Businesses spend millions of dollars buying machines to make their operation easier, safer and more productive. This critical equipment can break down when its condition is not monitored nor corrected, hence, the costly downtime and a potentially shorter operational design life of the equipment.

Unlike humans, machines cannot repair themselves. A failing machine will continue to run to failure if its symptoms are not detected and treated in a timely manner. Machine failure is not only a real threat to productivity, it is also a serious safety risk. (READ: Six Ways Downtime is Slowly Killing Your Business)

The failure of a bearing which cost may be only a few dollars can lead to the catastrophic failure of the whole machine – potentially costing millions of dollars.

Well, just like humans who must continually check their well being and communicate undesirable symptoms to their doctor for treatment, we also must monitor the condition of critical plant and take corrective action before potentially catastrophic failure occurs.

Critical equipment can have sensors to detect, prevent, and reduce downtime by monitoring potential symptoms of impending failure. Tests such as excessive temperature, unusual vibration, and extreme load are continually monitored and alarms are transmitted to engineers to take corrective measures, where this may be indicating unusual results. In some cases, special tests must be conducted to do what sensors cannot, or to assist in diagnosing potential threats to functionality.

It is often said that ‘prevention is better than cure’ and in this case, being proactive in maintaining the machines/equipment, is better than being reactive to the failure, once it occurs. Thus the term – Preventative Maintenance.

So how do we reduce downtime in industrial operations and most importantly, how do we detect impending equipment failure – before it fails?

Create a Preventative Maintenance Program

Every manufacturing plant and the critical machine must have a Preventative Maintenance Program designed to ensure that all critical functions and performances are monitored and actions are defined for times when conditions outside of the ‘normal’ operational condition are detected. The principle is to avoid issues from occurring and taking the correct actions before potential failure occurs.

By planning machine downtime for timely wear part replacement and or when necessary adjustment can be conducted, unplanned or unexpected machine stoppages can be largely avoided. Well-managed and timely maintenance shutdowns allow for a swift return to service and work being conducted in an orderly and safe manner. This significantly reduces downtime and excessive costs that would otherwise have occurred, had the machine runs till it failed.

Condition Monitoring

Condition Monitoring is one of the most critical tasks of any modern manufacturing facility. It is the key to reducing potential downtime and a vital part of the Preventative Maintenance process.
For this discussion, we will assume that the fundamentals of plant functionality have been correctly assessed with a particular focus on lubrication, potentially the most problematic function in the machine and the most critical condition to monitor.

When humans feel unwell, our doctors call for certain tests, such as a blood test. These tests detect chemicals in our blood that should either not be there or be present in different concentrations. Such a test determines the condition of our blood and our bodies. The same principles are involved with oil analysis. These tests provide not only an insight into the oils’ condition but also the condition of the machine in which the oil is operating.
An oil analysis program as part of a Preventative Maintenance Program is an absolute must

Use the best lubricant

Virtually, all moving machine parts require lubrication to primarily reduce friction and heat and thereby extend machine life as much as possible. It is, therefore, a fundamental necessity that the lubricants chosen for the machinery are appropriate and which specifications are the best possible to meet the machine manufacturers requirements.

Premium, high-performance lubricants are key to machine reliability and actively contribute to reduced downtime and lost productivity.

The machine maker (often referred to as the ‘OEM’ or Original Equipment Manufacturer) will recommend the lubricant specifications which best suit their design and performance criteria and will also recommend their respective maintenance and service requirements. Often recommending the frequency of certain critical lubricated component inspections, oil changes, and condition monitoring criteria which provides the highest operational reliability.

Premium lubricants reduce rust and corrosion, reduce oxidation, reduce the formation of sludge and varnish, offer extended life between oil changes, reduce energy consumption and aid in keeping the oil system and components clean and operating to design.

Often the machine maker (the OEM) will specify oil change intervals based on their experience and/or recommend that oil changes be based on oil condition, as determined by routine oil analyses.

The Fundamentals of Lubrication is yet another topic, to be covered in another article.