3 steps to profitable condition monitoring

Stanton McGroarty says build on the strengths already in your organization.

By J. Stanton McGroarty, CMfgE, CMRP, senior technical editor

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After reading the Plant Services April cover story on ultrasound and vibration monitoring, I recalled an interesting experience from a few years ago in Australia. A client there showed me a bank of file cabinets in a storage room behind his reliability department offices. “Here it is,” he said, “our predictive maintenance (PdM) and root cause failure analysis (RCA) data library. We call it the ‘holistic asset healthcare (HAH) system.’”

OK, they didn’t really call it, “HAH,” but the rest is true. The data in the cabinets were filed by asset number, and there was a parallel electronic version on the intranet that held monthly readings from a huge number of condition-monitoring samples, taken using several technologies. The two libraries contained most of the information needed to predict upcoming failures of most of the plant’s key equipment. Some of it had been read and analyzed and had maintenance orders written on it. But the files did not say which information had been summarized and transmitted, either as reports or as work orders. Most of it had been simply recorded and neatly filed. There was little other communication with the departments that owned the equipment and no direct connection to the computer maintenance management system (CMMS).

Implicit in the design of this “system” was that the departments owning the equipment would take the initiative to discover the files and make weekly or monthly pilgrimages to the file locations to read raw data and RCA results about their equipment. Of course the traffic couldn’t have been less if they’d wrapped the whole thing in barbed wire. I think there were a few visits by engineers who were preparing projects or shutdowns in the production areas, but that was about all the use the costly data saw.

If there is no reaction to the data, failures occur as predicted.

The HAH data system was an extreme example, but it serves to demonstrate an industry-wide trend. Data gathering and analysis technology have outstripped the training offered by most employers. As a result, condition-monitoring data are not receiving the attention required for users to reap the business benefits of all the information they are paying for.

In other words, a technician in the company often understands PdM equipment and has the data to predict equipment failures. Unfortunately, he or she often doesn’t really know how to read the data and create useful information for management. In cases where good, useful information is being created and transmitted, management often doesn’t know how to react to the readings provided by the technicians. If there is no reaction to the data, failures occur as predicted, forcing reactive maintenance and creating other forms of chaos.

J. Stanton McGroarty, CMfgE, CMRP, is senior technical editor of Plant Services. He was formerly consulting manager for Strategic Asset Management International (SAMI), where he focused on project management and training for manufacturing, maintenance and reliability engineering. He has more than 30 years of manufacturing and maintenance experience in the automotive, defense, consumer products and process manufacturing industries. He holds a bachelor of science degree in mechanical engineering from the Detroit Institute of Technology and a master’s degree in management from Central Michigan University. He can be reached at smcgroarty@putman.net or check out his .

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When this happens, the company is already spending 90% of the time and cost required to develop the information that is needed to improve maintenance and reliability. It is only necessary to introduce the people with the information to the people who need it and add enough training so that the techs understand their data and management understand their techs. This is the kind of situation that consultants live for. The money is spent, but the benefits have not been reaped.

In 2013, almost any company has some measure of this problem/opportunity. A consultant, or anyone else who wants to help and look smart in the process, can follow three steps to identify this situation and capitalize on it.

1. Find the data: See who is responsible for reliability and condition monitoring and find out what data they are generating. They’ll be somewhere in the reliability, maintenance, and production organizations, and they’ll be all too happy to let you know what is going on. After all, they’re probably spending their time developing and storing data that has great potential and that nobody is using. Develop a record of what data they have and what they think the potential for it is. Hopefully there will be multiple sources. Find them all and add to your power and information base.

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