Hitting a wall: Only technology can take industrial maintenance to next level

Dow found itself battling the law of diminishing returns in its decadeslong quest to optimize its maintenance processes. Though incremental improvements were made to both cost and reliability, the benefits were becoming less impactful.

They had hit a wall, says Jeff Sexton, site technical expertise and support director at Dow’s St. Charles Operations in Hahnville.

“You can only optimize your processes so many times,” Sexton says. “You reach a point where the changes aren’t making a lot of difference and you’re barely tweaking the knob.”

That’s when Dow’s corporate office began taking a hard look at how it might better assimilate technology into the industrial maintenance space, with the goal of taking it to the next level.

Sexton is most excited about the potential of virtual reality. Dow, in fact, has multiple VR pilot programs underway across the Gulf Coast. “Imagine having a team located in another state or country … but you want them to see what your inspector is seeing during an internal inspection,” he says. “With VR, we’re giving them the visibility they need to do that on a real-time basis.”

Communication in the field is also enhanced through iPads and other devices that enable workers to look at job plans and schedules, then make adjustments “on the fly” instead of heading back to the office.

Jeff Blohm, mechanical manager at ExxonMobil in Baton Rouge, says they’re taking an equally proactive approach by using drones to inspect equipment and to digitally map plant facilities.

They’re also making improvements in the planning and execution of maintenance work and using digital construction management tools to facilitate access to plans, drawings, and other data in the field and monitor work and enhance safety. 

Read the full story about how industrial firms are leveraging new tech to up their maintenance game from 10/12 Industry Report.