to optimise the performance of a wide range of assets, from turbines to deck equipment. Data is gathered either by crew members or automatically captured and then transmitted to global data centres, where it is analysed by engineering and maintenance experts, who then provide equipment condition reports and recommendations for remedial action.