Maintenance strategies: reliability is not just key, it’s king

Posted on 5 Jan 2024 by Joe Bush

Travelling in an elevator, activating an air conditioning unit and operating all manner of manufacturing equipment will often mean employing the services of a vital, but often unseen and unheralded industrial mainstay – the electric motor.

Despite often being hidden away, they are a vital part of a whole myriad of industrial processes and therefore, keeping them running, efficiently maintained and operating cost effectively is essential. A key factor in achieving this for many industrial players is, of course, cost.

However, cost manifests itself in a number of different ways. Obviously, there is the upfront cost of actually purchasing the equipment and maintaining it over its lifecycle. There is also the additional cost of unplanned downtime; when the equipment is not running and the knock on impact that has on production and workflow.

While significant, these costs are often a tiny fraction of the entire lifecycle of the equipment. Unbeknown to many manufacturers, the highest cost over 20 years of operation of an electric motor comes from its energy consumption.

Reliability of electric motors is intrinsically linked to all these factors and ABB Motion Services recently conducted a study with industrial maintenance and factory operators across 16 countries and a broad range of sectors including utilities, marine, food and beverage, oil and gas and metals, into the role of electric motors in industrial and manufacturing processes, and the strategies which can maximise their operating potential.

Damning downtime

The study showed that the typical cost of an outage that lasts for an eight hour working shift is $1m. That’s $125,000 per hour over an eight hour working shift, which equates easily to the time usually taken to get an operation back up and running when something goes wrong.

“The shocking statistic about this survey is that close to 70% of the companies we spoke to experienced this sort of outage and downtime at least once a month,” said Virve Viitanen, Head of Global Customer Care and Support, ABB Motion Services.

Virve VVirve Viitaneniitanen, Head of Global Customer Care and Support, ABB Motion Services

“Our survey of 3,215 plant maintenance leaders across the globe found that outages cost the typical industrial business a hefty $125,000 per hour. A significant 69% of plants experience unplanned outages at least once a month. Yet, 21% of respondents still conduct run-to-fail or ‘reactive’ maintenance.”

“Therefore, on average, they are facing the risk of $12m of direct impact for the downtime of the equipment per year. And on top of that comes all the indirect impact around reputation and customer satisfaction.

“While almost half of respondents identified reliability as a top priority when purchasing equipment, only 20% said the same of uptime. This underscores a critical point – operators are still not making the connection between the benefits of reliable equipment on uptime, their business reputation and their bottom line.”

She added that action can be taken by adopting more proactive maintenance strategies – with the survey revealing that companies that deploy such initiatives can expect to see around a 42% improvement in uptime.

Purchase, upkeep and energy

The next cost item is associated with equipment purchase, maintenance and modernisation. This is really about the optimal lifecycle of the equipment. Many view equipment as being a small cost item which in the broad scheme doesn’t matter; in fact, when it comes to large equipment, this can be a substantial cost in itself and a lot of decisions are based on this. Indeed, some decisions are even made solely on the upfront cost of the equipment,

However, when it comes to maintenance and modernisation, there are also actions that can be taken to improve on this cost. And again, being proactive will help reduce the direct cost of service activities, with predictive maintenance estimated to save 40% of maintenance and modernisation costs versus reactive strategies.


of businesses using a run-to-fail maintenance strategy experienced an unplanned outage every month

Virve continued: “When strategies are planned, you can ensure that the right capabilities and skilled people are in the right place at the right time and you have the necessary materials. That means the plan can be rolled-out in a more efficient and effective way than if you’re reacting to a situation which has come as a surprise or a shock.”

Reliability centred services can make an impact on this part of the cost and to this end, ABB is working with Enefit Green, the biggest wind energy producer in the Baltics. See case study below.

The biggest wind energy producer in the Baltics saves up to 79% of CO2 emissions


Enefit Green, the biggest wind energy producer in Baltics, relied on ABB’s planned maintenance services to assure the high reliability of its wind turbines located in Estonia and Lithuania.

Because the maintenance contract with the OEM was expiring, its aim was to keep the ACS800 converters operating at peak performance and at the same time conduct the planned maintenance according to the scheduled maintenance programme.

