Kelvin Chong is Country Manager of Malaysia for Schaeffler, a leading global supplier to the automotive and industrial sectors, with operations spanning 200 locations in over 50 countries. He is responsible for driving the company’s growth in the core business of engineering products and solutions, as well as the emerging area of digitalization within Malaysia.
1. When did Schaeffler start venturing into the Industry 4.0 realm? How does it start and what was the history behind it?
Although Schaeffler started venturing into Industry 4.0 more than a decade ago, it was only 5 years ago that the momentum towards this direction started to build up. Schaeffler’s Industrial Division is traditionally a rolling bearings manufacturer, being the inventor of cage-guided needle roller bearings, and also being currently one of the largest rolling bearings manufacturers in the world. Rolling bearings are found in virtually every mechanical rotating part or equipment, be it motors, pumps, compressors, gearboxes, or conveyors.
Every processing plant in the world today is guaranteed to contain some rolling bearings. Schaeffler has always used mechatronic solutions, so when digitalization accelerated and Industry 4.0 became a trending topic, we were ready to leverage our legacy and technology know-how to bundle solutions to our customers, while innovating in-house as well as with system integration partners to develop new products and solutions.
Our customers are not only looking for the supply of long-lasting solutions, but they are also beginning to look more carefully into their maintenance practices, to see how they can make these solutions last longer. They are beginning to shift from a pure breakdown maintenance practice into preventative maintenance, and to the even more developed predictive maintenance strategy.
Nowadays, many customers want to know in advance when an equipment or machinery part is about to break down so that they can plan their plant maintenance and spare parts sourcing in a way that avoids costly unplanned plant downtime. This was the birth of the Industry 4.0 movement from Schaeffler’s perspective. Paying close attention to this customer need, Schaeffler started to expand its range of machine condition monitoring solutions. Such solutions are complementary to Schaeffler’s existing product portfolio and can be viewed as an extension of the company’s aftermarket service offering.
After supplying rolling bearings to our customers, with these condition monitoring solutions, we can advise customers when the bearings or any mechanical rotating part is about to fail. Besides that, we are also able to tell the customer the root cause of a failure, which is another valuable piece of information that can help a customer to undertake corrective actions and improve their maintenance practices to extend the lifespan of their plant machinery.
This involved quite a big shift in Schaeffler’s culture, mindset and competency build-up over its 76- year history. Although the company still maintains its roots in the domain of mechanical engineering, we have embraced the disciplines of electrical, software, automation, and mechatronics engineering in the process. We started hiring more engineers in these disciplines and also formed partnerships with companies with this domain expertise in a bid to accelerate this shift. This is a transformative journey that will set the company up strongly for the future.
2. Schaeffler is not a new name in providing solutions for a wide range of industrial applications. Do share with us Schaeffler Industrial Malaysia’s background and milestones.
Schaeffler has been present in Malaysia since 1995. It began as a representative office for our Southeast Asia operations in Kuala Lumpur, before developing into a sales office in 2001. In 2007, a branch was opened in Penang to cater to our Northern territory customers. Penang is known as the Silicon Valley of the East, with several large semiconductor MNCs as well as homegrown semiconductor value chain suppliers based there. This built up the case for us to also establish a presence in that important region so that we can also serve our customers another one of the niche products in our portfolio – high precision direct drive motors.
Such motors are being used in semiconductor back-end testing equipment, where the required precision of motion can be on the scale of micrometers. As of today, Malaysia remains one of the 3 countries in the Schaeffler world to find a market for this niche product. 12 years ago, Schaeffler Malaysia expanded its technical team, so that we can independently provide a range of field services, troubleshooting support, application engineering advisory, and technical training to our customers without relying on our Germany HQ.
This helped to expand our service offerings to customers and built up the backbone for our Industry 4.0 solutions. The shift from being a pure products supplier to a full-fledged services and solutions provider is also supported by this move. In the past 5 years, we have actively rolled out condition monitoring solutions and automatic grease lubricators with the expertise of this technical team, working closely with our sales team.
3. Condition monitoring can be expensive as it requires an annual risk assessment. Briefly describe solutions that Schaeffler provides to the customers and its strong suits compared to others.
Condition monitoring is typically a solution that requires an initial investment outlay. However, it provides lifetime cost savings to the customer in the form of a reduction of unplanned equipment downtime. First of all, labor costs can be saved through the reduction of manpower required to monitor the equipment conditions. In the current labor shortage situation in Malaysia and the remote working context of many countries, this advantage becomes even more important.
Some plant equipment could also be located in difficult-to-access areas, so condition monitoring sensors can also help alleviate safety concerns, besides providing cost benefits. When unplanned plant downtime is minimized, production revenue can be maximized. The customer can also save on the cost of spare parts procurement, both from the angle of reducing emergency ad-hoc purchases made at higher prices, as well as reducing spare parts usage by extending the lifespan of those parts.
Besides the visible costs, hidden costs such as overtime labor to fix issues outside of normal operating hours, the costs of fixing other interconnected parts which may fail as a result of the failure of one part, the energy consumed in ramping up a plant from an unplanned shutdown, can be avoided. These hidden costs are often neglected, but they can be quite significant in value, adding up to the overall costs.
