Everyone knows the saying about getting your oil changed, “Every 3,000 miles…..”

I used to take my car in for an oil change every 3k-5k miles, until a recent interview with Senior Director of Maintenance, Nikolaus Despain, led to a discussion of the evolution of car engine maintenance and how it parallels what maintenance organizations everywhere are experiencing – an opportunity to transform Preventive Maintenance with the power IoT.

Transition from Reactive to Preventive Maintenance

Motors were a significant invention, saving both time and physical labor.  Yet motors weren’t always as reliable as they are today.  When engines were first created, they didn’t initially use oil.  Early motors would lock up frequently until someone realized if you put lubricants on the metal parts, it would run longer and extend the life of the engine. This caused other problems with contaminants and sludge that would both build and plug up the engine, so the motor still had to be taken apart and fixed.  Additionally, no one liked the mess of lubricants, so they decided to enclose them – great idea, but the engines still required rebuilding, until someone else decided to filter the oil so the engine would run longer between maintenance.

Finally, a bright industrial engineer did a time study and determined that if the oil is changed on a fixed frequency, the engine would not require rebuilding.  In an attempt to address the build-up that was causing engine failures, we started periodically changing the oil to clean it, resulting in the engine running longer.

Shift to Predictive Maintenance

If you look in most car manuals, you would see that many engines can actually go anywhere from 5k-10k or even 15k miles between oil changes. So, if I take my car in to get an oil change every 3k miles as suggested, I am changing my oil way too often, doing unnecessary maintenance to my car, and spending money that doesn’t need to be spent.

Most new cars today actually have sensors on the engines that can tell when the pressure differentiation reaches a certain threshold that it is time to take the car in for an oil change.

ROI Example:

Consider for the following example that I drive 20k miles/year and the cost of an oil change is $25.

  • If I take my car in every 3k miles
    • 6 oil changes/year
    • Total = $150
  • If my car actually only needs an oil change every 9k miles:
    • 2 oil changes/year
    • Total = $50

This would result in over a 65% reduction in preventive maintenance activities performed on my car. Not only would my overall annual maintenance cost also be reduced by over 65%, but I would be decreasing the opportunity for experiencing an unnecessary failure introduced by maintenance.

“Believe it or not, the last time I had my oil changed my filter cracked, which is a perfect example of maintenance introduced failures… and this happens on the plant floor whether or not maintenance organizations like to admit it.”

– Nikolaus Despain Senior Director of Maintenance 


Challenging the Norm

The Big Oil companies loved the idea of regular oil changes because it generated guaranteed future revenue.  What oil change service didn’t recommend changing the oil every 2,000 to 3,000 miles of travel?  Further Engineering studies revealed different motors can operate reliably for many more cycles than the Big Oil companies initially recommended (5,000 to 7,000 miles or even 10,000 to 15,000 with synthetic oil and/or oil blends – check your vehicle owner’s manual!).  In the name of quality, and reliability, car manufacturers’ engineers came up with a variety of ways to use oil filter pressure differential and engine operational data to determine the optimal oil changing frequency.  Right now, that solution comes to us from the vehicle console with a warning light telling us to “change the oil.” They used Big Data to allow the equipment, in this case, the engine and vehicle, “talk” to us!

Listening into the future with IoT

This is a classic example of IoT! If we learn the language of our machines and listen to them, what can they tell us?  Will they tell us we are wasting our time changing the oil every 3,000 miles?  Will they tell us when we are operating our vehicle with the tire air pressure too low?  Eventually, will they warn us of a potential bearing failure based on vibration data consistently monitored before we take that long road trip?

Machines are already talking to us.  The Automobile manufacturers are already listening.

Do you think, if your machines talked to you, you would have a different perspective on maintenance? Would any of your machines tell you to continue with a one-sided preventive maintenance approach or could you save money and labor costs if you only did maintenance that was necessary?  Our machines are talking, we just need to listen.

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