Mechanical Technology Archive

In Mario Kuisis’ final column for 2016, he asks fundamental questions about the value of condition monitoring and offers a checklist-based solution to enable adopters to clearly identify operational goals.

Mario on mainenance Mechanical TechnologyIn the world of proactive maintenance, condition monitoring is generally thought of as a basic tool. Something like a screwdriver that no self-respecting artisan would leave out of his toolbox.

Is this always true? Or does the screwdriver belong in some toolboxes and not others? If you are a bricklayer, will a screwdriver add any value? Investing in a tool that will never be used makes no sense. The same argument could apply to condition monitoring.

From time to time, we need to go back to basics. Why do we have this? Is it serving a useful purpose and adding value? Does our original thinking still make sense? Are we getting what we set out to achieve? Have the goal posts shifted?

In the end, it’s all about ensuring that we maintain alignment with the goals of the organisation. Every tool and action, including condition monitoring, should contribute toward a common objective. This differs for every organisation or department. It is a reality of life today that the business environment is subject to constant change, so stepping back and reviewing from time to time is essential. Increasingly, yesterday’s breakthrough becomes today’s passé solution and tomorrow’s roadblock.

Then again, some are of the opinion that condition monitoring is all smoke and mirrors anyway. They have never experienced any real benefits, so would readily take it out of the toolbox. This view is likely to be based on personal experience and was quite prevalent some years ago. It is less common now with improvements to old tools and a flood of new tools. Even so, a cold hard look is always good.

So can we assess our condition-monitoring programme to see if it is still appropriate for today? There is a way without getting bogged down in technical detail. It is to be found in answering the most basic question – why do condition monitoring anyway? If you cannot tick most of the boxes, then you really need to question the reason for doing it at all.

Condition monitoring value contribution tableFor the sake of providing guidance, the checklist table below should be helpful. It is by no means exhaustive as every situation is different, but it can be regarded as a starting point, which should be supplemented and weighted according to the situation faced by the asset owner.

It is often thought that asset failure will be eliminated through condition monitoring, but this is often not true. In many situations, the asset cannot be taken out of service for corrective action. It is simply too critical at that point in time. The value then lies not in preventing the failure, but in knowing that it is going to happen, what will fail and when. All necessary contingency plans can be formulated and put in place so that the consequences of failure can be minimised. In these cases, the objective is to prevent unplanned failures.

Alternatively, the service stress of the asset is reduced by adjusting the load or production rate to extend asset life. In this way performance, cost and risk are balanced in line with the aims of the organisation. This can be done particularly well with continuous on-line condition monitoring in real time.

It is most important to recognise that these are only potential benefits. Condition monitoring, of itself, does not fix things, it only provides insight and knowledge. This knowledge must then be used and acted upon in order for the value to realised. If this loop is not closed then condition monitoring simply becomes an added cost to the organisation, or the potential value is only partially realised. Unfortunately, experience shows that this happens all too often.

So to embark upon proactive maintenance properly, it is essential to be prepared to critically evaluate the extent to which the information that has been obtained from condition monitoring is utilised to beneficial effect. The proven solution is an asset management system that has all the necessary checks and balances built into standard business processes, which ensure that the right things are done at the right time and properly closed out.

Perhaps the best thing to do is to make a thorough evaluation of how well the condition monitoring programme is integrated into the asset management system. If serious flaws are found, remedying the situation can bring significant competitive advantage.

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