What Works: Electric provider uses lubricant analysis for quick problem response

Learn about the predictive maintenance initiative an electric power provider undertook and the results from lubrication analysis.

At Westar Energy, a major Kansas electric power provider, analysis of lubricating oils from six generating plants across the state began in 2002 and has since become the linchpin of a highly successful predictive maintenance initiative. “Westar Energy has realized significant benefits as a result,” says Mark Mayworm, Westar manager of predictive maintenance, who has been with the company since 2001.

Predictive maintenance was a long-term goal, but Mayworm says his initial aim was to reduce costs and improve machine reliability by eliminating time-consuming lubrication schedules in favor of condition-based maintenance.

Comprehensive oil analysis was the first step. It soon became apparent, however, that the cost of the off-site lab chosen to analyze oil samples was too expensive and response was too slow. The idea of doing oil analysis in-house won corporate approval after the cost of sending 280 samples per month to the off-site lab was compared to the cost of installing and operating a CSI 5200 Minilab from Emerson Process Management (www.assetweb.com/mhm).

The in-house oil analysis laboratory handles samples from machinery throughout the six-plant electric power company. Vibration data collected periodically provides supporting evidence if it appears that a serious mechanical problem may be developing.

Mayworm believes there’s more to an effective oil analysis program than putting in the equipment and hiring someone to run it. The key, he says, is training involved personnel in lubricant management. The accuracy of any analysis depends on starting with uncontaminated lubricants and taking samples that truly reflect the condition of oils in the machines.

“Our success can be attributed largely to education, from the elements of contamination and the importance of cleanliness in delivery and storage of lubricants to correct filling and periodic sampling,” Mayworm says. “We have changed from a culture that believes ‘oil is oil’ to having a broad understanding of how lubricants affect machine life and reliability. Knowledge has resulted in preventing many problems.”

Westar’s maintenance and operating personnel and supervisors learned the basics of oil analysis including selecting sampling locations, techniques for consistent sampling, types of tests for different machinery, alarming schemes, and interpretation of test reports. Having personnel in each plant who are capable of making maintenance decisions based on analysis of those reports was essential to the program’s success.

Once the training was completed, appropriate valves and ports were installed at the primary sampling locations. The original sampling schedule was later adjusted depending on the condition of lubricant samples from each machine. Where the fluids are generally clean and clear, samples may be taken quarterly, but it may be done every month or even more often where suspicions have been raised.

One qualified technician at the Jeffrey Energy plant processes the samples received via overnight delivery from the other locations. The lab technician reports by phone if a serious-looking change appears in the lube oil from a critical machine. A wide-area network conveys regular test results to each plant, where an analyst reviews the results, determines abnormalities, decides on the urgency of repairs for any oil-related problems, and originates work requests.

Westar’s in-house laboratory soon proved its value when water in turbine and feed pump lubrication was detected and corrected. Other anomalies the lab identified have been high ferrous particle counts in certain gear boxes, non-ferrous dirt and debris that indicate damaged bearings in motors and pumps, and the wrong oil in some machines. Having reliable information readily available allowed for quick responses to these issues before serious damaging problems could develop.

Mayworm doesn’t estimate how much these findings have saved Westar, but internal audits recognize the program as successful, and Uptime magazine bestowed a “Best Oil Analysis Program of the Year” award. “We have gained a lot of respect within the company by providing never-before-available information that’s become the focal point for predictive maintenance in every plant,” says Mayworm. “We now take care of machinery on our terms rather than reacting to unexpected breakdowns. An effective lubrication management program is in place, and equipment reliability is improved, which was our goal from the beginning.”

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