Many chemical companies have aging assets. With this comes the risk of equipment failure and unscheduled stoppage. Take a look at the root causes of that downtime and there is a high chance that vibration fatigue, bearing failure or inadequate lubrication will feature prominently.
The effective maintenance of assets plays a crucial role in meeting the universal challenge of maximizing the reliability and efficiency of assets to optimize profit margins, while ensuring the safety of end users who work in potentially hazardous industrial environments. It is fair to say that the companies negotiating these operational demands most successfully are those that have recognized that a “fix it when it breaks” reactive maintenance approach is no longer a viable option. They have embraced technology as a key driver for embedding proactive condition based maintenance (CBM) into their maintenance plans.
Operational technology has advanced at a rapid pace in recent years, bringing with it advanced CBM methods.
Taking Maintenance Online
Whether a multinational or a smaller-scale independent chemical company, the efficient management of business and safety of critical assets is a key priority.
Advanced cloud-based technology allows those assets to be managed online, employing high-speed wireless connections to provide continuous real-time monitoring. Multiple web connections means that diverse data—in vibration and oil analysis for example—can be collected and consolidated on one platform, where it can be securely accessed from anywhere via a standard web browser.
This access to real-time data offers wrapround visibility into the condition of assets across any location. Readings that indicate potential issues can be analyzed and acted on before operations are impacted. Lubrication can be better understood and more effectively carried out to ensure the smooth functioning of equipment. The poor lubrication, particle contamination, impeller/shaft-related issues or misalignment that could lead to bearing failure can be preemptively remedied—potentially having a positive impact on tackling one of the most common causes of rotating equipment breakdown.
Consequently, failure detection becomes woven into the daily fabric of a maintenance program, decision-making is better informed, and assets can be maintained to ensure optimum productivity.
For companies operating across multiple sites, the connectivity offered by cloud-based technology is a benefit. Cloud technology also removes the need to invest in hardware and does not require highly skilled experts to operate it. Its power consumption is low and storage capacity high. It is also scalable to any industrial setting. This affordability and flexibility makes it a viable option for organizations of any size.
Preempting Causes of Downtime
The chemical industry can be applauded for its efforts to combat unscheduled stoppages by adopting a more predictive approach to asset management in recent years. What advanced technology offers is the ability to take this a step further and create a culture of truly proactive, operator-driven reliability.
Many solutions are now on the market that can identify the subtle changes which might indicate a potentially production-halting problem is on the horizon, and offer data-driven insight to inform decisions on how to avert it. The continuous availability of data also provides a bedrock of in-depth knowledge on which to base an ongoing maintenance plan.
Automated Fault Diagnosis
Excessive vibration is a key indicator of a developing fault in rotating machinery. Although it should be a central pillar of any reliability program, vibration analysis is one of the least understood elements of CBM practices.
This is largely due to the variety of potential faults that can indicate excess vibration. At the simple end of the scale, it could be a result of misalignment or the need to replace rolling element bearings—both easily remedied. At the other end, it could forewarn of a complex issue such as poor rotor bar conditions or soft foot.
Certified vibration analysis can be costly and time-consuming. A web-hosted, algorithm-based condition monitoring system could provide the answer when cost or recruitment challenges are proving prohibitive to effective vibration analysis.
Powered by thousands of hours of vibration data and years of extensive in-the-field expertise of vibration analysts, an automatic diagnostic assistant can automatically detect and report on more than 20 conditions commonly known to reduce equipment reliability or, at worst, halt production.
A tri-axial sensor attached to rotating machinery provides periodic monitoring, and the visibility across three axes means it is unlikely for risks to go undetected. Standard wireless technology connects it to the software via phone or tablet, meaning a maintenance engineer can collect data easily, even from large, infrequently running or hard-to-access assets, and from a safe distance of up to 50 meters—a crucial consideration in hazardous environments.
This automated diagnostic assistant can offer real-time analysis 24/7. It will either pinpoint the single most likely problem, or present up to four potential points of failure, ranked in order of greatest likelihood, and outline the next steps to take. This could be anything from cleaning and rebalancing a rotating component, to dealing with structural looseness.
The responsibility for complex data analysis is removed—the automated diagnostic assistant employs a traffic light system, where green means no issue is detected, rising to amber and red where problems are identified—so any maintenance engineer can use it.
Identifying ‘Invisible’ Issues
It is often the case where aging assets are concerned that maintenance operatives know there is a recurring problem, but dealing with the immediate issue of getting production up and running as quickly as possible takes greater priority over getting to the bottom of what is causing repeat failures, particularly when the cause is not readily visible.
Motion amplification, an optical video-based technique, can capture these “invisible” issues. Every pixel in a digital video image effectively becomes a sensor. The relative movement between all features on the video are amplified on processing to exaggerate movements, providing a clear indication of any vibration issues. Data from any point on the image can also be extracted in the form of calibrated time series or frequency spectra, which can be used as part of root cause analysis.
Promoting a Cultural Shift
Digitalization gives maintenance managers greater insight into the condition of the assets they manage and detailed analysis of what will maintain those assets in peak operational condition.
This creates a sound foundation on which to build a proactive and preventative maintenance program. It can also foster a cultural shift toward a more holistic approach to maintenance, particularly where maintenance engineers are given the autonomy to take action based on the points highlighted by digital diagnosis reports.
An engineer more directly involved in actioning preventative measures is perhaps more likely to develop a stronger personal investment in a maintenance program—flipping man versus machine fears on their head.
The 360-degree insight offered by digital technology can lead to improved asset health, performance, availability and life span. A reduction in maintenance costs should follow. Another important factor to consider is that, like many other technologies, while it has become ever more sophisticated, the cost of it has decreased in real terms. Its scalability makes it an option for companies big and small.
Data collection and analysis will always form a central pillar of any CBM program. But digital collection, analysis and insight is becoming one of the most significant drivers in moving maintenance from the reactive to the proactive. Could it ultimately put an end to the term mean time between failure?