Never allow failure to stop production

Finding the right mix of automation products and services can limit unscheduled downtime, according to Joerg Theis, head of the Asia Pacific Region Process automation service department of ABB, during discussion with Andy Zhu, editor, Control Engineering China.


Getting the right mix of automation products and services can add reliability to manufacturing. Andy Zhu, editor, Control Engineering China, interviewed Joerg Theis, head of the Asia Pacific Region Process automation service department of ABB, about finding the right mix of automation products and services. Theis said:

Both products and services are needed

China’s economy is growing rapidly, and the developments in the industry domain are changing every day. Daily, there are new workshops under construction, new equipment under installation, and new plant control systems under implementation. Investments of Chinese industrial enterprise in PA (process automation) products are becoming the highest in the world.

But some survey results indicate that Chinese industrial enterprise shows no activity on purchasing PA services. As other industrial products, PA services have what is called “life-cycle theory”: the warranty period, upgrade period, and replacement period. To keep products in good condition within all the phases of lifecycle, continuous maintenance and upgrade are needed. However, in this aspect, Chinese customers seem not to be worried. Based on my experience, European factories prefer to purchase industrial equipment and relevant services during the first investment (fixed investment and 15 years’ maintenance). The price for these services is decreasing year by year. One system maintenance operator can take care of 300 I/Os at first, but at later stage, 1000 I/Os. So the maintenance costs are decreased. The value of purchasing services depends on steady, high-efficiency operations. With timely maintenance and upgrades, productivity will gradually grow from the relatively low level at the early days of investment. It is just like the performance of a car: after the break-in period it will be better than that of a new car.

Proven by practices, if there are no hard investments in system maintenance, one day it will break down. You can choose to accept maintenance after broken down by failures, or choose to invest to keep systems protected. In China, breakdown may be accepted, but in Europe and America, it is never allowed or accepted. In Germany, if production was stopped, the board of directors will ask for an explanation from the CEO, or even bring an accusation against a CEO to pay for the loss costs from the factory breakdown. This will give the management of the enterprise enough pressure to keep investing in purchasing maintenance services to “never allow failure to stop production.”

What services are needed

When I visit customers, the most frequent question I will ask is, “What do you need most?” The answer of most enterprises is, “I need all the services a supplier can offer.” No matter high-end or low-end, no matter which company, what product category, the ultimate need of enterprise is to have steady production, far from any breakdown, for any reasons. Enterprise management is worried about which problem can stop production or what kind of potential problem will cause slow productivity.

Chinese plants do have maintenance personnel, but they come from too many directions. There are operations maintenance personnel, technical services personnel from product suppliers, and third-party professional maintenance personnel. The defect of this situation is the complex relationships, which prevent cooperation needed to settle a problem rapidly. One method used in Europe is to choose and contract with a service provider that covers all system operating services. Rights and responsibilities are divided clearly and easy. What a plant really purchases with the service contract is a safe period of production, rather the detailed expenses, such as components, personnel, and software. Chinese enterprises can choose proper services according to the situation. Choosing a “general practitioner” or a “specialist” along with components for a safe production period, it is worth thinking over.

When to purchase services

Markets for Chinese industrial controls are now shifting attention to services as needed. No service investments means the enterprise can endure the losses caused by a production stop. By purchasing system operating services, enterprises can save 10% on costs (from which the service provider draws 2% as a reward), and without any additional investments, the enterprises can realize 8% savings. Why not?

Joerg Theis is head of the Asia Pacific Region Process automation service department of ABB. 

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