A shift towards predictive maintenance minimises downtime in manufacturing
The move from reactive maintenance to predictive maintenance is happening throughout many areas of industry. Construction uses sensors to monitor the structural health of buildings or how they react to certain conditions, in new constructions, but also with retrofitted sensors in historic buildings. The same is happening in other sectors such as monitors in utility networks (new and retrofitted), the automotive sector, the chemical industry and life sciences to name but a few.
One of the biggest benefits of a shift from reactive maintenance to predictive maintenance can be seen in the manufacturing industry which often uses complex machinery. A fault in machinery can lead to downtime which is a substantial ‘cost pressure’, so the downtime period must be as short as possible. Machines that contain sensors can be monitored, and a virtual ‘digital twin’ set up to be able to diagnose faults before they cause further faults and symptoms in the machine. The faults can then be remedied by engineers who know what is wrong before they visit the site – meaning they can bring any relevant parts, resulting in faster repairs. Sensors and complex analytical software can ensure a more streamlined manufacturing process, higher productivity and higher efficiency overall.
The main challenge with the use of sensors is that there has to be an efficient network for the sensors to feed this data into, such as the Internet of things (IoT) so to speak. GE, Siemens and Bosch have all weighed in to be part of the predictive maintenance research and development, as have many of the software giants such as Microsoft, IBM and Cisco. Predictive maintenance systems will eventually replace human detection using technology alone to diagnose any problems or faults in machinery. IoT Analytics – a leading IoT market analyst consultancy – predicts that the market for these applications will grow from $2.2 billion last year to $10.9 billion by 2022.
Tesla to go private?
Elon Musk is arguably a character like no other, so it is sometimes hard to read his thoughts on exactly what he says and whether it is serious or not. Recently, Musk put out a tweet saying that he was going to make Tesla a private company and float it on the stock exchange with the share price of $420 per share. Reportedly this would make the Tesla company worth $71 billion. Some questioned whether this was a piece of publicity, as 420 is a code for legalising cannabis in the US, but Musk has since confirmed that it is true. The tweet also stated that he has secured the funding required to do this.
It is not the first time that Musk has talked about making the company private, and there are many advantages of doing so. By turning Tesla from a public to a private company Musk and his team would have the power to keep certain information, including debt and production levels, staffing details, and any legal cases, private. Tesla has had issues in the past with competitors and the use of their information, and technology being leaked and used by competitors. The change would also allow Tesla to plan further into the future (more appropriate for the company’s work on renewables) , whereas at present they are required to plan and report on a quarterly basis, hitting quarterly targets, to report back to investors. This would mean that long term shareholders needs are better met, and the owners of the company would retain control of major decisions. The stock price of Tesla rose accordingly with the news, up 8% after Musk’s twitter post.
If Musk secures or indeed has secured the funding to buy out the remaining 80% of the company owned by shareholders, in order to make the company private, it will be the biggest leveraged buy-out in history.
The next generation of health monitoring wristbands
Fit-bits and similar worn devices are commonplace these days for keeping us informed of personal biometrics, like how well we slept, our heart rates and how far we have walked in a day amongst other things. The associated apps in our phone analyse this data, and tell us ‘how good our day has been for our wellbeing and fitness’.
Engineers at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey, have taken this a step further with an innovative, easily wearable piece of technology that can be added to existing wristband monitoring technology. The study that was published in ‘Microsystems and Nanoengineering’ involved the development of a technology that is capable of counting particles fed through a channel with a diameter less than that of a human hair.
This gives the wristband the ability to monitor both the environmental and biological conditions of the wearer. For instance, it can feed data into an app on a mobile phone about the amount of organic and inorganic particles in the air (particularly good for those who work in dusty atmospheres or live in heavily polluted cities), as well as counting blood cells and potential bacteria levels in the wearers body.
Medically, the device can save lives by taking real-time blood samples remotely through the wristband (the wristband makes pin pricks in the skin as needed then feeds the blood sample through the channel containing the biosensors). This information is then fed back wirelessly to the required device, usually an app on a phone, allowing monitoring of patients who may live in remote areas and this would also save time in taking blood samples then processing them in the laboratory.
The counting of red and white blood cells is particularly important in the detection of some cancers such as Leukaemia but also for chemotherapy patient monitoring for conditions such as Leukopenia (low white blood cell count which increases the risk of infection) in between treatments. This is an exciting step forward and will help patients to monitor and feedback this data to their health professionals when needed.
Welcome news from the HS2 hub
Amongst the controversy surrounding the pay levels for some employees of the HS2 project this week, there is welcome news from the new Crewe Depot. Work on the HS2 hub at Crewe, which has been on a plateau for a while, is finally reported to be making strides forward.
Andrew Ross, head of the East Cheshire Council, has been outlining the current actions being undertaken to be able to move the project forward to completion. There has been an extensive review of procurement and buildability, as well as refining the existing programme of works to ensure the best outcome for the HS2 network, the existing Network Rail Infrastructure and the local area.
A timetable of works has not been released yet due to the complexity of merging these three aspects of the project, alongside the many options that are being considered to complete the design and build. Both the council and the project leaders are keen to ensure the maximum development potential of the redeveloped Crewe station and the improvement of two existing tracks to allow a through way for the high-speed trains once HS2 becomes operational. These factors will allow for the maximum business and social growth around this area of Crewe.
Once these reviews and designs are completed, Mr Ross has said that planning applications for the new works could be submitted early next year if the next six months goes well. With the vast quantity of ‘specialists’ and funding streams behind this, this part of the project will be watched carefully alongside the other HS2 works currently happening, particularly by HS2 critics.