As organisations’ infrastructures get increasingly dynamic and complex, with multiple physical assets in multiple locations that all need to be part of a cohesive whole, remote monitoring and diagnostics technologies can play a crucial role in keeping those infrastructures running smoothly.
Such technologies collect data on how those assets are operating in real-time, and then use Internet of Things (IoT) functionality to transmit that data to a centralised analytics engine. That engine tracks performance trends and alerts you to any problems – before they escalate. The best monitoring and diagnostics tools can give you unparalleled insight into your operations, enabling you to develop new products and marketing approaches, to optimise the performance of your machinery and to ultimately enhance your bottom line.
But with so many options available, how can you be sure of choosing the tool or platform that’s right for your business? How can you be confident that your investment will last, that you’re not being locked into a restrictive system or will be forced to undertake unmanageable additional expenditure when your business grows?
Here are our top tips for the questions you should ask and the topics you should consider when evaluating remote monitoring and diagnostics options.
What data does it supply you with?
Let’s start with the basics. Not all monitoring and diagnostics tools capture and store all the same data. Some are simply concerned with numbers of tasks undertaken and the rate at which these take place. Others track the levels of consumables such as lubricants. Others measure factors like temperature, pressure and fluid levels. Some tools allow a great deal of flexibility and customisation in terms of what data is collected – others do not.
Data is the most fundamental building block of a useful monitoring and diagnostics solution, but organisations vary in terms of which data is most meaningful for them. Data is only meaningful if an action (either human, machine or process) or insight is delivered. You should start your evaluation by understanding what data your organisation needs, the decisions and actions you need to take – not what data a tool can provide you with. It might help by asking, if our assets could speak, what would they say and what would they ask us to do?
How much customisation is available?
There are two major aspects to remote monitoring. First, your tool needs to provide a continuous, real-time overview of how each asset is performing. Second, it needs to alert you immediately whenever something out of the ordinary occurs – or when certain pre-set conditions are met that might imply a problem is unfolding.
It is vital that those scenarios are tailored to your own business context – so check that your chosen tool allows for flexibility around those pre-set conditions.
How is the data reported back to you?
Simply being presented with vast spreadsheets of data on every single asset within your organisation is actually quite unhelpful. It leads to information overload. Sure, the performance of all your assets has been centralised into one place – but making sense of it takes up almost as much time as manually checking each piece of equipment. We have all had the situation of one machine stopping causing multiple other assets to alarm leading to confusion. Anyone who wants to know how that feels should watch this clip from Apollo 13.. https://youtu.be/kAmsi05P9Uw?t=24s.
The most effective tools and platforms are the ones with clear dashboards and easy-to-understand reports that relate directly to strategic business decisions. You don’t want to be faced with pages and pages of meaningless numbers – you want to know that a particular machine has been “noisy” for the past three days in a row and that you are advised to run a maintenance check. You also want to know the optimum time to undertake that maintenance check to avoid creating process bottlenecks.
How does the tool fit in with your existing technology?
The last thing you want is to select a monitoring and diagnostics solution only to find that you need to buy and support an additional IT system to make it work. Check that all of the required field equipment and their protocols are included as standard, and find out for the hardware whether there is flexibility on the type of connection Serial (232/485/USB), Ethernet or digital/analogue I/O through to its IP rating for internally or externally mounted uses. Find out, too, how the communications between each asset and the centralised platform takes place. Industrial-strength connection are a must to avoid downtime.
What happens after implementation?
It’s easy to think that making the purchasing decision is the final point on your monitoring and diagnostics journey, but in fact it’s only just beginning. What about post-implementation technical support? How will your staff be trained on using the new tool? What is the support process if you have questions or suffer a technical problem? These are all questions that a reputable supplier should be able to answer.