Vibration Analysis / Infrared Thermography / Shaft Alignment / Machinery Lubrication / Remote Monitoring / Temperature Monitoring / Ultrasound

The truth about PdM: How your peers are really using predictive maintenance

Plant Services/ARC Advisory Group joint survey reveals how technologies are being used.

By Alexis Gajewski, Digital Editor

How is PdM being implemented in the average plant today? In a joint survey conducted by Plant Services and ARC Advisory Group, maintenance and reliability professionals shared their experiences and insights into the day-to-day use of PdM on the plant floor.

Many plants are ahead of the curve and already have some form of predictive maintenance implemented in their facilities. Quite a few are using vibration analysis and infrared imaging, as well as oil analysis and electric motor testing. However, predictive modeling software and acoustic technology were not even on the radar for the 90 survey participants (Figure 1).

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Figure 1. Quite a few plants are using vibration analysis and infrared imaging, as well as oil analysis and electric motor testing. However, predictive modeling software and acoustic technology were barely on the radar.

“We are seeing a slight pickup in how PdM is viewed,” says Andy Page, MS/I-O, SSBB, CMRP, principal consultant, Technical Services Group, at Allied Reliability Group. “Once, it was this electronic trickery and considered less important than the PM program. We are seeing a few more people begin to treat it as important, and sometimes even more so than the PM program.”

PdM efforts

With any plant program, it’s important to take a baseline reading to see how effective it is and where improvements can be made. When asked to rate the performance of their PdM program over the past 12 months, more than half admitted their programs needs some improvement (Figure 2).

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Figure 2. When asked to rate the performance of their PdM program over the past 12 months, more than half admitted their programs needs some improvement.


Andy Page was not surprised by the results. “I see a sizable group of PdM programs that are just getting the basics down and have not yet begun to see the optimization possibilities,” he says. “For some, PdM is a part-time job, and thus they aren’t interested in refinement and optimization. For others, PdM is a job and not a profession, so refinement and improvement really are not in their best interests. By and large, there are fewer PdM professionals out there than we would like to see.”

One possible explanation for this performance rating could be the retiring of the Baby Boomers. “The skills crisis is affecting PdM decisions due to the lack of qualified technicians to set up programs and analyze the data effectively,” says Shon Isenhour, partner at Eruditio. “I believe this can be addressed with more remote monitoring within the facilities. By using wireless and route-based collection of the data with general maintenance technicians and remote analysis, we can reduce the need for high-skill PdM technicians at each site and pull together multiple sites’ data remotely for analysis by a single well-qualified individual. This also provides a position that meets more of the needs of the Generation Y employee, making it a win-win.”

The predictive future

Changing strategies can be difficult to accomplish, especially in a plant where the culture is dominated by a “this is the way we have always done it” mentality. The forces driving the change must be strong enough to overcome the inevitable backlash. When asked which factors were driving their decisions to deploy predictive maintenance solutions, survey participants cited the desire to reduce operation costs and reduce maintenance costs. The factor at the forefront of plant managers’ minds, however, was the need to improve uptime (Figure 3).

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Figure 3. When asked which factors were driving their decisions to deploy predictive maintenance solutions, survey participants cited the desire to reduce operation costs and reduce maintenance costs, but the factor at the forefront of their minds was the need to improve uptime.

“Too many current PdM practitioners aren’t taking the time to continually justify what they are accomplishing in terms of return on investment (ROI) and other PdM-related key performance indicators (KPIs),” says Jack R. Nicholas, Jr., P.E., CMRP, CRL, a Navy veteran and an individual with more than 50 years of experience in maintenance and reliability. “Nor are they educating their superiors on what they are achieving in terms they understand.”

As with any improvement, there are always obstacles to overcome when implementing or improving predictive maintenance. While the survey respondents acknowledged that most of their programs needed improvements, they cited budgetary constraints and lack of executive support as two of the greatest hurdles that need to be overcome (Figure 4).

