The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is still all the rage. But, most of all, IIoT lays the groundwork for the new trends and techniques that will revolutionise industrial maintenance by 2030. 

Industry 4.0 and IIoT: how are the early adopters faring?

Is IIoT just hype or is it really worth it? We don’t blame you for asking. Digital transformation is challenging for most companies, and requires a lot of reskilling efforts. It’s okay to be concerned, or even doubtful, which is why we looked it up for you. A recent study by McKinsey suggests that companies that implemented Industry 4.0 before the pandemic were better equipped to manage disruptions and respond to several scenarios. 

On the other hand, companies that lagged on Industry 4.0 found they didn’t have the right digital infrastructure to withstand shutdowns. And, adding insult to injury, they also found out how hard it is to implement new tech in the middle of a global pandemic. In short: investment in Industry 4.0 and IIoT paid off in 2020. Delaying it will only make it harder to catch up in the future.

Cue in advanced technology

“Advanced technology” is an umbrella term for every technology that still has very few users but shows a lot of promise. Think things like AI, speech recognition, virtual reality or 3D visualisation, for example. Despite being labelled as “immature”, advanced technology was already making a dent in industrial maintenance in 2020. In a survey, 17% of maintenance managers were applying some sort of advanced technology, and a further 47% intended to use it in the next 3 years. 

However, a recent study by McKinsey showed that the use of advanced technology in operations was accelerated 25 times due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As these technologies improve and become more accessible, we’ll witness a makeover of factories and plants as we know them, maintenance included. And, due to COVID-19, likely before 2030.

Close encounters with cloud-based analytics 

IIoT and advanced technology all contribute to automated data collection, which is stored in the cloud. These achievements have two immediate effects: better understanding of machine health and anticipation of breakdowns. In the survey we mentioned above, 70% of managers expected to use predictive maintenance to decrease downtime, while 60% were counting on reliability-centered maintenance

But that’s not the only close encounter industrial maintenance managers will have with cloud-based analytics. Apart from predicting failures, we’ll use data to model return on investment, performance, and quality. Sophisticated and accurate simulation software will then become a major problem-solving tool, allowing managers to improve their performance.  

📝 Read also: The role of Predictive Maintenance in enhancing manufacturing plant safety

New industrial maintenance subscription and pay-per-use models

New technologies undoubtedly pave the way for new business models in industrial maintenance and technical assistance. IIoT-powered machines can send updates to manufacturers, triggering assistance and maintenance requests when performance levels drop or failures occur. This is not only a deeper move into condition-based maintenance territory, but an alternative maintenance model altogether. 

Subscription-based industrial maintenance and repairs will offer “Maintenance as a Service”, or MaaS. Some manufacturers may lease equipment or establish pay-per-use schemes. This is most exciting for smaller companies or those that are not able to afford expensive smart technology, because it will allow them to stay “in the game” without compromising their budget. 

The age of virtual repairs and augmented reality

It’s impossible to conceive the future of industrial maintenance without imagining what the “plant of the future” looks like. As businesses start to rely on remote work to remain resilient and flexible, it might feel like maintenance is the one area that’s staying a little behind. But not for much longer! By the end of the decade, manufacturers and vendors will use augmented reality to train shop floor workers on everything from safety to equipment settings. 

More experienced staff can also use this technology to oversee several locations or provide virtual assistance – virtual repair oversight. It’s an invitation to remote maintenance and decentralised repairs, and you’ll be happy to know companies like Boeing are already applying it successfully.  

A match made in heaven: additive manufacturing meets maintenance

Additive manufacturing (perhaps better known as “3D Printing”) will be used to print replacement parts immediately. As soon as a technician notices a failure – or the machine diagnoses one! – they can print a new part and replace it. 

This is a game-changer in more ways than one, starting with better stock management. Managers can finally start to relax about under and overstocking, picking some parts over others due to space constraints. But, most of all, additive manufacturing will bring us just that much closer to the ultimate goal of zero downtime. And that’s what it has always been about, right?