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Manage Packaging Machinery Maintenance Better by Connecting Workers

Learn the five benefits of using connected worker technology, along with five challenges (but with solutions!).

Eric Whitley

December 5, 2023

5 Min Read
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Metamorworks / iStock via Getty Images Plus

Machinery maintenance in the packaging industry is a critical practice that impacts operational efficiency and product quality. A single malfunction can cause costly downtime, not to mention the ripple effect it can have on the entire supply chain.

Traditional maintenance methods, often reactive or calendar-based, are proving to be inadequate. These methods lack the ability to provide real-time insights into machinery health, leading to delayed responses and, consequently, more severe issues.

Without predictive analytics, maintenance personnel perform tasks either too early or too late, resulting in a waste of time and resources.

The limitations of traditional approaches underscore the need for innovation in maintenance solutions. Connected worker technology offers a fundamental change and an upgrade necessary for staying competitive.

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Why use connected worker technology in maintenance?

Using connected worker technology in machinery maintenance marks a significant leap from traditional methods, offering real-time data, predictive analytics, and seamless system integration. This technology is a revolutionary change that can redefine operational efficiency and safety protocols.

Here are a handful of benefits:

1. Real-time data collection and analysis.

Since every minute of downtime can translate to significant financial losses, the ability to make quick, data-driven decisions is invaluable. Connected worker technology provides real-time mechanical data, allowing you to assess machinery health instantaneously. This immediacy is particularly beneficial during peak operational hours, when quick decision-making can mean the difference between meeting and missing production targets.

This immediacy is particularly beneficial during peak operational hours, when quick decision-making can mean the difference between meeting and missing production targets.

Real-time data isn’t just about speed but about accuracy as well. Traditional maintenance often involves a certain amount of guesswork, but real-time feedback allows you to pinpoint issues with unprecedented precision. This level of detail enables targeted repairs, reducing the likelihood of subsequent breakdowns and enhancing the overall reliability of your machinery.

2. Remote monitoring.

The ability to monitor machinery remotely is a game-changer, especially for organizations with multiple facilities or those involved in complex global supply chains. Remote monitoring allows you to maintain a pulse on machinery health irrespective of your geographical location, providing the flexibility to manage operations more effectively.

Remote monitoring eliminates the need for frequent on-site inspections, which not only saves time but also reduces operational costs. This is particularly beneficial for organizations that have facilities spread across different locations. It minimizes travel and labor expenses, allowing for a more streamlined allocation of resources.

3. Predictive analytics.

Predictive analytics takes maintenance from a reactive to a proactive stance. By analyzing historical and real-time data, predictive models can forecast potential issues before they escalate into major problems. Having this foresight is priceless for planning and resource allocation, as it allows you to anticipate issues and avoid costly downtime.

Predictive analytics also enables you to schedule maintenance activities based on the actual condition of the machinery, rather than dates on a calendar. This approach extends the lifespan of your machinery and optimizes the use of maintenance resources, leading to significant long-term savings.

Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE) serves as a comprehensive metric for assessing machinery health. When integrated with predictive analytics, OEE provides a multi-dimensional view of equipment performance, availability, and quality. Using this enriched data for more nuanced decision-making provides a competitive edge in a market where margins are often thin.

4. Integration with other systems.

The ability of connected worker technology to integrate with existing Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) and machinery systems minimizes the friction often associated with adopting new technology. This seamless integration ensures a transition that doesn’t disrupt current operations — a critical factor for maintaining business continuity.

Connected worker technology serves as a bridge between disparate systems, facilitating a unified communication protocol. This streamlining is crucial for coordinating maintenance activities, ensuring that all systems are in sync and that they optimize data flows for maximum efficiency.

5. Enhancing safety and compliance.

The real-time monitoring capabilities of connected worker technology act as an additional layer of protection. Automated alerts for potential hazards enable immediate intervention, thereby minimizing risks and ensuring a safer work environment.

Automated alerts for potential hazards enable immediate intervention, thereby minimizing risks and ensuring a safer work environment.

Beyond safety, compliance with industry regulations is another area where this technology shines. Real-time data monitoring ensures that machinery operates within stipulated guidelines, providing an automated solution for maintaining compliance and averting potential legal complications.

Challenges, considerations, and their solutions.

Integrating new technology into existing systems is a complex endeavor, fraught with challenges that range from financial constraints to workforce adaptability. When talking about connected worker technology, the challenges become more significant because of the technology’s critical role in machinery maintenance and overall operational efficiency.

Effective change management strategies are pivotal for a smooth transition and for reaping the full benefits of the technology. Let’s look at some of the most common challenges and proposed solutions:

1. Initial investment and return on investment (ROI): High upfront costs can be a significant deterrent for organizations considering adopting new technology. A comprehensive cost-benefit analysis is crucial to understand the long-term gains.

Solution: Secure leadership buy-in by presenting a detailed ROI analysis that highlights long-term benefits.

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2. The learning curve for maintenance teams: Introducing new technology often comes with an initial learning curve that can disrupt operations. A user-friendly design and comprehensive training can mitigate these initial hiccups.

Solution: Implement a phased rollout accompanied by training sessions to ease the transition.

3. Data security and privacy: The ever-present risk of data breaches and unauthorized access makes robust cybersecurity measures non-negotiable.

Solution: Employ end-to-end encryption, multi-factor authentication, and regular security audits.

4. Training and adaptation: As technology evolves, keeping maintenance teams updated becomes a continuous requirement. Ongoing training is essential for maximizing the technology’s capabilities and minimizing human error.

Solution: Establish ongoing training programs and workshops to keep teams updated.

5. Resistance to change: The human element of resistance to new technology can be a significant roadblock. Open dialogue and involvement in decision-making processes can ease these concerns.

Solution: Foster a culture of innovation and reward adaptability to encourage acceptance.

Integrating new technology, particularly something as transformative as connected worker technology, offers immediate and long-term benefits.

In the short term, operational efficiency yields gains from real-time data and predictive analytics. In the long term, companies stand to gain from cost savings, enhanced safety measures, and a more agile, adaptable workforce. The challenges of integration are just stepping stones on the path to these substantial benefits.

About the Author(s)

Eric Whitley

Director of Smart Manufacturing, L2L

For more than 30 years, Eric Whitley has been a noteworthy leader in the manufacturing space. In addition to the many publications and articles Whitley has written on various manufacturing topics, you may know him from his efforts leading the Total Productive Maintenance effort at Autoliv ASP or from his involvement in the Management Certification programs at The Ohio State University, where he served as an adjunct faculty member.

After an extensive career as a reliability and business improvement consultant, Whitley joined L2L, where he currently serves as the Director of Smart Manufacturing. His role in this position is to help clients learn and implement L2L’s pragmatic and simple approach to corporate digital transformation.

Whitley lives with his wife of 35 years (as of 2022) in Northern Utah. When he is not working, Whitley can usually be found on the water with a fishing rod in his hands.

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