Automation will grow exponentially in most sectors within the next few years. For example, robotic process automation (RPA), which uses bots to mimic routine cognitive human tasks, is set to explode. According to research cited by Oracle, the RPA market is forecast to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 40.6% between 2020 and 2027. Digital process automation (DPA), which relates to the streamlining of business processes, will also see growth in the same period.
Facility management is already seeing a significant uptake in automation solutions. Facility management automation relates to technology that automates entire systems whereby data about machinery, equipment, and processes are instantly available and can be transferred to and processed by software for the purpose of facilities-related planning and management. Everything from security systems to temperature and lighting controls, as well as alerts for the purpose of predictive maintenance, can all benefit from automation.
Many of these benefits are self-evident, such as faster and more intelligent processing of equipment-related data as part of asset management. This article will focus on those benefits you may be overlooking.
Data As Ally
Data became a king in facility management. The concept of ‘big data’ has been around for almost 20 years. But what any savvy facilities manager knows is that it is quality and not the quantity of data that is all-important. Data analytics software must be aligned with your company’s processes, policies, and objectives. The savings in efficiencies and costs can be substantial: for example, Intel was able to save approximately $30 million by simply streamlining its big data analytics with its semiconductor quality assurance processes.
Furthermore, the Internet of Things (IoT) will have an increasingly important role in a data-driven facilities management industry. It’s already hugely beneficial with smart buildings – devices interacting with each other to improve energy efficiency, ambient controls, and hygiene standards. The still-unknown benefits that IoT may yet provide in the near future will mean even greater data-derived solutions for facilities departments.
Predictive maintenance continues to be the golden objective for most facilities departments. Automation in the form of sophisticated maintenance software powered by artificial intelligence (AI) is greatly enhancing the ability of facility managers to manage critical maintenance issues, such as how promptly are maintenance requests being addressed and asset failures being averted altogether?
Automation can help facilities departments aspire to the rigors of Maintenance 4.0 in the context of Industry 4.0. The so-called Fourth Revolution or digital revolution is at the heart of Industry 4.0, in which industrial processes are aided by advanced automated systems and technologies interacting with each other. The Industrial Internet of things (IIoT), wireless sensors, cloud computing, AI, and machine learning (ML) are all integral to Industry 4.0. By extension, Maintenance 4.0 encompasses maintenance systems enhanced by automated solutions. It ensures that the maintenance function is aligned with Industry 4.0 and is applicable to non-industrial sectors too. It also takes maintenance to ‘the next level,’ as per the graphic below:
Work Becomes More Intelligent
There are ‘niggling,’ petty aspects to traditional facility management. These can include time-consuming inspections of assets or service calls due to failing machinery or equipment.
Automation ensures that many tedious aspects of facility management can be minimized and even eliminated. Unfortunately, there are too often excuses provided by management to inhibit the adoption of automated solutions. These can include a lack of digital understanding or skills, cost-cutting measures, or the citing of other ‘priorities’ for an organization.
The resistance to the adoption of automated solutions is a big mistake for any facilities department. Automation affords facilities professionals the freedom to concentrate on other aspects of their work that add greater value to the organization.
The American businesswoman Clara Shih reminds us that technology such as automation will “free up time to do the types of tasks that humans are uniquely positioned to perform.” And what do we still do better than any automated device? Business intuition, communication, and thinking creatively are just three examples, all of which are crucially important skills in facilities management.
Reaching Sustainability Goals
It cannot be stressed enough: sustainability will very soon go into hyper-drive as factors such as climate change and the future of work increasingly shape the industry. Automation ensures that sustainability goals can be met. For example, automated facility management greatly facilitates energy efficiency in smart buildings, as evidenced in the graphic below:
Everything from heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning (HVAC) parameters to optimized lighting and smarter waste management solutions can be predicted, managed, and facilitated by automated solutions in the quest for ‘energy harvesting’.
Sustainability is not just about green buildings, energy efficiency, and carbon management, however. Other important sustainability targets can also be more easily met with the assistance of automation. For example, in a post-COVID work paradigm that has a greater emphasis on wellness and employee satisfaction, it is not a stretch to assert that a happier, more self-actualized workforce is an important triple bottom line consideration. Automation enables intelligent asset management and, as such, ensures that facilities professionals are not mired in tedious, time-consuming inspection or repair work.
One thing is certain: industrial and commercial automation is here to stay. Maintenance 4.0 has arrived, regardless of sector, and will continue to evolve as the technology matures exponentially. So too have new ways of work and expectations by workers and stakeholders alike. Automation may not be a catch-all panacea, but it surely has more to offer than you possibly considered until now.
Bryan Christiansen is the founder and CEO of Limble CMMS. Limble is a modern, easy-to-use mobile CMMS software that takes the stress and chaos out of maintenance by helping managers organize, automate, and streamline their maintenance operations.