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Helium is a necessary raw material for global industries such as medicine, aerospace and technology. It is expensive to produce, and difficult to extract from natural sources. With rising demand in industry, suppliers of helium are rationing their stock, and with less helium available prices are skyrocketing. But what is the underlying cause of the helium shortage?

According to Phil Kornbluth, a helium consultant, “there are five major global suppliers of helium. Two of them have been rationing supply since February 2018.”

The lack in supply can largely be attributed to maintenance outages, both planned and unplanned downtime. The prices of helium have increased in some cases by as much as 100%.

Manufacturing companies such as these helium suppliers, struggle with planned and unplanned downtime that goes over-time, over-budget, and is performed with low-quality and rushed maintenance work. Planning and execution can go a long way, but many believe that digital transformation will be the solution to decreasing downtime, and to overall efficiency in maintenance.

Digital transformation requires more than digitalization, it requires operational changes in the prioritization, planning and execution of maintenance work.

Reducing Downtime Through Digital Transformation

For planned downtime, maintenance work should be shifted from manual tasks and paper-based activities to automated, digital work. For example, inspections should be digital, with easily accessible and accurate name plate data. This will result in the necessary data being accessible, and therefore maintenance workers spend less time looking for information and more time doing maintenance work.

Digital transformation for the planning of maintenance work also requires maintenance optimization that includes condition-based, and time-based scheduled maintenance. Not only does this provide efficiency in scheduling and performing maintenance work, but it allows for data collection that could provide insights on predictive failure.

Management of Change (MOC) Processes should be utilized to allow for better management of maintenance activities and automated workflows for maintenance work. Maintenance activities such as inspections could be performed using digital solutions such as a Toughbook that will allow for real time data. Additionally, providing employees with an illustrated parts catalogue for the equipment that needs maintenance can reduce the occurrence of missordered parts, and can increase the accuracy of maintenance work performed.

Maintenance work can be performed with remote video conferencing, or augmented reality solutions. Subject Matter Experts can not only monitor maintenance through this technology but there is also technology available to allow for remote monitoring of equipment through IIoT sensors. Digital transformation requires the convergence of IT and OT to make sure that technical advances are implemented with the goal to improve operational efficiency.

How Can NRX Help?

A good place to start with digital transformation is by doing a pilot project. In order to decrease downtime, you need to start by analyzing the equipment that is closely related to your revenue streams or the equipment that most frequently fails. Then digitize, digitalize and digitally transform within those areas. Creating Illustrated Parts Catalogues for these pieces of equipment is incredibly beneficial to reducing downtime, and increasing overall ROI.

Sources:

https://www.cbc.ca/news/business/helium-smartphones-fibre-optic-cable-mri-internet-scuba-1.5084212 

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