In Enefit Green’s Estonian wind portfolio, ABB converters (ACS800) are utilised in 24 wind turbines at Enefit Green’s Aulepa and Aseri wind farms with a total capacity of 72MW and an average yearly capacity of 160GWh, accounting for almost a quarter of Estonia’s wind energy output.

Each of the turbines accommodate two converter cabinets with multiple ACS800 converter modules and they were serviced with minimal wind turbine downtime for the customer which meant guaranteed operational availability.

Aged assets do not have to be discarded or replaced, they may be reconditioned to improve their dependability and maintainability while assuring smooth operations.

The reconditioning of the equipment maximises reliability and performance, and it extends its lifetime while providing an extended warranty. Also, by choosing to recondition the equipment there are potential CO2 emission savings of up to 79% compared to the purchasing of a new product. To achieve this, ABB replaced the old ACS800 converters in the existing wind turbine with reconditioned ones.

The scope of the new service agreement also included Health Check and Stress Check services, a reconditioning service carried out in the ABB service workshop and cabinet reconditioning carried out on-site.

As for the third, and most significant cost piece, energy, here again, reliability is integral and walks hand-in-hand with sustainability. Reliability improves energy efficiency and energy consumption (that lion’s share of lifetime equipment cost). A study by the US Department for Energy found that around a 20% saving in annual energy spend can be achieved with reliability centred services.

Unfortunately, it’s not always the case within industry and manufacturing that the latest technology is being deployed to ensure that equipment is operating as planned.

Current maintenance strategies

ABB’s study showed that most industrial operators employ one of three maintenance strategies. The first is a run to fail strategy (reactive). This option, used by 21% of respondents, is restrictive and actions are only taken when equipment fails. “It’s risky, and more failures happen with this strategy. However, there are cases where it still might make sense,” added Virve.

The next strategy is a time-based maintenance strategy (preventive). Here, actions are taken based on a predetermined time schedule and on the statistical ageing of different components. The majority (45%) of the companies surveyed are using this strategy.

An example of an ABB customer using such a strategy is Ruchira Papers, an Indian paper producer which was experiencing continuous problems with equipment. See case study below.

Ruchira Papers partners with ABB and increases uptime by almost 13%


ABB has taken on complete accountability for the maintenance of the paper mill’s drives by providing a combination of services that significantly increased uptime and reduced production losses.

Ruchira Papers manufactures printing, writing and kraft paper from agricultural waste materials at its mill in Himachal Pradesh, around 200km north of New Delhi, India.

By 2021 the company was facing increasing downtime and production loss due to the lack of a solid drive maintenance strategy. Local non-ABB service suppliers were servicing failing drives, but the customer was looking for better ways to improve the reliability of its drive-controlled applications as it was experiencing around four to five unplanned downtimes per year.

Considering that in the paper manufacturing industry, the average cost of unplanned downtime on a single paper machine can reach $20,000 per minute, the application’s uptime and quick response when something is not working properly, is critical.

Looking to improve uptime and cut production losses, the company entered into an ABB Motion OneCare service agreement where ABB has taken full responsibility for servicing around 55 ABB drives from all lifecycle stages.

The ABB Motion OneCare agreement was customised to Ruchira Papers’ needs, and it includes preventive maintenance, on-site support during interruptions, technical support via Remote Visual Guidance, spare parts inventory management, reconditioning and modernisation services or replacement.

In the two years since the agreement went into effect, uptime has already risen to 94.8%, an increase of almost 13%. The goal is to continuously increase uptime while gradually modernising drives that are nearing the end of their lifecycle.

“ABB provides timely, high-quality service under our agreement and has contributed to improved performance and increased revenues. We value their expertise and technology, so we have decided to extend our collaboration for at least three more years,” said Sandeep Kalsi, General Manager of the Electrical Department at Ruchira Papers.

However, despite being the most prevalent maintenance strategy right now, this approach does have its drawbacks. Because it is based around time schedules, equipment can be scheduled for repair or reconditioning either too early (before it’s required) or too late (after the equipment has already failed).

There are other more emerging maintenance strategies available, and a condition-based (predictive) maintenance strategy means that equipment is first of all digitally connected and based on real-time data. The status or condition of equipment can then be analysed, and actions taken. Of the companies surveyed by ABB, 33% use a condition-based maintenance strategy.

