Expose the unheard with ultrasonics

Use ultrasound, visual inspections, safe permitted contact, and temperature sensing to make the business case.

By Sheila Kennedy, contributing editor

“Humans cannot hear ultrasound even though the condition exists. Once a condition is audible, it could be too late to fix,” said Steve Toth, president of Delta Focused Improvement, during his presentation at the 2014 Ultrasound World X conference hosted by UE Systems in Clearwater Beach, Florida.

Toth has more than 27 years of experience in the utility business, including a heavy focus on reliability. He discussed the importance of listening and the need to detect unheard sound to improve asset reliability. “As we age, we lose hearing. Some of us did not benefit from hearing protection gear until the damage was already done,” he said.

Ultrasound WorldElectrical power reliability is a good example of the need for proactive technologies such as ultrasonics. “People just assume their power feed will be clean and uninterrupted, but it’s amazing the lack of attention that the equipment actually gets,” said Toth.

He explained that failures occur randomly 89% of the time, and that time-based preventive maintenance doesn’t address random failures, although you might occasionally get lucky. “Don’t be a firefighter. Be proactive in your maintenance,” he suggests. He is not a fan of the term “predictive maintenance” because people will naturally ask when the asset will fail, and you won’t know. “Call it condition-based maintenance or monitoring (CBM) instead, because the goal is to monitor and record the condition of the asset. You’re not actually predicting when it will fail.”

steve toth
Steve Toth, president of Delta Focused Improvement, said failures occur randomly 89% of the time, and that time-based preventive maintenance doesn’t address random failures.

Besides increasing asset reliability and availability, CBM has the potential to reduce operations and maintenance costs, extend asset life, reduce life-cycle costs, and increase operating efficiencies. It also extends overhaul intervals, reduces contractor costs, and lowers inventory requirements.

Toth shared a P-F curve, which visually represents how, the more time you have to plan, the fewer failures you’ll have, and how ultrasound is one of the earliest detectors of potential defects. “Use the curve to your advantage. Managers and executives can understand it if you explain it properly,” he said.

Receiving sustainable executive support for a CBM program requires a justifiable case for change, which includes the financial savings. “Your easiest sell to management is when you can equate change to dollars,” said Toth. The business case should answer the following questions:

  • What are the costs associated with failures?
  • What is the cost to implement the change?
  • What is the return on investment recovery period?

The case should also provide a few options to management and justify those solutions. A single-page cost/benefit table is likely to attract the necessary attention. “Put safety right at the top of the list, because if you can get the safety manager on your side, you’ll have a better than 50% chance of succeeding,” he suggested.

Sheila Kennedy is a professional freelance writer specializing in industrial and technical topics.Sheila Kennedy is a professional freelance writer specializing in industrial and technical topics. She established Additive Communications in 2003 to serve software, technology, and service providers in industries such as manufacturing and utilities, and became a contributing editor and Technology Toolbox columnist for Plant Services in 2004. Prior to Additive Communications, she had 11 years of experience implementing industrial information systems. Kennedy earned her B.S. at Purdue University and her MBA at the University of Phoenix. She can be reached at sheila@addcomm.com.

Once approved, prepare your organization to see a short-term increase in the number of work orders, because the conditions already exist. By detecting and addressing those conditions earlier, there will be a long-term reduction in repair costs. CBM will also allow more efficient planning and greater control over when assets are taken out of service and fewer occurrences of random failures.

CBM takes condition information and creates positive action. Operations personnel are closest to the equipment on a day-to-day basis and are best positioned to collect condition data. “Unfortunately, a lot of maintenance technicians who have been working for 30 or 40 years are resistant to change. They prefer their wrenches, screwdrivers, and maybe a stethoscope,” said Toth. “Change is a science.” He recommends using the Rule of Three to keep your arms around the daily chaos and pare down your priorities. “Keep it simple, aim for results, and focus on the top three objectives.”

Use ultrasound, visual inspections, safe permitted contact, and temperature sensing. Inspect your steam traps, detect air leaks, and test bearing conditions. Look for assets that are moving but should be stationary. “When I go into a facility, I will find approximately 10% of the assets have some potential defect,” he said. He showed a photograph of a new $1 million piece of equipment that was found to have 15 defects, including air leaks, misalignment, and high vibration.

“It’s easy for an outsider to catch some of these conditions, because after a while, plant personnel might consider it normal,” Toth explained. Air leaks are an example. “People tend get used to blowing air, or they’ll rig the equipment to deflect the air flow, rather than fixing the problem. But air leaks cost money,” he explained.

In closing, Toth advised understanding the capabilities and benefits of ultrasound technology, including its potential to improve safety. “What you do not hear can hurt you,” he said. “What you do hear can help you and your bottom line.”

Jeffrey Ng, Kimberly-Clark