For the most reliable predictive and preventive maintenance, information through programmable logic controls (PLCs) is key.

“Today’s PLCs allow for all kinds of data collection opportunities and are the real key to success,” said Rowdy Brixey, president and chief executive officer, Brixey Engineering, Inc. “Once you can track cycles or operation hours back to part life, you have a huge chance of setting triggers to change out parts based on wear and usage prior to failure.”

Human error is an issue that computers are designed to mitigate.

“Information is not as easily transmitted from person to person as it is by computer,” said Mike Chapman, director of PSM compliance and technical solutions, Stellar. “PLCs that allow for system-wide automation … can dictate how and when to perform inspection, testing and calibrations to make sure everything is in good working order.”

Technological advances include cycle counters, timers, load monitoring, temperature and vibration trending, and more. Typically as a value-add, some suppliers are designing equipment with customizable computer programs capable of housing data locally or with the supplier for easy access in case of troubleshooting.

“Maintenance systems are becoming more standard as we realize the power of data,” said Jason Stricker, director of sales and marketing, Shick Esteve. “Data is the new currency that can drive digital transformation in your plant, and that ultimately reduces cost and increases profit.”

Jim Kline, president, the EnSol Group and Baking & Snack contributing editor, noted that while most monitors gauge temperature and vibration, some of the newest ­technology is looking at clearance or distance, such as for oven chains.

“On the main chain for a 100-foot oven, for example, how far will the chain extend over time?” he asked. “There’s a point when the extension will be of a sufficient percentage when the manufacturer could tell you it’s time to change the chain.”

All Topos Mondial custom-designed equipment, including mixers, conveyors and dough handling, have the capability to add software for housing baseline data.

“We are happy to work with our customers,” said Ondrej Nikel, director of engineering, Topos Mondial Corp. “A bakery might have a worker who can look for things like heat, vibration and noise, and with that, they are ahead of the game. If the customer does not have that expertise, we can add sensors that link to the computer in the mixer and collect it remotely.”

Then again, it’s not quite time for computers to fully replace human beings. It’s important to remember that in a good maintenance program, senses are just as valuable as sensors.

“A sensor should never fully replace a person,” Mr. Nikel noted.

In other words, data only offers so much without having reliable maintenance workers and machine operators to interpret the information based on their intimate understanding of the equipment.

“We can bring in sensors to watch the bearings and the vibration on the frame of the machine, but having this advanced technology without someone who can look at the machine and understand that something is different from a week ago, it does no good. If a customer needs help, they can call us, and we are happy to help them find a solution that works best for what they need. But adding sensors and blindly collecting more data just isn’t enough.”

For its ProPlant system, Bühler bases its maintenance intervals on run time, but it can be adjusted for individual intervals and common signals of maintenance such as sound, consumption changes or emerging dust.

“This is why we stress the importance of routine walks for operators to observe the plant,” said John Hunter, sales account manager, bakery and ingredient handling, Bühler, Inc.

Sensors can set the baseline, but it’s the workers’ responsibility to recognize the indicators that something is out of sync. It’s the first step in solidifying a maintenance program. Once the program is set, commitment and ­collaboration — from the production line up to management — must exist to avoid failure.

“To verify you are receiving data, most systems will allow setup of alerts if a device or system has gone offline,” Mr. Stricker said. “This is important to get the full story on the data.”

This year, Shick Esteve will launch a cloud system that will aggregate data from multiple sources for a holistic plant view as well as intel on Shick Esteve equipment.

AMF offers programs such as AMFMethod and AMFConnect, which provide tables and run-hour inspection and lubrication requirements for its equipment, as well as vital stats.

“By providing the bakery team with real-time production line data and machine status information, bakery personnel gain access to critical operational information,” said Bruce Campbell, vice-president, global product technology, AMF Bakery Systems.

Then to bring sensors and senses together, AMF service technicians provide routine site visits to help bakery teams develop their preventive maintenance.

Ultimately, while suppliers are improving efforts to build technology into their equipment, bakers have a responsibility to keep up with understanding how to use it.

Jeff Dearduff, corporate director, baking and snack, The Austin Co., asserted that it all boils down to a simple principle.

“Someone has to monitor the data and understand what they’re looking at and know how to take action when something is off,” he said. “If this is missed or ignored, you will still break down.”