“This can be beneficial in different environments,” Virve added. “For instance, if an industrial environment is particularly hot it can cause electrical components to age much faster. Therefore, this strategy can make a huge difference for optimising the actions that are taken. Sometimes it can even postpone actions that would have been taken with a preventive strategy, because it can show that equipment is actually in a better condition than was first thought, thus further enhancing sustainability.

“Regular maintenance is important to all industrial businesses, but certain strategies are more effective than others at achieving uptime. Nine in ten respondents said that maintenance has increased their uptime in the last year, but businesses using a condition-based strategy reported the best performance.”

A Belgian sugar producer was experiencing problems with its motors and, through an ABB service partner, installed digital connectivity and was able to identify extra vibration on these motors and preventive maintenance actions were taken. See case study below.

Belgian sugar producer improves uptime and realises a 12% energy saving

Belgian Sugar

Better decision-making for a sugar processing plant in Belgium has been achieved with the help of digital solutions that have improved process uptime, boosted energy efficiency by 12% and optimised maintenance cycles. This has been achieved with the help of ABB digital solutions provided by Duvivier Dexis, an ABB channel partner.

When the customer was facing critical production downtime, it turned to Duvivier Dexis for help. This family-run business, specialising in industrial solutions, suggested using ABB Ability Monitoring Service to track the condition and performance of the most critical electrically-powered assets consisting of four drying drums and three fans.

The monitoring data showed that one of the three fans driven by 30kW electric motors responsible for transporting sugar was operating with high vibration levels. An on-site investigation revealed that sugar particles had built up on the fan blades, causing an imbalance.

A quick clean-up of the fan blades and replacement of the radial fan filters resulted in increased uptime and also achieved a surprising 12% energy saving and a €4,000 yearly savings per fan. With this simple cleaning operation, the customer was able to make a big impact in reducing unnecessary costs by acting on the data insights coming from the condition monitoring system.

Duvivier Dexis also found that the optimal cleaning interval for the fans was once a year, allowing the plant to optimise its maintenance cycles based on the assets’ condition. This data insight, delivered through ABB Ability Monitoring Service, gives the plant operators weekly reports on the status of their assets and the ability to transition from preventive to predictive maintenance, reducing costs and improving asset availability.

With ABB’s monitoring service, the experts support the plant by analysing and interpreting the data for them. This enables them to advance from preventive maintenance to predictive maintenance based on the condition of the assets. Preventive maintenance often involves unnecessary operations that are done ‘just in case’, so the transition to targeted, condition-based maintenance reduces costs. It also improves asset availability by minimising unplanned production stops.

An outcome-based maintenance strategy

Despite these three most commonly used strategies, there is a fourth that is emerging which more and more manufacturers are keen to taken advantage of. This is called an outcome-based maintenance strategy. This results in the risk being taken away from the end user via a service provider that is contracted to provide a guaranteed outcome.

Virve added: “The obvious factor that comes to mind when you talk about outcome is uptime i.e., you only pay for the equipment when it is running.” However, she added that there are other types of outcomes that can be guaranteed via this strategy such as energy savings and efficiency, or availability of materials. So, instead of buying spare parts, the end user purchases access to them. If an incident occurs access is guaranteed without actually having to physically store the parts.

“The idea is that the service provider takes more risk away from the customer and instead of action just being taken it’s actually guaranteeing a certain outcome. One of the key findings from our survey was that 87% of companies are interested in moving in this direction.”


of maintenance leaders see potential in using an outcome-based maintenance strategy to support their overall business strategy

Therefore, it’s clear that the momentum is there in the industry and the more industrial organisations move away from a run to fail-based strategy and towards an outcome-based model, the more the risk for the end customer reduces.

Virve stressed that it is certainly not a one-size-fits-all strategy however, and it is therefore important to have the data and transparency to understand what the right strategy is for any given situation. “The right strategy for some can be run to fail, in others it can be preventive” she added. “However, the more critical the equipment and the higher the cost related to an outage, the more these other two emerging strategies come into play.”

ABB worked with Europe’s largest generator of renewable energy, Statkraft, on an outcome-based agreement strategy. See case study below.

