The pumps market currently has been experiencing a difficult phase, with dwindling investments in new projects and existing projects getting deferred or cancelled. End users are hesitant to invest in greenfield projects and the common trend is to focus on maintenance of existing assets in the plant. According to Frost & Sullivan research, Europe accounts for 29.2% of total new pumps sales and has a high potential for aftermarket sales. During times of reducing project sales, one of the ways to compensate revenue for Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) is by providing a prompt aftermarket sales. Most OEMs can provide acceptable aftermarket service, which makes the market highly competitive. The way to optimize the aftermarket service cost along with providing a valuable service is to adopt IIoT technology, Big data analytics to perform prescriptive maintenance by sensorization of system, and so on. Basic mechanical seals can be purchased almost immediately, but customized/specific spare parts are not readily available and usually have a long lead time. In order to maintain revenue generation, OEMs have to take a creative approach to supply parts to the end users within a few days of being ordered. This can be accomplished by supply chain management and asset tracking that are key features of IIoT.This article gives some thoughts about how these challenges could be addressed through IIoT.
Challenges with Reduction of New Equipment Sales
To understand the present scenario in pumps market, it is necessary to know the transformation of end-user industries. Lack of investment for new projects, especially in O&G, Mining and other commodity sectors, has a huge impact on pumps’ business revenue. Capital investments have come down due to economic downturn. End-user companies do not want to purchase new equipment; instead they work toward maintaining their existing assets and improving their reliability. Nowadays, consumers are more conscious about OPEX savings and so there is an increased demand for higher efficiency pumps, process optimization, higher throughput, and reduced downtime.
From a consumer’s business point of view, with the fall in commodity prices such as crude oil, minerals and so on, it is not possible for them to reduce the selling price of their goods. One of the means by which they can improve their profitability is by getting aftermarket sales at reduced price from OEMs, as plant owners prefer maintaining the plant to operate efficiently rather than investing in new equipment. This way end users expect to see profit in their business by getting aftermarket sales at reduced price. The need for OEMs to reduce cost of aftermarket services has increased which is not going to help solve their revenue problem.
Another challenge is the high level of competition amongst the OEMs. By reverse engineering techniques, it is easy to learn how the parts are assembled to build a system. Hence it becomes easy for a new entrant to capture a good proportion of market share by purchasing low-cost spare parts and assembling them with some engineering knowledge. This increases the competition in the market. It has become more common for the plant operators to outsource maintenance activities instead of performing those by themselves. In any given region, in addition to OEM’s own service center availability, there are numerous other independent service providers as well, all competing for the same business. This minimizes the chances for original OEM to win business. A unique and innovative approach is needed to stand apart from solutions provided by other pump manufacturers, as the competition in this business is high.
Innovative Approach to Plant Maintenance
Energy consumption attributes to major proportion of fixed cost and reducing this consumption can lead to abundant savings to the plant operators. OEMs can deploy IIoT technology in their design for reducing energy consumption. Historic data collected from the sensors, equipment and other assets are stored in a network database called ‘cloud’. Big data analytics, one of the features of IIoT, performs analysis on stored data in order to make business decisions, to plan for higher productivity and to determine if predictive maintenance is required or not. It is necessary for the data to be available at any point of time. Data obtained from sensors installed on the pumps housing, during several operating conditions are stored in cloud based systems, and will help the operator in learning the pumps functionality, by observing the trend. From the in-depth knowledge gained, operating conditions can be tweaked to improve the efficiency of the pumps. It is not possible to document all the data gathered over several years and cloud can be extremely helpful for this purpose. Vibration analysis is also performed with the data collected from the sensor that are constantly monitored that indicate potential issues such as bearing problems, loose contact of wires within motors and pumps, gear teeth deterioration, and so on. By observing the operating characteristics of pumps the operator can predict potential issues leading to pump failure due to overload and adverse environmental conditions and also suggest prescriptive maintenance that will reduce unplanned downtime when the equipment are performing crucial operations.