Schaeffler provides a suite of condition monitoring solutions that cater to different customer needs, in terms of the ability to monitor equipment with fixed vs variable operating conditions, cabled vs wireless cloud-based solutions, and SCADA integration vs mobile phone data display. All of these solutions provide 24/7 equipment monitoring through an array of online sensors connected to data acquisition, analysis, and display systems. Through the analysis of the vibration spectrum, these solutions can diagnose the root cause of a machine or part failure.
To simplify the plant engineer’s work, the solution can also be configured to display an easy-to-interpret traffic light dashboard for determination of equipment health, or even send text message warning alerts to the engineer before an impending mechanical issue. Schaeffler’s condition monitoring solutions are modular, which makes them easily expandable to add more sensors as the customer’s monitoring needs increase. The continuous measurement with fine resolution also allows for sensitive, accurate anomaly detection.
Employing artificial intelligence and machine learning, Schaeffler’s condition monitoring solutions can self-calibrate to varying equipment operating conditions. The seamless mode of installation and data display enables plant engineers to easily and quickly get the condition monitoring solution up and running, and obtain the necessary information to guide maintenance decision making.
Another differentiating point about Schaeffler is that since we are also a manufacturer of bearings that goes into almost every rotating equipment, our bearings and mechanical know-how combined with our high-performance condition monitoring solutions help with a more detailed and precise analysis of the root cause of mechanical faults.
4. What are the main causes of machine breakdown that are often overlooked? How does
Schaeffler assist companies on this?
One major cause of machine breakdown that is often overlooked is bearings failure. Citing the International Energy Agency (IEA), the major motor maker ABB has stated that 51% of motor failures are bearings related. If bearings are the single biggest contributor to failures of one of the most important mechanical rotating systems today, namely the motor, what is the reason that it has been neglected by many? The lack of awareness is an explanation for this. Since bearings are typically small in size and are one of the hundreds or thousands of “invisible” parts inside much larger machinery, it can be hard for technicians and engineers to draw the linkage between the failure of this crucial moving part, and the failure of the overall mechanical system.
Furthermore, impending bearings failures escape detection by many of the conventional condition monitoring solutions found in the market. This is also where Schaeffler comes in, by not only combining our domain expertise with our advanced condition monitoring solutions to advise the customer on this, but also conducting technical training to raise awareness among plant engineers about this issue. When we dive deeper into the major causes of bearings failures, we see that 80% of bearings failures are lubricant related – be it using the wrong type of lubricant, using lubricant which is impure or has deteriorated, or having insufficient lubrication.
To address these issues, Schaeffler provides
high quality, performance-grade lubricants,
grease selection apps that can help customers choose the right type of grease,
automatic lubricators which ensure sufficient lubrication at all times, and
grease condition monitoring solutions which can inform customers in real-time about the condition of their grease.
5. As Malaysia begins its journey towards digitalization and smart manufacturing, what aspects of condition monitoring should companies pay attention to? And how could these points help a company?
The pandemic and severe lockdowns of the past 2 years have accelerated the shift toward digitalization. In Malaysia, we are witnessing a heightened interest in condition monitoring solutions across all industries, among companies who would not have entertained such ideas as recent as just a few years ago. Although plenty of buzzes has been generated, there are still some gaps out there, in terms of having a clear digitalization roadmap, determining which equipment to monitor, the overall integration with other plants’ KPIs monitoring systems, the assessment of ROIs, and the translation of findings into plant maintenance preventative and corrective actions.
Before a decision to implement condition monitoring solutions, a company needs to be clear about the need for it and the desired end outcomes. The capability and resources to implement such autonomous solutions will have to also be considered. Quite often a company would want to keep their engineers meaningfully occupied, and maintain the discipline and skillset of manual monitoring of machines.
However, it is also important to realize that condition monitoring solutions need not necessarily be a substitute for manpower. It provides companies the opportunity to upskill their engineers to use these tools, analyze the readings from these tools, define a maintenance strategy and execute the strategy. This again goes back to the company’s overall digitalization strategy, on how it plans to integrate IoT solutions with its workforce, both operating side by side. It also involves an organizational culture and mindset change, that goes beyond a mere investment and deployment of hardware and software.
In a processing plant with several thousands of equipment and rotating parts, having condition monitoring on each of them can be a costly endeavor. Hence, it is important for the plant to determine which are critical equipment, based on how much redundancy has been built into the system, how much and how long of a production loss will be faced with the equipment failure, and how likely is the equipment to fail.
The latter is the most difficult question to answer, as it requires the plant to truly understand their equipment, keep track of the equipment’s performance systematically throughout the plant’s operating history, to be able to advise the frequency of failure and most common failure modes. However, by answering these questions, the plant can then have a more accurate assessment of ROI, and apply the 80/20 rule to implement condition monitoring only on the more critical machinery.
Finally, as a plant journeys towards becoming a Smart Factory, there are many solutions available to the plant, each with its own set of objectives. There are digital twins, robotics, Production Information Management Systems (PIMS), energy consumption monitors, etc… When all these different solutions are implemented, the interconnections need to be made through the plant’s Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system in a way that meaningful conclusions can be drawn from all the different data collected. For example, integrating condition monitoring with PIMS can optimize production planning based on equipment health.
When linkages are made between energy consumption monitors and equipment condition monitoring solutions, a closed-loop control can be established to automatically adjust equipment operating conditions to reduce overall energy consumption. By making all these considerations, companies are moving one step closer to extracting most of the benefits from the implementation of condition monitoring solutions and achieving their desired ROI.