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IMS Engineering: COVID-19 the catalyst for change

COVID-19 has been incredibly destructive for the business world, in South Africa and globally. This however was not the case for comminution, screening and separation solutions expert IMS Engineering.

“The virus was our catalyst for change and pushed us to revaluate the business and embrace and invest in new technology to overcome the challenges associated with operating remotely – and in so doing has pushed the company into a new era,” MD PAUL BRACHER tells LAURA CORNISH.

THIS ARTICLE FIRST APPEARED IN MINING REVIEW AFRICA ISSUE 2, 2021
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IMS Engineering has always proven itself to be a solutions orientated company, providing customised equipment that is designed and built to the specific requirements of individual applications. In 2020 this business model was elevated as the company quickly introduced and enhanced its technology support offering. “We consequently achieved a record year and anticipate this success to accelerate further in 2021,” Bracher starts.

IMS Engineering Managing Director, Paul Bracher

Getting the most from your machine

Technology is not new for IMS Engineering, the MD notes. The company introduced its Integrated Monitoring Optimisation Support Technologies (I-MOST) system to the market in 2018 which allows stakeholders to operationalise their equipment data in order to optimise its performance and efficiencies through valuable insights. Such a system delivers valuable insights when the data is properly analysed and quantified, enabling IMS Engineering to provide greater product support in a real-time capacity.

“It is the analysis of this data that truly showcases the value of I-MOST and this is what we focused on heavily in 2020,” Bracher reveals. Having invested in a data analysis control room at its head office in Spartan, managed with the support of a newly employed data analyst, IMS Engineering now considers itself a Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) leader within its fields of specialty.  

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The value of this technology still however lies in its delivery and execution. And while the company’s local service technicians understand and embrace the I-MOST benefits and functionality – the control room bridges the gap between the on-site technicians and head office based experts who can remotely advise on machine performance, and identify potential problems through immediate data analysis reviews.

“This will enhance our entire team’s expertise quickly and ensure that while many of us can’t gain access to site, we don’t compromise our standards and in fact can offer assistance far more quickly that we have done in the past,” Bracher highlights.

The I-MOST system concentrates its efforts on the first four pillars of Industry 4.0:

  • Big data and analytics;
  • IoT, networks and security;
  • Horizontal and vertical integration; and
  • Machine learning and AI.

The smart analytics platform, which allows equipment owners to monitor their mission-critical assets remotely, has over the past two years gathered a tremendous amount of actual installation data (over 2 billion data points). Acquiring the data from remote locations in Africa is a challenge on its own while mediating the large amount of time-series data appropriately in order to access and process it rapidly is one of data science’s biggest obstacles. The I-MOST achieves this through a mixture of hardware, network protocols and cloud services. The data ingestion is scalable to allow for a multitude of data streams to be managed simultaneously.

Through the in-depth knowledge base provided by IMS Engineering to interpret and extract meaningful, actionable results, methodologies and algorithms to process this raw data were developed. The outcomes of this processed data provide a deeper understanding of the equipment and provide insight into its performance and efficiencies.

Additionally, the technical, operational and managerial horizontal and vertical integration of all business units by means of accessibility to a real-time dashboard from anywhere in the world and on any platform, allows customers to speak the same language when discussing key performance indicators and have a high level overview of their key functions.

The transparency of this data allows for more productive actions to arise from different organisation perspectives. These customisable visualisations are the real heart of the I-MOST once all the data preparation is accomplished in the previous phases.

Furthermore, I-MOST uses machine learning techniques to predict critical failures days and even weeks before they occur, which potentially negates downtime and service costs. The system alerts the client of a specific concern and through a collaborative effort with IMS, is able to identify and rectify the issue beforehand.

“We can state with confidence that we can predict wear life on our equipment two to three weeks in advance. And unlike many systems on the market that produce false positive results, we have to date achieved 100% accuracy with our testing in this area,” Bracher notes.

You see, I see

While the I-MOST system, now driven by a central control room, is an impressive offering to the market, it is not the only technology investment IMS Engineering delivered in 2020.

The company’s ability to assist its clients remotely has been further elevated following the introduction of its I-CARE system – in essence a virtual reality mechanism that allows IMS Engineering personnel to be on site, without ever leaving their office.

“Through the use of a data-connected headset, we are now able to see and move around site with our clients. In doing so, we can guide anyone on starting, operating or maintaining a machine. The combination of IMost and I-Care technologies allows us to easily and quickly identify product codes and provide detailed drawings and instructions of each product – right down to component level so that we can get the plant back into operation without any compromise,” Bracher highlights.

In summary, I-CARE:

  • Improves frequency and quality of communication;
  • Dramatically improves front-line breakdown response time and accuracy of problem diagnoses of problem;
  • Integrates remote weekly inspection information into improved preventative maintenance planning and stock availability for planned jobs; and
  • Ensures service consistency irrespective of location – expert guidance received via specialist at head office and through integration with I-MOST.

Full-scale audits are required to have every piece of equipment that IMS Engineering sells and the parts that make up that machine on record. This process is well underway and will be completed in 2021. “The market will be able to maximise on I-CARE in 2021 and truly gain the benefits of what our full technology suite has to offer,” Bracher states.

The inability to travel freely to site, restricted by the health and safety implications of COVID-19 poses no challenge to IMS Engineering. And regardless of the future, the company is equipped to deliver a solution to its clients that is driven by technology, reduces time travel delays and ensures ‘on-site’ access to its highest level experts.

The virus has undeniably pushed this company into a new era – one that has moved from a more traditional product-focused company to a knowledge-based company – which in just a short space of time has transformed the business into a position of excellent equipment and service delivery.

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