Statkraft chooses ABB synchronous condensers to help the UK National Grid meet its zero-carbon targets


The project in Liverpool combines ABB synchronous condensers with flywheels to help stabilise the power grid as renewable energy replaces large fossil-fueled rotating power plants.

ABB was awarded a major turnkey contract by Statkraft, Europe’s largest generator of renewable energy, to design, manufacture and install two high-inertia synchronous condenser systems for the Lister Drive Greener Grid project at Liverpool in Northwest England.

The innovative project will play a key role in stabilising the local grid to handle an increased amount of wind and solar power. This will help National Grid meet its target of operating a zero-carbon electricity system by 2025.

The UK’s drive to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and minimise climate change is driving the increased use of renewable energy. The challenge is that wind and solar energy sources use power conversion technologies that do not provide the inertia that grid operators rely on to maintain grid stability.

ABB synchronous condensers offer an innovative solution to address this challenge. They are large rotating machines developed to mimic the operation of coal or gas fired generators by providing an alternative source of spinning inertia. They will support the national grid by providing reactive power compensation and additional short-circuit power capacity, allowing more renewables to be connected to the grid.

The Lister Drive project is the first installation in England. It is also the first project anywhere in the world to feature a high-inertia configuration. This couples 67 megavolt amps reactive (MVAr) synchronous condensers with a 40 tonne flywheel that increases the instantaneously available inertia by 3.5 times. The high-inertia system will ensure that the network frequency and voltage are held stable within the tight limits essential to maintain grid reliability.

To ensure around-the-clock availability for this vital system, Statkraft has signed a ten year services contract with ABB. ABB’s UK field service team will provide a full range of maintenance services, both planned and quick response. A full suite of ABB Ability digital condition monitoring solutions will be deployed to optimise performance and predict maintenance needs. By assessing real-time data with cloud-based analysis, the team can plan corrective actions before issues occur, ensuring system reliability.

Now is the time, but what does it take?

So, if the time is right to head towards outcome-based strategies, the natural question to ask is how do we get there? Virve mentioned how key connected assets and analytics are in this regard, but they are by no means enough.

“You actually need to know what the data is telling you,” she added. “And that’s where players like ABB Motion come in, because we have been there since the inception of equipment such as motors and drives.

“We are working with many customers across a variety of industries all over the world. And we know what data in a certain process or application requires, and crucially what actions need to be taken based on that data.”

However, even with data and the domain expertise of knowing what is going to happen, issues can still occur if the end user doesn’t have the right capabilities when it comes to execution. Therefore, a skilled workforce is vital as is the availability of the required materials.

Manufacturers learned, often at great cost, during the COVID crisis how critical these factors became when supply chains faced disruption, and recruiting and retaining the right people is not guaranteed.

Virve continued: “That’s where the benefit of an outcome-based business model is for customers because the service provider takes care of all this and by combining real-time data, domain expertise, knowledge and know-how, with the physical materials and people, reliability is guaranteed.”

What should the customers do?

Transparency is not only key, but also king. Companies need to know the impact of downtime on their businesses, the criticality of different assets and knowing where actions should be taken. The next step should be to digitalise the equipment; connectivity results in more data in real-time for the critical assets.

Thirdly, invest in reliability. This can be done without digitalising the equipment. Knowing where the most critical areas in an organisation are and then investing in making sure that reliability in those areas is improved.

Lastly, consider a long-term, outcome-based service agreement to de-risk the business to create peace of mind. That then allows the company to focus on its own core competence instead of worrying about the reliability of equipment.


Virve concluded: “Equipment is hidden inside almost all critical operations in society. So, its reliability is important to all of us. Costly outages occur roughly once a month for 70% of businesses, so there is clearly a case for doing something.

“Action is being taken but many are still relying on a fully reactive strategy. So, taking more proactive strategies and auditing the impact of reliability makes sense. Sixty percent of surveyed customers said they are going to invest more in reliability. The good news for them is that when they invest in reliability, they will also see improvements in sustainability. So, they can expect energy efficiency to improve and to also receive savings.

“Investing in reliability is the pathway to maximising uptime, saving costs, increasing competitiveness and protecting piece of mind. Outcome-based service models will be a key component of maintenance in the future. In an increasingly uncertain world, it makes sense to control things that are within your control.”

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