Earlier in 2020 McKinsey & Company published an article titled The future of maintenance for distributed fixed assets. Ever since, we’ve been discussing and reflecting so much on this excellent piece by Sebastian Stern et al that we decided we had to share exactly why we think the ideas it explains are such a big deal - for infrastructure, energy, utilities, transport, the facilities management sector as whole, and a raft of other industries that rely on distributed fixed asset maintenance (DFAM).

Introducing DFAM

If the ‘asset management’ bit makes you think of finance, it’s nothing of the sort. DFAM is a workstream common to a huge range of industries that are diverse but face similar maintenance challenges. In that sense, it’s a handy label that provides a little more nuance than simply ‘maintenance’.

Wind turbines are a good example of a distributed fixed asset: they're not movable (i.e. fixed), and each one is part of a larger body of assets and could be hundreds or even thousands of kilometers away from other assets of the same type (i.e. distributed).

Those two characteristics together create almost as many headaches as they do advantages. Clearly, the nature of distributed fixed assets is essential for all kinds of infrastructure from telecommunications to water supply to rail transport. But maintaining them efficiently presents unique challenges. And those challenges haven’t always been met.

A new emphasis on efficiency

Efficiency now has to be the watchword for all maintenance operations. In the context of an impending economic crisis that is already seeing cuts to both capital and operating expenditure, operations teams need new ways to deliver excellence at less cost. In many industries this is simply an accepted fact of life. Consider that the typical engineering mindset is something like ‘Do more and do it more efficiently’. Approaches to DFAM have usually focused on doing more - but not always with the efficiency part built in.

Ops professionals have been under ever-increasing pressure to ensure the highest possible levels of availability and reliability for critical infrastructure (Stern et al cite the 99.997% reliability rate of Germany’s power transmission and distribution network in 2018). And, as a result, maintenance costs have increased. But there are lots of reasons why things don’t have to be this way, and we’d highly recommend reading the McKinsey article for the full picture on why.

What Stern et al are advocating is an approach to maintenance that takes into account both the needs of the asset being maintained and the resource available to maintain it.

While that might not sound revolutionary per se, when you factor in the obvious advances made possible in monitoring by the industrial IoT (IIoT), the decreasing costs of IIoT solutions, and the numerous other possibilities it opens up, you get a whole new approach to DFAM that goes way beyond simplistic scheduling and time-based maintenance. As Stern et al put it:

Simply speaking, cost-efficient maintenance for distributed fixed assets needs to follow two key principles:

1. Maintain only when needed

2. Maintain efficiently

A holistic approach to operational excellence

The real challenge for organizations adopting this approach is fully realizing its potential. Technological transformation won’t just mean putting new systems in place - it will mean a whole new way of thinking about DFAM.

The case for IoT-connected sensors is an obvious one: more accurate monitoring can enable preventive maintenance, and avoid unnecessary and expensive site visits, doing away with suboptimal strategies based on time or use.

Or take access as another example: access solutions are sometimes overlooked as a contributing factor to operational excellence. But the ability of decentralized maintenance teams to quickly and easily get into and out of mission-critical facilities - whether it’s a substation, a data center, or an equipment store - plays a huge role in operations. In critical facilities that rely on outsourced maintenance teams to run smoothly, the simple act of getting through doors can become a very real barrier to efficiency. Hundreds of keys and, often, a reliance on the knowledge, availability and authority of a single person can lead to a host of inefficiencies. And, now, they’re all ripe for improvement.

That’s what we’re about at Havr - streamlining the way people access spaces. And that’s why we’re convinced that  DFAM is due a serious overhaul.