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Shifting focus

12 June 2020

Mark Sennett spoke to UE Systems’ Christopher Hallam to find out how the company is responding to the market shift towards digitalisation, the need for increased equipment availability, and its presence at Maintec later this year

For over 40 years UE Systems has been a leader in ergonomically designed portable ultrasound devices. Primarily employed for leak detection, mechanical analysis and electric inspection, use of these instruments can result in huge savings through premature failure detection, reduction or even elimination of downtime, increased productivity and reduced overall replacement costs.

In common with many sectors, industrial maintenance has recently seen a shift towards digitalisation and, according to Christopher Hallam, UK and Ireland Manager at UE Systems Europe, that is something reflected in the company’s latest product offering.

“Traditionally UE Systems has manufactured handheld ultrasound devices, but over the past few years, with the Industrial Internet of Things and the need for remote monitoring of critical assets we have started to focus on online systems. Industries can fix our equipment to their assets and then remotely monitor them 24/7, without having to have an inspector go out to collect data.”

He continues: “It’s a key way of being able to identify and monitor those critical assets. If there’s any change in the status of the asset it can be seen very quickly, hopefully making it possible to remedy any potential issues before they become serious.”

While the development of online systems is key for the company, as Hallam points out, there is of course still a very important role for handheld devices in situations where it is not possible to use ultrasound technology as a remote tool, for example in some energy saving and condition monitoring applications.

Pandemic effect

It’s almost impossible to talk about any area of industry at the moment without looking at the seismic ripples of the coronavirus, and industrial maintenance is no exception, touching as it does on so many other sectors. As a company, UE Systems looks well set to weather the storm, although Hallam has inevitably seen changes due to the UK lockdown, social distancing measures, and the changed priorities of some manufacturers.

“As a company we’re doing fine, we are still supporting our current users, but there are a lot of projects that were in the pipeline just before the coronavirus hit, and of course, when these sort of things happen, it puts a big hold on budgets – and a big hold on projects.”

Despite some investments being temporarily suspended, the importance of the maintenance sector has never been more vital. While it might not be the right time to replace equipment, maintaining existing assets is crucial, something Hallam certainly advocates.

“Many sectors these days talk about improving reliability, but in my opinion, looking at it from a site maintenance manger or an engineering manager’s point of view, the important thing at the moment is to improve availability. If we can improve the availability of our assets then we can keep production at as high a level as possible.”

Currently, this is particularly pertinent to the online retail sector, which is seeing a huge increase in demand, placing strain the infrastructure. As Hallam points out, using ultrasonic technology here can help improve uptime and availability of those assets that are vital in getting products out of the factory door and to the end user.

“With ultrsonic technology we can carry out specific maintenance tasks to improve that vital availability, helping ensure the asset is ready to work when it is needed – and that is key right now,” he says. “Once potential problems have been found and root-cause analysis carried, that can be remedied further down the line, but it is the availably that is really key to make sure production is at the necessary level now.”

Maintec

UE systems is regular exhibitor at Maintec, and this year will be no exception. So what is it about the event that keeps the company coming back?

“Maintec is one of the few events in the UK that is actually promoted as a ‘reliability’ based event. And reliability-centred maintenance is something that’s ever growing within industry,” says Hallam. “Visitors from different industry come to the event because they want to understand how they can go about improving the reliability and the availability of the assets on their sites. It’s an opportunity for us to share our knowledge of the technologies, and how they can be of benefit.

“Sometimes we will talk to the people who visit the stand and they want to make these improvements but they just don’t know how to go about it, so it’s great to be able to impart that sort of knowledge, advice and support while we are at the event.”

This year visitors will be able to see first hand the product lines manufactured by EU Systems and how they can be used in different applications across a whole range of sectors. Hallam hopes that the live demonstrations will really help people get proper ‘feel’ for the technology, and an understanding of how the technology works and the benefits it can bring.

One message that Hallam and the EU Systems team of reliability, mechanical and electrical engineers will be conveying at Maintec is the importance of understanding where the latest digital technologies do, and don’t fit, into an effective maintenance strategy.

‘When it comes to taking things online, in some instances there will be a benefit, but you need to be careful to avoid overkill,” says Hallum. “Digitalisation is here, but there are other maintenance practices that also have their place. You cannot move away from an engineer going to an asset to do visual checks, using their human senses to understand what’s going on. Some online systems are still unable to pinpoint certain things that you can see visually.

“So it’s still important to understand the equipment on site, comprehend how critical it is to the production process and ascertain what sort of maintenance practices are best implemented into those areas.”

There is no doubt that there are going to be enormous challenges across industry over the next few years. In the short term, as Hallam points out, equipment still needs to run and be services, products still need to go out the door and safety levels be protected – all of which rely on, amongst other things, effective maintenance.

 
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