Industrial equipment is an expensive preliminary expenditure that is followed by an inherent operational and maintenance support cost. Pumps can fail for many reasons, and when repairs are needed, end users should consider all aspects to determine cost versus value. When an organization makes a large expenditure—whether it is an asset purchase or a major overhaul or repair—considering the payback period or investment recovery time is important.
The intention of any long-term solution is to return the equipment to factory specifications so that it performs as designed. However, keeping life-cycle cost savings of the equipment in mind, additional engineered solutions can be applied to further extend equipment life, minimize maintenance costs and maximize energy efficiency.
Repairing or Modifying a Pump Within a System
When making repairs, end users must understand that pumps are often purchased as individual components. However, they are only able to perform as well as they are able to work within a system. Pump design, installation and system operation are determined by the materials used and the energy consumed.
In many cases, an existing system’s pumps and controls have not been optimized to accommodate the system’s duty changes over time. Engineered solutions can be used in these situations to modify the elements so that they meet the production demands and are compatible with each other. This allows the operators to get the most out of equipment life, minimize maintenance costs and decrease the amount of energy consumed.
The pumps before (left) and after (right) the repairs
To repair a failed system, three steps should be taken:
- Determine how the system is operating.
- Find the cause of the failure.
- Decide what action to take to correct the problem.
When decision makers are faced with alternative solutions, their selection is influenced by time, cost, cash flow, operations and budgets. Equipment seems to break down during challenging circumstances when cash inflow is low, production output is high and the budget is non-existent. Unexpected breakdowns could prove even more catastrophic because they cause an immediate need to react and often have more damage repair costs, leakage, clean-up and safety hazards.
When decisions are based on unexpected circumstances (such as a breakdown), the repair may be a quick fix instead of one that solves the root cause of the problem. A comprehensive repair that solves the cause of the problem may not appear to be the best option. This is because solving the main problem, with a higher cost and longer time out of service, does not seem as advantageous as quickly patching the problem to resume operations. Though it is often overlooked, solving and repairing the root cause of the problem makes the repair more reliable. It also helps remove any uncertainty of another failure—strengthening the operating budget.
What Are the Risks?
Every decision has a degree of risk. Decision makers cannot account for every possible problem or issue. However, they should develop a risk analysis when weighing their options. Then the project that presents the least liability would make the most sense. Plant managers must understand their repair options and consider the possible unfavorable outcomes when making repairs.
For example, suppose a single pump needs a seal replacement every six months. Instead of continuing to pay for replacement parts and installation fees, determining the cause of the seal leak would be more profitable over time. Plant operators have many different responsibilities. Therefore, some redundant repairs may go unnoticed. This increases the possibility of inventory, efficiency, maintenance, personnel and production time being lost because the same “bad actor” equipment is repaired repeatedly.
Wastewater is a pump-reliant industry. A municipal wastewater treatment plant contained 26 pumps that had been running problem free for 10 years after they had been repaired and retrofitted. Even though the pumps were performing beyond expectations, their station was slated for a renovation. This renovation included replacing all the pumps.
Unfortunately, after only three years, the replacement equipment began to fail. The seals began to leak, and the pumps emitted loud noises. Because of loose tolerances, the motor constantly seized.
From prior experience and understanding of their systems’ demands, the plant requested more than a simple seal replacement. The operators included the same upgrades and retrofits that had kept the replaced pumps running for 10 years. After the upgrades, the pumps no longer needed constant repairs.
Timing and cost are critical to the decision-making process. They can drive the end result when an expensive piece of machinery fails. The pump repair and upgrade from the wastewater treatment plant is an example of cost savings with targeted repair.
Before the new pumps were upgraded, the cost of annual repairs was $3,500. Frustrated, the treatment plant operators were not intimidated by the upfront cost of $16,000 for the upgrades and retrofits. With this upfront cost, the repeat failures would be resolved for the long term, which would be an immediate return on the investment.