Collaborative Work Culture – Future Trend
Integrated working of pump manufacturers with IT sector through collaborative approach is expected to be a future trend. According to Frost & Sullivan research, more mergers and acquisitions between equipment manufacturers and information technology (IT) related companies are likely to be observed in near future.
Challenges with Reduction of New Equipment Sales
Another challenge that needs to be addressed is to ensure that end users are provided with spare parts as and when an order is placed. For most end users, spare parts are a heavy burden to their business. Due to limitations in manufacturing by conventional method such as complex casts or prototype design that can take several weeks, OEMs provide the part with a long lead time. Within the time window of when the end user requests for a spare part and the long lead time of the manufacturer, third party vendors dive in to supply the part. If the service and price are satisfactory to the client, the pump manufacturers might even lose a customer in the longer run.
Key Features of IIoT-Inventory Management and Asset Tracking:
IIoT can be helpful to solve issues related to long lead time of spare parts through inventory forecasting and asset tracking. Spare parts under transit can be closely monitored and advance warnings are sent on any shipping errors to avoid warehouse-entry mishaps. With data intelligence and pattern analysis over time, forecasting can be done before any faulty operations occur. Inventory planners can make better and informed decisions on materials on hold, in transit and in stock. By asset tracking, if any part is shipped due to an order being placed, and if the weight of the bin where the part was kept is measured (using sensors) to be below a set threshold weight, a replenishment order is automatically placed. This ensures that critical parts are always available in stock. Manufacturers can search for parts availability from branches in other locations. It connects supply chain from all locations and helps to search for availability of parts remotely.
ERP versus Inventory Management using IIoT
Although ERP can be used for inventory management, its scope is limited to the size of the company. If the company has only a few plants, then ERP system may be able to handle the manufacturing operations. If multiple plants have different manufacturing processes, ERP might not be the best option.
Alternative Approach to Inventory Management
In case the required parts are not available in any of the warehouses globally, Additive Manufacturing (AM) also known as 3D printing provides solution to address this issue. AM does not only change the way parts are made but also enable supply chain management to create the parts themselves.
History of Additive Manufacturing
Previously casts were used to produce pumps, which took several weeks to be created. With 3D printing, the necessary optimal prototype design is fed into the processor and digital pattern is converted into a physical object. Another advantage is that the design engineer would not have the need to tweak the optimal design due to limitation in manufacturing process. With no additional cost for complexity, they can work on intricate designs as well. Assembly of parts/components to build an entire system can be done without having to wait for different components to be shipped by different locations. By using 3D printing technology, parts can be self-created by OEMs, thus eliminating time delay to deliver an order placed by the customer. Another benefit of 3D printing is that cost does not depend on the quantity; low-volume production, customization and on–-demand spare part creation are some of the advantages to boost business for pump manufacturers.
To Summarize the Significance of Additive Manufacturing
- Faster prototype/cast design
- With no additional cost, ability to make complex optimal design without tweaking it due to limitations in manufacturing process
- Quicker assembly due to ready availability of created parts
- Customized production irrespective of production volume
This article discusses the benefits of IIoT as a platform to provide high quality aftermarket service and prompt delivery of spare parts. Industry 4.0 is predicted to have a great impact in manufacturing sector with fewer upgrades or refurbishing than what was required for third industrial revolution. The upgrades are mostly related to software services and some of the services using IoT are remote condition monitoring, alerting services during emergency situations, predictive maintenance and virtual storage of data from sensors installed on physical systems into cloud based networks. OEMs and suppliers are predicted to expand channel, distribution, as well as partnership initiatives, and to seek to leverage acquisitions with IT companies to drive product line expansion and customer base growth.
Another disruptive technology that facilitates link from virtual to physical world is by 3D printing. Although most OEMs have not adopted this technology as it is still in the preliminary stages of development, this is believed to be very promising for warehouse maintenance.
In the long run, as the technology catches up and gets adopted by developing nations, pump manufacturers can expect strong demand and a sudden spike in aftermarket sales of water pumps.