Maintenance professionals has a long, proud tradition of rolling up their sleeves and working directly with their hands. But they also love shiny new tools, and each generation of technicians had tended to adopt the latest developments, embracing improvements in comfort, safety, and efficiency. Besides, slapping a new battery pack into a power drill just looks cool. But are we keeping up with other industries, with all their AI-driven decision-making, real-time data syncs, and the promises of quantum computing?
In the grand scheme of things, just how cutting-edge is today’s maintenance technology?
Definition of cutting-edge technology
The good news is that “cutting-edge” is more of a marketing term than anything else, which means there’s no strict or strictly enforced definition. You can be flexible with how and where you use it.
A good, simple definition of cutting-edge technology is the devices, techniques, and achievements involving the most recent developments in information technology. It’s out there at the limits of our current ability to take new discoveries and apply them through new technologies. Basically, it’s all the coolest new stuff everyone wants for Christmas.
Closely related is the term “bleeding-edge technology,” and here you’re out a bit past where new tech is reliable. In many cases, these technologies are still in the beta testing phase, where companies release it to early adopters to hammer out the bugs that slipped past earlier rounds of testing. Some products manage to go from bleeding edge to cutting edge to leading edge, where competitors have already started to sell direct competitors. But it’s also common for a new tech or product to fail. Many thought Google glasses were going to be the next big thing, for example.
Tracking developments in cutting-edge technology
There’s one more step for new tech after it reaches the leading edge. From there, if it’s popular and enough industries adopt it, technology becomes standard. One of a ton of possible examples here is seatbelts. First only Volvo had them, and they were a fancy selling point. Now, even if you could imagine a car without them, you wouldn’t be able to sell it.
So, if you’re following developments in cutting-edge technology, you can make educated guesses about the tech facility and maintenance managers could be using in the future.
Think of it this way: if you knew what was cutting edge in business computers in the 80s, you could have predicted the eventual arrival of CMMS and EAM solutions at the maintenance office. And if you’d been following how software companies were shifting to the subscription-based business model, you would have seen the current CMMS and EAM solutions landscape long before it developed.
Looking at what’s cutting-edge helps you prepare for what’s eventually going to be the standard, widely implements technologies.
The ten-thousand-foot view is that a lot of cutting-edge technology involves data, either alone or in some combination with the physical world. Things are getting better, stronger, faster. Data is more widely distributed while everything is more closely connected.
Artificial intelligence (AI) for more precise predictions
It’s easy to understand the power of prediction. Just imagine if you could see tomorrow’s winning lottery numbers today. So, across industries, organizations try to predict different elements of the future business landscape, usually focusing on demand and growth.
What makes AI so good at predictions? AI is a large and loose term that describes a machine doing a task that requires human intelligence. Machine learning, a type of AI, is where a computer is “taught” how to perform a task by giving it large sets of data and ensuring it has access to large amounts of processing power.
So, if you wanted to teach an AI to recognize if something is pizza or not, you would first have to “feed” it thousands of pictures of pizza. Although pizza is an easy example, there are many much more important applications of this type of technology. For example, researchers have taught AIs to detect various forms of cancer by reviewing CAT scans.
VR and AR to blur the lines between the real and the virtual with real-time feedback
Putting aside the unfulfilled potential that is Facebook Metaverse, there are some exciting developments in both virtual and augmented reality that show real promise. As computers become faster thanks to quantum computing, the quality of the graphics will improve, helping you feel more like you’re surrounded by a real environment, less like you’re trapped inside an 80’s Atari game.
And the ways you can interact with that environment will also improve. With 3D multi-sensor transmitters, virtual objects can feel the same as their real-world counterparts. So, when you touch the wall, you can feel the fine bumps in the wallpaper. Petting a virtual dog feels shaggy. Some predict that this new tech will find many applications in healthcare. Instead of visiting a doctor for a physical examination, you can meet in a virtual examination room, with you at home and the doctor in their office.
Generally, you can keep data safer by encrypting it both when storing and moving it. But to work with it, you need to decrypt it, which limits how who you can share it with.
With more recent generations of homomorphic encryption, though, it’s possible to operate on data as if it were decrypted, which means you no longer have to share your secrets with third parties for them to work with your data. For example, you could share sets of patient records with a third-party AI that could complete predictive analytics without access to the unencrypted records. Even the results would be encrypted.
Facility and maintenance tech is becoming more cutting edge
We can already see some, but not all, of these technologies in maintenance tech. In some ways, maintenance tech is, in fact, cutting edge.
Some departments are making the move from preventive maintenance to predictive maintenance, installing asset-mounted sensors to collect live streams of data they then feed into AI-back algorithms taught to predict future failures far in advance. In terms of VR and AR, organizations are using them for both training and maintenance. Especially in the aerospace industry, where techs need to learn how to work on costly, complex assets, VR training can deliver more cost-effective solutions.
For maintenance, AR can help support maintenance techs through instant access to data, including graphics and other information appearing over and around the physical assets and equipment.
But the adoption and implementation of new technologies is uneven, and some departments are still stuck trying to get by with either paper- or spreadsheet-based manual methods.
Just how cutting-edge is maintenance technology? Cutting-edge technology is the devices, techniques, and achievements involving the most recent developments in IT, out at the limits of our ability to directly apply new discoveries.
New developments tend to involve data, with focuses on using it to augment current reality and predict the future. Researchers are using machine learning to teach programs to detect cancer by looking at CT scans, for example, while in the world of virtual reality, new 3D sensors will make objects that live inside computers feel just as real their real-world counterparts.
There are possible applications across industries, including the medical field, where doctors might one day perform remote physical exams. But how much of these cutting-edge technologies are finding their way into maintenance? Some departments are using VR and AR for both training and maintenance, while others are employing AI as the brains of predictive maintenance programs.