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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.

In effect, machinery information and measurement data are uploaded to the cloud server, where it is stored and is available for viewing anytime and anywhere using Internet access. Incoming data are reviewed continuously by the service provider’s support team, which automatically compares the new data against known (and good) baseline measurements for possible deviations.

The software flags problems and alerts a designated service provider engineer, who reviews the data and decides on the best course of remedial action(s). A report follows with recommendations.

The MHRP in Action

The intrinsic MHRP partnership can position plant operations solidly on the road to realizing firsthand how a comprehensive predictive maintenance program can make a substantial difference, especially when supported by partners equipped with the knowledge that allows them to deliver optimized uptime and savings.

In one application, a manufacturer initially tried to implement a predictive maintenance program on its own, but the busy in-house plant maintenance team could not keep up with the program. Inexperience with vibration analysis made converting the data into actions difficult, and frustrations grew. Management was in a quandary, but machine reliability was a top priority, so they turned to an MHRP.

The service provider’s experience and results were well-documented. Previous failures of a mission-critical compressor at a plant cost more than $30,000 in repair parts alone and unplanned production downtime was measured in days, not hours. With the MHRP in full swing, it was determined that a failing bearing was at fault and, by proactively replacing the bearing, the plant saved tens of thousands of dollars in the direct cost of repair parts. All work was completed during a regularly scheduled production stoppage with no additional interruptions, and no shutdowns for additional repairs or analysis were required.

Other machinery was probed, too, including a critical pump and blower, with a mean time between failures that was too early and too often. The MHRP approach was applied. In just the first six months of program implementation, the plant was able to eliminate more than 25 hours of unplanned downtime and gain tens of thousands of dollars that had previously added up in lost productivity and repairs.

MHRP Implementation

Implementation begins in the first month when a facility supplies a list of critical machines for analysis. Then the service provider instructs the facility’s staff on predictive maintenance fundamentals, collects machine information and builds a measurement database. In the second (or launch) month, microlog data collectors are delivered, instruction is provided, communication software is installed, baseline data is collected and the first in a series of machine health reports is published. Once up and running, the program collects data and delivers machine health reports monthly with quarterly on-site analysis meetings and on-demand “spot” checks included.

A predictive maintenance program’s goal is to continually impart cost-effective reliability improvements. An MHRP can offer a viable and practical way for facilities to diagnose the health of critical machinery assets and minimize all the risks of unplanned downtime.