How preventive maintenance leads to predictive maintenance [VIDEO]

Sterling Systems and Controls' Joe Lewis on the value of preventive maintenance programs in feed and grain facilities, and AI's potential for predictive maintenance.

Elise Schafer headshot Headshot

In this episode, Joe Lewis, Marketing Manager for Sterling Systems and Controls, delves into the realm of preventive and predictive maintenance in feed and grain facilities. Lewis sheds light on the critical role of automated preventive maintenance programs in enhancing efficiency and profitability for companies and how grain processing facilities and feed mills can proactively schedule maintenance, avoid breakdowns and harness the power of technology — including artificial intelligence and QR codes — to usher in a future where predictive maintenance becomes the norm. 

Elise Schafer, Editor of Feed & GrainHi, everyone, and welcome to Feed & Grain Chat. I'm your host Elise Schafer, editor of Feed & Grain. This edition of Feed & Grain Chat is brought to you by WATT Global Media and is your source for the latest news, product and equipment information for the grain handling and feed manufacturing industries.

Today I'm joined on Zoom by Joe Lewis, Marketing Manager for Sterling Systems and Controls. He's here today to talk about predictive maintenance in feed and grain facilities. Hi, Joe. How are you?

Joe Lewis, Marketing Manager for Sterling Systems and Controls:. Good,  Elise. How are you doing? And thank you very much for inviting me to come here. It's a very important subject and I look forward to answering your questions.

Schafer: Excellent. Now let's get right into it. How can grain processing facilities and feed mills automate their preventive maintenance programs, and how does this increase efficiency?

Lewis: Well, that's a pretty good question. Matter of fact, it's a great question. With all the equipment and structures that exist in a feed mill facility, preventative maintenance can be really important to the profitability of the facility and company, as well as their revenue growth and here's how: If you have a breakdown of a piece of process equipment or even a transfer line and the receiving of new raw material or the movement of that raw material to a specific bin location, you can miss opportunities to serve your current and new customers. And that means lost revenue and lost profitability. In addition, catastrophic failures of equipment can result in production downtime, loss of assets and potential injuries, which can be also very expensive. Preventative maintenance programs — and that is preventative — can eliminate these problems by scheduling maintenance before failure and ordering of replacement parts needs to take place. And that is a key word preventative, in this particular case, I think it's a great thing.

Schafer: How can preventative maintenance automation systems particularly benefit companies with multiple locations?

Lewis: Another good question and it's because the preventative maintenance programs are typically interfacing with and communicating with the controllers of the equipment like PLCs and those PLCs really can be in multiple locations or there will be things that are controlling, as an example, a batching control system within the facility or mixing system within a facility and the preventative maintenance automation system is going to interface with those controllers. And they don't have to be in the one facility, they can be in a different facility. Now, if that's the case, if the communication is between the automation system and preventative maintenance system, and the equipment controller is going to be via the Internet, usually, and that facility's IT department is going to have to be involved with that to make sure that it's safe and secure.

Schafer: Now,  speaking of technology, how might artificial intelligence or QR codes help advance preventative maintenance automation in the future?

Lewis: Well,  talk about buzzwords. AI has been, I think, overused, and actually envelopes a couple of different things that are part of AI, including machine learning. And QR codes have been around for a long time. They've been used in advertising, as an example, to allow people to scan the QR code and take them to a particular web page. But how can AI and QR codes be used together in process automation maintenance? The bottom line is the term preventative can change to predictive and the goal is to eliminate the need for maintenance entirely — not just prevent, but eliminate it — and if machine health and status can be predicted,  that maintenance can be avoided by acting in advance.

Now, that's something that we ought to cheer and celebrate if we can make it happen. Now, consider a QR code may be located on a particular machine or a piece of equipment and the operator or production supervisor or manager can scan that code. And then by doing so, it brings up and opens up an interface for the machine where the preventative maintenance, excuse me, predictive maintenance application is actively running and the status of the machine is given to them, suggesting operational actions that can extend the machine life and eliminate maintenance — again eliminate the maintenance. Perhaps changes to the machine speed can be recommended slowing it down or running it even faster to finish production quicker. Those changes to the process might also be recommended, not just changes in the machine operation.

But don't forget garbage in garbage out. Okay, AI is going to need a greater amount of information from the controller systems and the machines themselves. The more information and the higher quality that information is, the more accurate the predictions made by the AI could be. This means more efficient production, more efficient facility, greater profitability and better customer service and more. So, could maintenance be a thing of the past? Predictive maintenance is the future.

Schafer: That's certainly exciting to look forward to. Thank you so much for your insights today, Joe.

Lewis: Well, I do again, appreciate the opportunity and look forward to a great future.

Schafer: Same here Well, that's all for today's Feed & Grain Chat. If you'd like to watch more videos like this, go to and search for videos or go to our YouTube channel. Thanks for watching and we hope to see you next time.