Robert Glass, global communications manager at ABB, details how predictive technologies can help bakery plant managers make the most of downtime

The advent of technologies such as smart robotics, cloud computing and predictive analytics mean there is little preventing businesses from adopting an always-on approach to operation. However, planned system downtime is a major reason this is not yet a widespread reality.

Planned downtime itself is not a bad thing. During a set period, production lines and equipment are temporarily switched off so maintenance engineers can assess the health of the system, make repairs and clean equipment. This is particularly important in the food and beverage industry, where hygiene is critical and production equipment must be contaminant-free.

When considering the baking industry’s unique challenges, the importance of using downtime to ensure equipment is maintained to a high standard to reduce dust leakage, or allow for more precise control of temperature-controlled zones, is obvious. Maintaining these high standards through planned downtime ensures production lines can operate reliably and safety, which makes this preferable to unplanned downtime due to fault or failure.

However, the resulting dip in production still poses an issue for plant managers. In continuous production industries, especially those such as bakery where every process must be carefully synchronised, time lost to scheduled maintenance can account for a short-term drop in profitability. This is exacerbated by the timing of downtime often being not optimal, due to scheduling not traditionally using operational performance data.

The solution is to plan maintenance work on specific systems separately by reviewing performance data collected by smart technologies, such as smart sensors on motors, as an indicator of equipment health. This allows plant managers to use the time productively and devise an informed and data-driven approach to maintenance.

Instead of reactive maintenance on equipment and systems when things go wrong, engineers can conduct predictive maintenance that pre-empts problems – meaning plant managers realise the potential of digitalisation and interconnected devices.

While line downtime is an unavoidable part of production, digitalisation may allow this to be minimised in the future. In the meantime, bakery plant managers can make the most of planned downtime by reviewing performance data and making effective plans for the future.