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Figure 4. Respondents cited budgetary constraints and lack of executive support as two of the greatest hurdles that need to be overcome.

“I see very competent PdM technicians doing impressive work with the technologies with which they have been equipped, but who are hobbled by lack of proper communications, poor links with ERP/CMMS, and ignored by the information technology and operator organizations when they ask for help to improve things,” says Nicholas. “Most PdM programs have no plans, no KPIs, and little appreciation by superiors in the organization for their achievements. They experience scorn by co-workers who believe PdM personnel have easy jobs because some of their work is done in air-conditioned spaces in front of computers. Also, some of the conditions they report are not verifiable with the five senses of repair personnel and they distrust the finds reported because the asset appears to be working perfectly well when the recommendation is made to fix something that doesn’t appear to be broken.”

In this age of smartphones and bring-your-own-device (BYOD), it’s easy to imagine an interconnected plant where machines talk to one another and diagnose problems on their own. But is this type of technological communication happening in most plants, or is it still just a dream? When asked which data collection methods they were using with their PdM systems, a surprising number of respondents admitted to using a paper-based system, with industrial- and consumer-grade PCs rounding out the top three (Figure 5). Most survey participants had no plans to implement smartphone or tablet technology in the near future.

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Figure 5. When asked which data collection methods they were using with their PdM systems, a surprising number of respondents admitted to using a paper-based system, with industrial- and consumer-grade PCs rounding out the top three.

Although most respondents seem to be taking a more traditional, less technological approach to PdM, we asked which emerging technologies they were considering for inclusion in their PdM initiatives. Within the next three years, many respondents plan to have analytics software, tablets, wireless connectivity to workers in the field, and embedded PdM intelligence from equipment suppliers (Figure 6). However, it looks like GIS for asset location, RFID for asset identification, and cloud-based PdM are still out of reach for many plant workers.

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Figure 6. Within the next three years, many respondents plan to have analytics software, tablets, wireless connectivity to workers in the field, and embedded PdM intelligence from equipment suppliers.

“I think we are on the edge of a substantial change in the PdM technologies,” says Isenhour. “Based on improvements in technology and current trends in the industry, I believe that we are about to see a consolidation of the PdM technologies. Picture an iPad that could operate as an infrared camera, a vibration analyzer, ultrasonic analyzer and CMMS reporting device. One box covering three or more technologies and combining them to allow for asset health instead of faults by technology. We are very close. We can already access our CMMS from many handheld devices.” Vendors have created infrared modules that work with the iPhone, and vibration is available for the iPad, he explains.

“More companies want simpler equipment, especially vibration, so they can have their own people collect the data with an outside service providing the analysis and reporting,” adds Page. “As for the infrared thermography technologies, the less expensive IR cameras are a big hit. It gets more people scanning, which is a good thing.”

Technologies are getting less expensive in terms of capital investment needed, and getting more capable and user-friendly in terms of both hardware and software, says Nicholas. “Coupled with communications tools, such as wireless, tablets, smartphones, cloud technology, Internet connectivity, capacity, and speed, it is also becoming easier to get reports in any desired level of detail to those who can make the best use of the data on finds.”

What’s in your data?

Implementing a predictive maintenance strategy is great, but you’ll never achieve success if you aren’t using the information to take the right steps. According to respondents, in-house maintenance, operations, and reliability engineers are reading and interpreting the information on a nearly weekly basis. PdM statistics are rarely used by outsourced third parties, OEM suppliers, and third-party remote monitors (Figure 7).

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Figure 7. In-house maintenance, operations, and reliability engineers are reading and interpreting the information on a nearly weekly basis. PdM statistics are rarely used by outsourced third parties, OEM suppliers, and third-party remote monitors.

