Can ultrasound technology, a type of predictive maintenance technology, really detect equipment failures before they happen?
That’s the question City US facilities management leaders set out to answer recently when they conducted a series of grocery store pilots to test SOUNDTech+ ultrasound technology, the City branded predictive maintenance tool powered by DST.
Based on the results of the 10-month pilot, the ultrasound predictive maintenance technology predicts catastrophic refrigeration rack failure before the issue becomes a problem — with 99% accuracy, said George Campbell, Head of Technical Services at City. Most important for facilities management and finance leaders, the tool can avoid costly equipment repairs, premature replacement, and product loss.
What is predictive maintenance?
Predictive maintenance uses specialized tools and technology to monitor the condition and performance of equipment and structures to detect issues before they cause failure. Predictive and preventive maintenance have similar goals – to avoid unplanned downtime and extend equipment life. However, predictive maintenance technology can uncover specific problems, while preventive maintenance is a general approach, usually performed based on a schedule. Proactive facilities management leaders increasingly use a mix of both strategies.
There are several types of predictive maintenance technologies, including ultrasound technology, vibration analysis, infrared analysis, laser-shaft alignment, oil analysis, and predictive analytics using artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning.
While City’s facilities maintenance specialists use a number of predictive technologies, Campbell said they see ultrasound technology as a game changer because it saves time in the field, provides more precise diagnostics for repairs, and can be less costly to implement.
Ultrasound Technology Poses Three Cost-Saving Benefits for Retailers
Initially, City is focusing its ultrasound initiative on refrigeration maintenance, but the facilities management company expects to use it with HVAC equipment, trash compactors, water pumps for fire systems, and other essential systems. Based on the refrigeration application alone, Campbell sees multiple opportunities for cost savings and other benefits:
- Operational benefits: By detecting equipment issues before actual failures and providing clear details on the repairs needed, ultrasound technology can significantly increase uptime.
- Financial benefits: Predictive maintenance using ultrasound technology can lead to significant savings by reducing technician overtime costs, extending the life of expensive equipment, and avoiding shrink from lost product when refrigeration fails. Predictive maintenance can also inform better capital planning by providing more accurate details on when capital equipment needs to be replaced.
- Labor benefits: By enabling maintenance to be scheduled proactively, ultrasound technology can avoid most emergency after-hours and maintenance calls, which can improve work-life balance and retention for field technicians. The technology is also easy to use and learn, provides detailed instructions for repair work, and can assist with technician training.
“How do you put a value on uptime? When refrigeration goes down, you have just a few hours to get it up and running before the products spoil and have to go in the dumpster,” said Campbell.
When you consider that grocery stores lose as much as over three percent of total sales each year to shrink, even if you can reduce that by as little as 10%, the savings can be enormous.George Campbell
Overcoming Skepticism about Predictive Maintenance
Despite the advantages, predictive maintenance and ultrasound technology has been relatively slow to catch on. In fact, Campbell admits he was reluctant to buy into the concept of predictive maintenance technology.
“My first reaction was, ‘I don’t have time for this. I’ve been doing this for 40 years. I know what’s wrong with the compressors. I don’t need some tool telling me what’s wrong,’” said Campbell, a master electrician with experience both in the field and as a leader in refrigeration and mechanical facilities maintenance. “In our pilots, I tried to prove the tool did not work. But it surprised me every time. The tool kept proving itself.”
His initial perception of predictive maintenance technology is common among many engineers and technicians, according to research by the Manufacturers Alliance Foundation. The report, Predictive Maintenance Strategies Gain Ground, cites companies that gained significant ROI by using these technologies. However, it recommends finding a champion on the maintenance team and involving them early.
“It will involve a culture change for predictive maintenance to take off. Many companies are still in the ‘break and fix’ mentality,” said Campbell. “But at City, we want to be proactive and get ahead of problems, because we know that will ultimately save money and avoid a ton of headaches for our partners. It’s remarkable what we can do in the predictive world if we do it right. People just don’t believe it until they see it.”