Predictive Maintenance Can Bolster IoT for Smart Cities

By Will Zell

Will Zell is an entrepreneur and investor with a passion for wireless power. Although a firm believer in the power of technology, Will understands that business is conducted between people and he is devoted to operating Nikola Labs with the highest level of integrity.

Dec 18, 2017 | Society, Technology | 0 comments

In business, much of what we do comes down to dollars and cents, and rightly so as we fulfill our duty to employers and shareholders. Whether we earn more or save more, financial success impacts many aspects of our professional and personal lives. However, money is not the only measure of success; there is another finite resource we all must consider: time. For manufacturing facilities, refineries and chemical plants, maximizing uptime is crucial as products drive revenue. In our private lives, time is also valuable as we strive to spend time with family and friends, and pursue our hobbies. Sadly, a substantial portion of our time both at work and home is wasted on mistakes that could be avoided with the right information. In total, the average American loses over four years on problems that predictive maintenance can fix.

Our company, Nikola Labs, named for the amazingly innovative inventor and visionary Nikola Tesla, is commercializing a radio frequency to direct current wireless power technology invented at Ohio State University. Put simply, we send usable power at distances up to 30 feet without wires. While that may sound spectacular, we understand that customers don’t buy technology because it’s cool, but because it offers them value. For this reason, we are focusing efforts on powering the growing wave of low-power sensors and devices that are part of the Internet of Things (IoT), particularly in the industrial space for predictive maintenance. Our wireless power technology enables vibration and temperature sensors to live longer and provide richer streams of data, ultimately giving the insights needed to improve uptime and profitability.

A Gram of Predictive Maintenance is Worth a Pound of Cure

Benjamin Franklin said “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” His point was that we should take care of ourselves and our belongings before we get ill or they break down because curing ourselves or fixing things after the fact has a higher cost in time or money, or both. However, preventive maintenance (PM) can be a waste of time if a machine needs to be taken out of service regularly to avoid a later, unplanned shutdown. A better approach would be to maintain machines only when needed so that they can remain in productive service as long as possible. By monitoring key parameters, predictive maintenance (PdM) sensors and software allow this. While still valid, Franklin’s quote needs updating for the age of IoT; a pound of cure can be avoided with an ounce of prevention, but a gram of PdM will also work.

Smarter Smart Cities

PdM and wireless power hold the promise of making Smart Cities even smarter. Use cases abound for everything from installing a myriad of sensors in urban areas, to monitoring everything from traffic patterns to air quality, to the health of critical infrastructure. A key challenge of installing strain sensors on a bridge or highway overpass is sourcing the power required for them to operate. Nikola Labs technology can address this challenge by harvesting power from nearby power lines, radio and TV towers, and cell phone communication hubs. When consistent power is provided, long-lived sensors can provide the rich steams of data necessary to generate PdM insights; thereby avoiding catastrophic failures and permitting municipal departments to focus their attention on infrastructure most in need of repair.

Applying Predictive Maintenance to Our Lives

IoT is not only changing the way we work, it’s changing the way we live. The more people count steps on a Fitbit or Apple Watch, track their rides on Strava, and otherwise monitor their health and lifestyle, the easier it will be to apply PdM to other aspects of our lives. This will allow us to live smarter, healthier, and more efficient lives. But what is to be gained? We can figure that out by first understanding how much time is spent “fixing problems.”

Like nearly everything on the web, there are myriad estimates on the ‘average time spent fixing problems’. For the sake of sanity, provided below are a few pertinent approximations, validated across multiple websites. If you feel that these do not accurately reflect your life feel free to plug in your own values, but be forewarned that the numbers can be staggering.

On the job, anywhere from 30 to 50 percent of time is spent fixing problems that could have been prevented. While this varies widely among industries, positions, pay-grade, etc, the range was generally accepted by most sources. Taking the low-end of 30 percent and multiplying it by the standard US full-time work week of 47 hours results in over 14 hours per week of wasted effort. At home, four to11 percent of time is spent fixing preventable mistakes. Again using the low-end of four percent and this time multiplying by one’s free, non-work time (168 hours in a week less 47 working hours equals 121 personal hours) results in another almost five hours or wasted effort. So between work and personal time, we spend, conservatively, 19 hours per week, correcting preventable problems. Assuming this continues 50 weeks per year over a period of 50 years, we will have wasted nearly five and a half years. If predictive maintenance on ourselves and things could avoid three-quarters of our wasted effort, the average American could gain four years.

Even more is what these numbers do not take into account. When mistakes or problems are made that could have been prevented, it can take a toll on our psyche. When others waste our time we become frustrated and angry. When we waste our own time, we are disappointed and can lose confidence in ourselves. Over time, the anxiety and tension can negatively impact friendships, careers, marriages and health. Almost everyone can recall a time when they failed to get a good night’s sleep because of the anxiety stemming from preventable mistakes and what is needed to correct them the next day.

We are not naïve, believing IoT is a magic bullet that will quickly cause all of these problems to go away, or that it even has potential to solve all problems. However, as we ask the big questions around the value and implications of our technological pursuits, we believe in leveraging tech to provide the data, automation and solutions needed to help us capture back more of our greatest asset, time, in order to spend it on things that really matter.

We believe human potential is great, and that too many people are locked into positions and mindsets that do not let them explore their own potential. As we rapidly move into this future, our motivation at Nikola Labs is truly helping people live smarter, healthier, and more efficient lives. At Nikola Labs we are committed to using our wireless power technology to solve existing problems with IoT, and to ensure that by doing so, we’re not creating another big problem … changing batteries!

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