Isenhour was a bit surprised by some of these statistics. “If 19% of the reliability engineers never use the information provided by the PdM systems, then one-fifth of the reliability engineers are missing a substantial portion of data that should be used to develop and refine maintenance and reliability plans and strategies,” he says. “The PdM program is a core function of an in-house reliability engineer in a manufacturing environment.”

When asked which types of assets were managed by their PdM solutions, survey participants offered varied answers. Most respondents admitted to having production assets, such as rotating equipment and pumps, electric utility grid, and industrial facilities monitored by PdM equipment, but many didn’t see the need to use PdM on their laboratory instruments or complex fleets. Other assets, such as automation assets, control systems, distribution pipelines, and fleet vehicles split the crowd (Figure 8).

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Figure 8. Most respondents admitted to having production assets, such as rotating equipment and pumps, electric utility grid, and industrial facilities monitored by PdM equipment, but many didn’t see the need to use PdM on their laboratory instruments or complex fleets.

“Most people tend to associate PdM only with motors, pumps, and fans,” explains Page. “As we discuss valves, controllers, and mobile equipment, the look of confusion comes across their faces. You can tell they never thought about applying the PdM concepts to anything but rotating and electrical equipment.”

Let’s get integrated

PdM solutions do not need to stand on their own. In order to create a greater understanding of the plant and its overall maintenance, PdM systems can be integrated into higher-level systems. Historians and CMMS/EAM software were the preferred systems for many survey participants. However, few had plans to implement environmental health and safety solutions or ERP systems in the next three years (Figure 9).

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Figure 9. PdM systems can be integrated into higher-level systems. Historians and CMMS/EAM software were the preferred systems for many survey participants.

“One common problem I see is the purchase of PdM equipment without the supporting processes required,” says Isenhour. “For example if you are using the PdM tools to identify defects but you do not have work control and planning and scheduling processes in place, then the defect identified with still be addressed as a high-cost unplanned repair. The biggest value the PdM tools can bring is the element of time. This time allows for planned, scheduled, and safe execution of the repair at the lowest total cost and the lowest total downtime.”

ROI

Allocating time and resources can be difficult in a bustling plant. We asked the survey participants to rate the importance of predictive maintenance in relation to other investments. No surprise, safety systems were deemed most important by respondents. Reliability solutions and PdM technologies rounded out the top three (Figure 10).

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Figure 10. Safety systems were deemed most important by respondents. Reliability solutions and PdM technologies rounded out the top three.

Nicholas offered one explanation as to why PdM programs sometimes get lost in the shuffle. “Often what happens is that some of the best and brightest maintenance personnel are assigned responsibility for PdM,” he says. “They perform brilliantly but in obscurity because they don’t advertise their achievements. Then they move on, by promotion or recruitment from elsewhere, and are not replaced quickly. Their technology goes on the shelf and sometimes doesn’t get used for many months, if ever again. Asset deterioration sets in slowly and decision makers don’t notice the absence of attention by PdM specialists until things really get bad. By then it’s an uphill battle to recover. Many organizations have neither succession plans nor retention initiatives and are surprised when they lose PdM specialists.”

Page is hopeful. “I think I see people starting to use PdM more for commissioning repairs and installations,” he says. “Prevention is the answer to a large percentage of machinery problems. Catching those conditions that might cause the problems early and getting them fixed early is the secret to reliability. The further up that P-F curve you can get, the easier this all becomes.”

Nicholas sees an increased use of wireless internal data collection linked by Internet and cloud computing for technologies such as vibration analysis, motor circuit analysis, and ultrasonic analysis. “Communications links to smartphones, tablet computers, and desktops will be commonplace within two to three years,” says Nicholas. These technologies are being used by less than 20% of survey respondents. “Under-appreciated and barely employed at present are wearable sensors that can detect and transmit data on nearby machines as an operator makes tours or a PdM tech goes into the field with more detailed technology tools in hand for data collection,” explains Nicholas. “There is now a closer relationship between supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) and PdM technology. This will accelerate as cloud computing and advanced analytics gain acceptance.”