MechChem Africa

Martec’s Mario Kuisis looks at continuous improvement in the maintenance field and presents an example of how vibration analysis being used to predict premature failure led to a change in maintenance practices that extended bearing life – via the use of ultrasonic detection to optimise lubrication levels.

SDT Martec Lubrication monitoringContinuous improvement is a never-ending journey and is now an entrenched concept. It has also become increasingly important as competition escalates in today’s business environment. The best forms of improvement arise from frustration and dissatisfaction with the status quo, which in itself is an improvement over what came before, and with things before that, and so on. Complacency is the enemy of improvement, so if you are feeling satisfied with where you are right now, then beware.

Like other disciplines, much has been done by way of continuous improvement in asset management over the past number of years. Proactive maintenance is one of these. But late entrants into proactive maintenance can take advantage of these improvements by leap-frogging early adopters who have not kept pace, whether they be in people, technology, business processes or simply management concepts. Sounds like a race or competition? Well, that’s a good way to think of it.

To illustrate the principle and how it can be used to advantage, let’s take a simple example in the most well-known field of condition monitoring, viz. vibration analysis.

As an aside, to many, condition monitoring is synonymous with vibration analysis. As we have learnt in this series it is only one of several dozen condition-monitoring techniques, but it is best known. Wikipedia does nothing to dispel the impression with words like “VA . . . is often referred to as Predictive Maintenance (PdM)”. As we have learnt, there are problems enough in getting findings from the condition monitoring team not only communicated, but also constructively taken up and acted upon by the maintenance team. But let’s assume you have this buttoned up and are now looking for the next improvement in the big picture of maintenance.

Before vibration analysis and in the absence of other condition monitoring options, susceptible plant would fail without warning, often catastrophically. It was therefore a big step forward to be able to detect incipient failure and proactively take steps to either prevent it, or plan for the eventuality of the failure – this applies in many situations when the asset cannot be taken out of service and run to failure is a preferred option. This can now be accomplished with a high degree of success in multiple ways. So what more can be done?

This question came up recently as a result of repeated incidents of premature failure of several identical units of critical plant on an industrial site. Impact on business operations was severe. Vibration analysis did what it was intended to do. Deterioration was detected and pre-emptive action taken to prevent catastrophic failure. However, the asset owner was dissatisfied as, in his view, this amounted to no more than ‘predictive protection’. It addressed a symptom and not the cause of his pain.

Great care had been taken to operate and maintain the asset in accordance with the requirements of the OEM. Indeed, with their participation in the maintenance programme. Yet still the failures occurred, with no assurance that they would not continue. The financial impact in direct and consequential costs was simply intolerable. What more could be done?

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