09/09/2012 07:29 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Why Wait Until Something Breaks? Let's Try Predictive Maintenance

Why wait until something is broken to fix it?

That's what a growing number of companies are asking themselves these days.

Because the same technology -- analytics, sensors, mapping software -- that revolutionized everything from the global supply chain to public security in cities is starting to transform the basic idea of maintenance.

Businesses and communities are pinpointing where problems will occur, whether it's a burst pipe, downed power line, or broken part, before they happen.

They're tracking down and fixing small, cheap problems before they develop into big, expensive ones. They're scheduling the work orders of their maintenance crew to tackle the most pressing problems rather than just following business-as-usual maintenance schedules.

The result? Organizations worldwide are slashing costs, improving safety, and cutting the downtime of systems, products, and services.

This new approach to the age-old issue of repair is called predictive maintenance. It's one we need more than ever. Models that are generated for predictive analytics can also be used in areas outside maintenance.

For example, here in Norway, where I live, I work very closely with Statoil, which is one of the world's largest suppliers of oil and gas. Statoil has started testing predictive models to make sure their oil operations are not harming the environment. By placing sensors on the seabed, they can detect early signs of environmental impacts.

The data collected is also being used to build predictive models around oil spills. If an oil spill were to happen, Statoil will very soon have the advantage of knowing, in detail, the territory and how a spill would affect it. Being an oil company, their number one concern is safe operations. Predictive models will help Statoil maintain one of the safest records in the industry.

And in a society that depends on built infrastructures, we all need to get smarter about maintenance.

A good piece of the established infrastructure around us is aging and, in some cases, close to collapse. The American Society of Civil Engineers estimates that the U.S. needs to spend $2.2 trillion during the next five years just to bring systems, including transportation and water treatment, up to date.

In the meantime, in our interconnected, hypercompetitive, "always-on" world, we expect services and products to work without fail. There's little patience with services that are not available, or products that don't function as advertised. Consumers, clients, and even partners simply move on when they are disappointed with an experience.

That's why leading businesses and governments are embracing predictive maintenance. To re-imagine how we manage these critical infrastructures. To meet the exacting expectations of today's customers. To come up with new approaches to maintenance, including:

Fixing machines when we want, rather than when we have to: Predictive analytics helps a major oil company keep the equipment on its offshore drilling rigs in top condition. The system checks each drill bit 10,000 times per second, not just to monitor wear, but to predict problems. That way, the company can schedule repairs proactively and cost effectively, rather than after the equipment breaks down.

Pinpointing little problems before they become big ones: A water utility faced a twin challenge of an aging infrastructure and a tight budget. So the utility rolled out a system of analytics, smart meters, and mapping technology that predicts infrastructure, customer and maintenance issues. This system allows the water company to prioritize which equipment needs preventive maintenance the most and keeps small leaks from turning into big ones.

Treating each machine differently: By using analytics to track all of its soda machines, a major soft drink company can predict exactly when specific ones need to be serviced. The company saves money on service calls and keeps machines from being out of order.

The issue of repair -- how something got fixed and when -- used to be very much behind the scenes. But increasingly, with persistent budget crunches, rising customer expectations, and nagging infrastructure issues, it's coming to the center stage. It's smart to use predictive maintenance to fix systems, products, and infrastructure before they fail so organizations can anticipate what to fix -- before a problem develops.

To learn more about predictive maintenance, click here.