Once a machine or system is up and running, monitoring the asset's operation and performance and deploying proper solutions when problems develop can pay big dividends. With the increasingly demanding needs in the marketplace to more effectively manage and support assets, various aftermarket tools, technologies and services have emerged to help operations successfully do the job.
Specialized tools collect data regarding machinery health and detect system abnormalities. Similarly, remanufacturing (rather than replacing) components to full working specifications, as well as maintaining spare parts inventory and management services, can be quick and cost-effective ways to minimize downtime.
Expert on-site or online training programs are available to educate and equip staff in the context of best practices.
For example, one North American coal-fired plant wanted to verify if a submerged circulating water pump was about to fail. An asset reliability company used advanced analysis tools to test the electric motors on site. The results lead to a timely fix for the pump that saved $3.5 million in possible downtime and lost production. This was the case when a shaft unexpectedly broke on a second pump without warning, requiring five weeks of repairs and associated costs.
Strategic and tactical asset management tools and services, like those that aided the power plant, can help maintain, monitor, repair and optimize assets throughout their operating life.
Evaluating Machinery Health
Owning and operating equipment is one of the biggest costs for a plant. Global competitive pressures have increased demands to keep operations running better, longer and more cost-effectively by reducing unscheduled downtime and increasing uptime for machinery assets.
The maintenance staff carries the responsibility of achieving optimized asset efficiency, but equipment maintenance is now more complicated. Environmental and safety laws have grown increasingly strict. Despite these challenges, machine uptime must be maximized.
These scenarios have prompted sustained interest in proactive maintenance programs to help achieve equipment reliability objectives. Among them, condition monitoring offers a practical approach by determining the condition of machinery through non-invasive methods during normal operation.
Condition monitoring is a strategy that measures physical parameters (such as vibration, noise, lubrication properties and temperature) regularly to help ascertain machinery health. This process allows personnel to detect machine and component problems before they result in unexpected downtime and the high costs associated with interruptions in production.
Condition monitoring can serve as a platform for implementing a condition-based maintenance program, through which maintenance, inspection and overhaul of plant machinery are scheduled on the basis of machine condition instead of the calendar. The goal is to trend and analyze data to identify troublesome conditions and detect early stages of component degradation so that remedial action can be taken to prevent failures and reduce unanticipated downtime.
The following are among the categories of aftermarket tools and technologies that deliver or analyze performance data on operating machinery:
- Basic handheld condition monitoring tools place the benefits of condition-based maintenance within reach for experts and novices alike. Examples include thermal cameras, vibration measurement tools, stroboscopes, tachometers, sound pressure meters, ultrasonic instruments and electrical discharge detectors.
- Portable data collectors and analyzers supported by enabling software can handle all tasks needed to perform on-the-spot analysis of rotating machinery.
- Online surveillance and protection systems integrate permanently installed sensors for machine monitoring to alert plant personnel of deteriorating machine condition changes. Data are transmitted to a host computer running applicable software. The technology is especially suited for unsafe or hard-to-reach locations where accessibility is limited.
- Electric motor test equipment encompasses a wide range of product solutions offering capabilities for static testing and dynamic motor monitoring to help plants avoid unexpected electric motor failures.
Remanufacturing vs. Replacing
When good components go bad, replacing them can be expensive, both in terms of cost and delayed availability. Remanufacturing can be an alternative way to save time and money without compromising performance or productivity.
In one case, a 1,000-megawatt coal-fired power station identified six pulverizer roll wheel bearings requiring overhaul before the pulverizer could return to service. The station's pulverizer was critical to maintaining peak power and, in the absence of a backup, the pulverizer had to be restored to its original specifications for the station to keep running without interruption until its next scheduled outage. A seven-month lead-time for new bearings meant that the scheduled timeline requirements could not be met.
A bearing company completed an inspection and failure analysis and determined that the bearings, although damaged, could be restored. The bearing company was able to remanufacture the bearings in only six weeks. The plant saved almost $10,000 in new bearing purchases and avoided five months of reduced power production that would have resulted in an estimated $1.2 million in lost revenue while awaiting new bearing sets.
Before any work begins, remanufacturing experts should inspect the bearings, ascertain whether remanufacturing is possible and issue a comprehensive bearing analysis report. If remanufacture is viable (and larger-size bearings are typically prime candidates), bearings can be restored or upgraded in a fraction of the time required for new bearings and often at a reduced cost. When remanufactured components can be produced and delivered in a timely manner with minimal disruption to operations, increased efficiency, uptime and productivity can follow.
Managing Spare Parts Inventory
While reducing the costs of purchasing, supply and inventory is an integral part of increasing profitability, maintaining the proper spare parts inventory is essential for optimal production. Managing inventories translates to balancing supply and demand to achieve minimum asset ownership and minimum risk, which reduces the overall cost of inventory. Consultation and structured programs from inventory control specialists can help deliver consistent analysis, appropriate inventory levels and an auditable reference trail.
As examples, a spare parts alignment, rationalization and optimization program can identify and evaluate inventory by using a comprehensive assessment. The optimal level of spare parts can be determined with a spare parts optimization tool. Spares analysis software can be applied using a risk-based approach to document economic justification for stocking levels.
These types of initiatives allow operations to realize reduced inventory costs and reduce the probability of running out of stock.
Online & On-Site Training
A growing portfolio of courses from qualified service providers can equip upper management, engineering staff and maintenance personnel with the knowledge to help eliminate machinery problems and achieve maximum reliability and productivity. Training venues can be located at plants and regional sites or conducted at an expert's facilities, and course categories can range from introductory to advanced levels of training. In addition, e-learning courses use self-learning modules to enable individual instruction at an individual's own pace and timetable.
Aftermarket solutions have broadened to encompass evolving issues and concerns, such as energy consumption and operational sustainability. This type of training equips staff to make routine measurements with the objective to monitor pump energy efficiency and pave the way for improvements.
The success of any initiative for optimizing operations can make significant headway by turning to an established and experienced provider of relevant technologies and services. The resulting working partnership can open a wider window into the possibilities for achieving positive outcomes.