Interview with Dr. Kai Goebel, Principal Scientist at PARC, a Xerox Company, about Predictive Maintenance and how it can unleash cost savings.
Dr. Kai Goebel is principal scientist as PARC with more than two decades experience in corporate and government research organizations. He is responsible for leading applied research on state awareness, prognostics and decision-making using data analytics, AI, hybrid methods and physics-base methods. He has also fielded numerous applications for Predictive Maintenance at General Electric, NASA, and PARC for uses as diverse as rocket launchpads, jet engines, and chemical plants.
Data Science Blog: Mr. Goebel, predictive maintenance is not just a hype since industrial companies are already trying to establish this use case of predictive analytics. What benefits do they really expect from it?
Predictive Maintenance is a good example for how value can be realized from analytics. The result of the analytics drives decisions about when to schedule maintenance in advance of an event that might cause unexpected shutdown of the process line. This is in contrast to an uninformed process where the decision is mostly reactive, that is, maintenance is scheduled because equipment has already failed. It is also in contrast to a time-based maintenance schedule. The benefits of Predictive Maintenance are immediately clear: one can avoid unexpected downtime, which can lead to substantial production loss. One can manage inventory better since lead times for equipment replacement can be managed well. One can also manage safety better since equipment health is understood and safety averse situations can potentially be avoided. Finally, maintenance operations will be inherently more efficient as they shift significant time from inspection to mitigation of.
Data Science Blog: What are the most critical success factors for implementing predictive maintenance?
Critical for success is to get the trust of the operator. To that end, it is imperative to understand the limitations of the analytics approach and to not make false performance promises. Often, success factors for implementation hinge on understanding the underlying process and the fault modes reasonably well. It is important to be able to recognize the difference between operational changes and abnormal conditions. It is equally important to recognize rare events reliably while keeping false positives in check.
Data Science Blog: What kind of algorithm does predictive maintenance work with? Do you differentiate between approaches based on classical machine learning and those based on deep learning?
Well, there is no one kind of algorithm that works for Predictive Mantenance everywhere. Instead, one should look at the plurality of all algorithms as tools in a toolbox. Then analyze the problem – how many examples for run-to-failure trajectories are there; what is the desired lead time to report on a problem; what is the acceptable false positive/false negative rate; what are the different fault modes; etc – and use the right kind of tool to do the job. Just because a particular approach (like the one you mentioned in your question) is all the hype right now does not mean it is the right tool for the problem. Sometimes, approaches from what you call “classical machine learning” actually work better. In fact, one should consider approaches even outside the machine learning domain, either as stand-alone approach as in a hybrid configuration. One may also have to invent new methods, for example to perform online learning of the dynamic changes that a system undergoes through its (long) life. In the end, a customer does not care about what approach one is using, only if it solves the problem.
Data Science Blog: There are several providers for predictive analytics software. Is it all about software tools? What makes the difference for having success?
Frequently, industrial partners lament that they have to spend a lot of effort in teaching a new software provider about the underlying industrial processes as well as the equipment and their fault modes. Others are tired of false promises that any kind of data (as long as you have massive amounts of it) can produce any kind of performance. If one does not physically sense a certain modality, no algorithmic magic can take place. In other words, it is not just all about the software. The difference for having success is understanding that there is no cookie cutter approach. And that realization means that one may have to role up the sleeves and to install new instrumentation.
Data Science Blog: What are coming trends? What do you think will be the main topic 2020 and 2021?
Predictive Maintenance is slowly evolving towards Prescriptive Maintenance. Here, one does not only seek to inform about an impending problem, but also what to do about it. Such an approach needs to integrate with the logistics element of an organization to find an optimal decision that trades off several objectives with regards to equipment uptime, process quality, repair shop loading, procurement lead time, maintainer availability, safety constraints, contractual obligations, etc.