The approach to automation maintenance requires different thinking, as there is a transition from a mature, highly stable, low-tech environment to one that is definitely high tech and requires special care and training.
Central to the process is the team members’ skill levels beyond mechanical, especially electrical and software systems. After all, conventional and automated systems have quite different components and levels of complexity. Conventional systems are 90% mechanical, whereas automated systems use advanced control systems and software change. Furthermore, that shift has significant impact on two factors directly affecting maintenance team success.
The first factor is the ability of techs to maintain the system. Special training and close communication with suppliers are essential. Software and controls skills are quite different than other standard mechanical and electrical tech skills. Meanwhile, suppliers are responsible to deliver software that on-site techs can install and update as needed. No substitute for close communication works here.
The second factor, which is often a new world for techs, is data. Rather than working to a pre-set schedule, Autonomous Warehousing Solutions Online maintenance is much more data dependent. Maintenance requires a shift from primarily relying on the knowledge of the tech to the data. That can be a tough transition for some.
This is a good point to discuss the potential role of suppliers and their maintenance teams. As was said earlier, there is no dishonor in opting for contract maintenance with automated systems. In fact, it can be the more prudent path given the company’s expectations and the team’s familiarity with automation. Automated systems are highly reliable but must be maintained to a high level to attain that level of reliability. Suppliers are often in a better position to deliver such maintenance, at least initially.
It is not uncommon to opt for contract maintenance for the first year of operation. Others rely on it for another year or two. Along the way, the existing tech team can be trained to operate on its own in the future.
Change is never easy. Though many a time we understatement it specially when facility’s maintenance team is making efforts to shift from servicing conventional material handling equipment to the Goods to Person Delivery Robot Online. It is not guaranteed to result in big problems for an extended period of time. But in talking to the experts, you need a plan to make the transition as graceful as possible. Regardless of the scope, automation requires “intense, dedicated training.
Just as important, relying on suppliers should not be seen as an internal maintenance shortcoming. Suppliers are experts at maintaining these systems and already have the skilled techs on staff.
There is an 8-10-fold increase in spare parts inventory in stock as automated systems are that much more complex. Furthermore, that inventory will require different handling than parts for conventional systems. Maintenance, especially of automated systems, is increasingly important to a company’s overall success. As planning and budgeting become more difficult, equipment up time and efficiency are ever more critical to successful operations.
But, there’s still the matter of spare parts. Conventional parts are characterized by standard designs, low cost and easy availability. Automated parts, do not have common design, are often unique to a supplier and sometimes require long lead times to acquire. With spares for automated systems, you have to mitigate the risk of the unavailability of parts for days or even weeks. Typically, this results in much larger spare parts inventories. The high value and quantity of automation spares also changes how they are stored. Not only is adequate space needed but special conditions such as climate control might be required. Additional security is not uncommon. But storage doesn’t stop with space. It also includes systems to track parts. Some suppliers offer proprietary tracking software, explain Cummings and Carelli. In addition to tracking parts, some have pre-loaded maintenance tasks paired up with required spares. Availability of spares data on tablets is common.
Another approach is computerized maintenance management systems (CMMS). Basic capabilities include ordering/reordering spares and managing them on site. In addition, CMMS tracks maintenance tasks, pairs them with spares and automatically generates work tickets.
It is no small task to gear up for maintaining automated materials handling equipment and systems. But as many have already proven, it is doable with huge upside benefits. The trick is to manage the process and not think it’s only a little different than maintaining conventional equipment.