A relationship with a service provider that will remotely monitor equipment can minimize downtime and equipment failure.
by Andy Hoy, SKF USA Inc.
October 22, 2013

More than 30 years of machinery studies have reinforced that almost 90 percent of all machinery failure modes occur randomly—making failures of pumps, motors, compressors, gearboxes, fans and other equipment essentially unpredictable. However, warning flags of a failure in progress can often be detected by changes in the operating conditions of equipment. If the warnings are detected and addressed quickly, the problems may be fixed before the failure occurs. This is the fundamental principle behind predictive maintenance.

Predictive maintenance is a proactive strategy to identify and repair machinery problems before they escalate to full-failure modes. Supported by diagnostic tools, software and remote monitoring technologies, the strategy has largely replaced time-based maintenance and run-to-failure approaches. Some bottom-line reasons for this replacement are:

  • The direct cost of machinery repairs because of breakdowns can be at least three times greater than the cost of planned repairs
  • The production outage time needed to complete an emergency repair can be up to five times more time than required for a planned repair.

The upshot is that predictive maintenance as an anticipatory initiative can help reduce the costs of machinery maintenance, prevent breakdowns and unplanned downtime, increase the availability of machinery, improve productivity and limit production losses. Despite the potential benefits, however, the successful rollout and implementation of a predictive maintenance program can sometimes be thwarted by economics, logistics and/or many other factors.

Especially for small- to mid-sized operations, the investment for the startup equipment, training, initial support, and the time and costs associated with ongoing analysis and reporting may be more than they can manage. These costs can exceed $100,000 for the startup alone when run entirely in-house. Even if a predictive maintenance program is ultimately outsourced to a third-party provider, issues typically arise when timely visits must be coordinated around production schedules and special in-plant safety precautions must be established, among many other onsite challenges.

One maintenance service provider closely surveyed the manufacturing landscape and confirmed that small- to mid-sized operations have historically been at a disadvantage when attempting to establish and run an effective and affordable predictive maintenance program. The result was that this provider leveraged its expertise to develop a machine health reporting program (MHRP).

An MHRP introduces a practical approach to deliver the benefits of predictive maintenance and minimize the impacts—financial and otherwise—on an operation. The risk-management program involves existing labor force in partnership with the service provider (offering enabling technologies and expertise) to collect data about the health of machinery and deliver reliable analysis, reporting and remedial recommendations.

This all-encompassing portfolio of interrelated technology and services offers a cost-conscious proactive maintenance alternative for plant operations to reduce the risk of unplanned production stoppages and minimize machine breakdowns.

Initiating an MHRP

An MHRP as a vibration-based maintenance service program is engaged through the provider’s authorized distribution network and designed to build on the strengths of each partner—the service provider’s expertise
in maintenance strategies and predictive maintenance and a distributor’s inherent knowledge about the customer’s operations and onsite logistics.

The service provider contributes the technologies and expertise to collect data regarding the health of machinery at the facility and delivers reliable analysis, reporting and remedial recommendations. Equipped with ample warning, operators can be aware of problems in advance and take proactive measures to prevent catastrophic machinery failure, which is the purpose of predictive maintenance programs.

This type program is especially well suited for operations with established goals of:

  • Reducing maintenance costs
  • Production requirements that must be achieved
  • Up to 500 critical and interdependent rotating production machines
  • Equipment for which high repair or replacement costs can be expected

Some MHRPs are structured similarly to a cell phone subscription, in which the facility or plant signs up for the “service plan” and the maintenance service provider delivers vibration data collectors as part of the “contract” and instructs the facility’s front-line workers on their proper use.

Hand-held portable data collectors/fast Fourier transform (FFT) analyzers are designed to capture full feature dynamic (vibration) and static (process) measurements from many sources and for any rotating equipment. Signals from connected sensors are digitally recorded, stored and uploaded for post-processing purposes, including analysis and reporting. A facility learns what is wrong with a machine, the extent of the problem and what to do about it.

While analysis and reporting of data typically would necessitate purchasing expensive software, installing it on servers maintained by an IT support group and preserving data integrity, the MHRP allows these actions to be performed remotely by taking advantage of a cloud-based software infrastructure, supplied software and analysis/reporting protocols.