Force reliability on the OEMs

Doesn’t everybody want smooth-running, reliable, efficient machines with the lowest total life-cycle cost? That's the question Editor in Chief Paul Studebaker, CMRP, poses in his latest column.

By Paul Studebaker, CMRP, Editor in Chief

Even with today’s finest equipment, it’s tough enough to keep a plant running and production up. So why do so many facilities handicap themselves by accepting machines designed to fail, built to be cheap and delivered without the essential features, accessories and information they need to meet their avowed reliability expectations?

We can thank our own manufacturing efficiencies for the simple fact that nowadays, stuff is cheap. Materials, bearings, forgings, gears, seals, electronics – you name it, the cost difference between ordinary crap and the finest you can buy is as little as a few pennies or at most, insignificant compared to the price of a repair, which is generally dwarfed by the value of any lost production.

Why would anyone allow an 8,000-hour, 37-cent lip seal into their plant on anything expected to last more than 333 days? Why let equipment OEMs use motors that aren’t balanced, with bearings not isolated, with energy ratings not the highest in the land?

Doesn’t everybody want smooth-running, reliable, efficient machines with the lowest total life-cycle cost?

I interviewed many experts and gathered a lot of current information for this month’s cover story on online, continuous condition monitoring. I ended up with more – much more – than we could squeeze into the available space. Several pages worth of rather contradictory comments about the capabilities and limitations of wireless sensors and networks have been posted to our Web site (you can access them at

Another chunk that didn’t fit is about the need for machinery and equipment OEMs to outfit their products with appropriate sensors, include condition information in their controls, and supply the intelligence to turn condition data into run-or-repair decisions.

The approach is nothing new to users of large rotating machines, where OEMs began including standard protection systems years ago. Steve Sabin at GE Bently told me this was largely a direct response by the machinery OEMs to demands from their customers, who were (and are) mainly power-generation and large chemical plants. Criteria for the systems became part of specifications developed by the American Petroleum Institute for pumps, compressors, turbines and gearboxes, and API began specifying acceptance criteria for many machines based on vibration readings from proximity probes.

Machinery manufacturers had to make provisions for these probes to do factory acceptance testing of the machine, so it became that much easier for the user to simply specify that the probes remain in the machine and be connected to a permanent monitoring system.

So why don’t we do the same thing for ordinary equipment? “Refineries sometimes are having equipment vendors install condition monitoring, but not always, so it doesn’t become a standard product,” says Kevin Fitzgerald at Invensys. “Vendors could instrument economically if users would ask for it.”

Not only could they add instruments, they could tell us what to do about the readings. Who knows better than the machine OEM exactly what problem gives a particular signature, how long you can count on it to run that way, and the risks of consequential damages? If the machine-maker doesn’t have the best expertise on earth when it comes to its machines, why buy from them?

And as I mentioned, stuff is cheap. Companies that used to just sell stuff want to differentiate themselves and add value with application expertise and services. Offering machines with the ability to diagnose their own incipient failures, help you schedule their repairs and (why not?) order their own parts is a fine way to add value.

One of the obvious benefits of a good PdM program, with or without online condition monitoring but more likely with it, is its tendency to drive the right behavior. When you’ve built a system that hollers when it needs attention, lets lots of people know how well things are going, and won’t let you forget about it until the problem is solved, your organization is much more likely to do what needs to be done to prevent a failure.

So why don’t you demand condition monitoring capabilities from your OEMs? You say nobody asked you? Jack Dischner at Commtest told me, “OEMs need to embed modules because reliability becomes dependability, and it should be built into the capital investment, not added later. Operations should be pushing for this.”

Ah, the old engineering/operations/maintenance firewalls — is that the obstacle? Is Purchasing or upper-level management cheaping out? Maybe your OEMs tell you it can’t be done? Or is it that you prefer the job security that comes with buying crap

 I’d really like to know. Send me an e-mail or take our Web poll on the home page at
(630) 467-1300, x433

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