Motors, gears and drives MRO

It started with materials handling systems. Now, manufacturers of subsystems, like motors, gears and drives are expanding their maintenance and services offerings.

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At Modern Materials Handling, we launched our coverage of the MRO side of the industry back in 2015 when we noticed maintenance had become a major source of revenue for large systems integrators, some of whom are offering their own computerized maintenance management systems (CMMS) to manage maintenance in a DC much as a warehouse management system (WMS) manages order fulfillment activities.

The rationale was driven by at least three trends: Systems are more complex than ever, relying as heavily on software, data collection technologies, sensors and PLCs as mechanical systems. That complexity calls for a new breed of technician at the same time as the current generation of technicians is retiring faster than the next generation is entering the field to replace them; and, finally, many DC managers would rather focus on order fulfillment activities rather than maintenance activities. Outsourcing MRO is one less headache.

And if we, and the industry, are up front, maintenance is not only another source of revenue, but it’s a way for a supplier to embed itself deeper into its customers’ operations, making them harder to dislodge by a competitor.

If you think of the above as Phase 1, we’re now entering Phase 2. That’s when the providers of the subsystems that make an automated system work, like motors, gears and drives, begin to offer maintenance services for their end of business. While this is still an emerging trend, companies such as SEW Eurodrive and NIDEC Motor Corp., the manufacturer of the US Motors brand of equipment, are greatly expanding what they offer to the market. It’s a trend we—and industry players—expect to see more of in the future.

Driving the change

Driving Phase 2 are the same dynamics that drove Phase 1 for the big systems integrators. One is a shortage of technicians with motor maintenance expertise. “When the economy turned, the first people to get laid off were in maintenance because equipment wasn’t running,” notes Tim Schumann, service manager for standards for electrical drives and motors at SEW-Eurodrive. “When the economy improved, the focus was on hiring people who could get orders out the door. With leaner maintenance crews, companies are turning to OEMs to support them in all phases of their operations.” That is all happening at a time when equipment availability—think uptime—is at a premium.

Another is complexity: Major motor manufacturers are acquiring makers of drives and gears and going to market with complete systems that include sensors and real-time monitoring technologies. “When you’re selling the motor and the drive system, you have better control over how it all works together,” says Bob Wiesler, product service manager for the US Motors brand. But, he adds, you also need someone who understands how all those parts work together, something the manufacturers can offer.

Finally, service offerings allow manufacturers of power transmission equipment to get closer to their customers, a competitive advantage the next time a bid comes up. “We think service is an area where we can gain ground with management that is looking at the big picture over the long run,” Schumann says.

New models

How pervasive are these new offerings? While many are just now coming to market or are still on the drawing board, “It’s fair to say that all of our competitors are or plan to do something along these lines,” says Schumann.

A quick Google search indicates that he might be right: The Brother Gearmotor division touts its same-day, next-day and two-day expedited ship programs while Baldor’s Website details services that range from commissioning to preventative and predictive maintenance services along with sensors for condition monitoring. Those are just two manufacturers in this area.

How might these offerings work? According to Wiesler, US Motors has offered commissioning, training and parts and spares management services for years. The next frontier, which is still in development, is services that will take advantage of the real-time monitoring capabilities being built into the company’s motors and drives. Sensors installed on the drive systems monitor key operating attributes such as temperature and vibration and report that back through the Cloud in real time.

“Remote monitoring will not only allow us to identify equipment that is about to fail so a technician can address the issue, it will also allow us to do an analysis on how the equipment is being used that might extend the life of a system,” Wiesler says. As an example, US Motors might detect fluctuations in motors at certain times of the day that could indicate that the night shift operator is running the system too fast, which is impacting the life of the motors. “It’s not yet where we’re at, but it’s where we want to get,” he says.

Meanwhile, SEW-Eurodrive, which introduced new maintenance programs at this year’s ProMat show, is offering a Chinese menu of services that range from basics for those companies with maintenance as a core competency up through complete maintenance services. At the basic level, for instance, SEW has a 24-hour hotline that provides access to an on-call technical expert or a 24-hour breakdown service. “We maintain about $40 million in parts and are willing to start up the line and build just about anything in our product catalog with a few hours notice,” says Schumann.

For other customers, SEW will survey a facility to create a database of every drive component in a plant or distribution center, and then evaluate the operating conditions to design a preventative maintenance program. SEW can then generate an e-mail alert to remind a customer that it’s time to perform a task, such as replacing the oil in a specific gear box after 5,000 hours of operation, or send in a technician to perform the service.

In facilities with a large number of motors, drives and gearboxes, SEW leaves a box for failed equipment, which it will pick up, repair at a local service center and return. It will also outfit a customer’s stock room. For example, it has worked with customers to identify the most critical motors and drives and systems and then create a plan for spare stock and repairs. Those stockrooms can be linked to the production floor. “If a motor goes down, the customer can log into our system, key in a part number and find out where the spare is located in the stock room,” Schumann says.

Who is a candidate for these new services? “We think the target audience is the facility where uptime is critical and the end user that puts a high value on preventative and predictive maintenance,” says Schumann. “If the sorter or storage system in a big e-commerce facility goes down, for instance, they can’t ship packages to their customers.”

About the Author

Bob Trebilcock
Bob Trebilcock, editorial director, has covered materials handling, technology, logistics and supply chain topics for nearly 30 years. In addition to Supply Chain Management Review, he is also Executive Editor of Modern Materials Handling. A graduate of Bowling Green State University, Trebilcock lives in Keene, NH. He can be reached at 603-357-0484.

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