Vibration Analysis / Predictive Maintenance / Condition Monitoring

How to make your condition monitoring program more valuable

Get wise to your organization’s priorities and know your options when it comes to strategies and technologies that can help avoid equipment failure.

By Jason Tranter, Mobius Institute

Most people involved with condition monitoring view the service they provide as indispensable. They are in a unique position to detect the onset of equipment failure, thus ensuring that the company does not suffer the consequences of a catastrophic failure. It takes tremendous skill, experience, and courage to detect the earliest signs of failure; determine what is going wrong; and make appropriate remedial recommendations.

The only problem is that not everyone in the organization understands the value of that service. And it is not always their fault.

It is not their fault because most condition monitoring people do not actively promote the benefits of their program, and they do not educate people about what they are doing, how they do it, and why they do it.

And it is not their fault because many condition monitoring programs do not provide as much value as they should.

Let’s examine what the goals of a condition monitoring program should be, how a condition monitoring program can be structured to deliver the greatest service, and how the condition monitoring team should publicize the value of its indispensable service.

What drives your program? Do you have a tier-one, tier-two, or tier-three program?

Condition monitoring programs normally have one of three driving forces and thus can be categorized into one of three tiers. Most programs today could be categorized as tier one. Some are tier two. Not nearly enough are tier three.

What is a tier-one program?

A tier-one program is focused primarily on detecting terminal failure. The goal is to test as many machines as possible to provide an early warning of failure. For vibration analysis programs, the focus often is bearing fault detection. But root causes such as misalignment, unbalance, looseness, and resonance also will be detected and reported only if the severity is high enough. The condition monitoring team will commonly see the same machines develop the same faults over and over again, but for a variety of reasons, little real action gets taken to avoid those failures.

Often a tier-one program isn’t part of an asset strategy. It is not a structured condition-based maintenance program; unnecessary time-based PMs are still performed. The aim is to be forewarned of impending failure – really, in a tier-one program, the team is just practicing reactive maintenance with a slightly longer time to react.

In a weak tier one program the warnings about failures come late so everything is urgent, plus the recommendations are not very clear.

In a strong tier-one program, warnings come much earlier and the team verifies that its assessment of the fault condition (fault type and severity) was accurate. In addition, the team will keep metrics related to schedule compliance. A good tier-one program will also utilize time waveform analysis, phase analysis, motor current analysis, wear particle analysis, and other condition monitoring technologies to provide the earliest and most accurate diagnoses and recommendations.

Tier-one programs deliver value – without question. But can more be achieved? Absolutely.

What is a tier-two program?

A tier-two program includes the detection and elimination of root causes. The condition monitoring team will detect root causes such as misalignment, unbalance, resonance, and poor lubrication and do its utmost to ensure that those root causes are eliminated.
In a tier-two program, analysts will get involved in certain maintenance tasks, such as lubrication, balancing, and shaft alignment, to ensure that tasks are performed with precision.

They will also perform QA/QC. They will test machines after repair/restoration/replacement work has been completed to ensure that no new faults or root causes were induced during that work. They will also be involved in acceptance testing and ensuring that all new and overhauled equipment is in “perfect” condition – and if it isn’t, that the equipment is rejected until it passes.

Maintenance and reliability teams that struggle to make their company’s condition monitoring program into a tier-two program commonly face at least one of two major obstacles. First, the company doesn’t have time to test all of the machines and perform all of the additional analysis to eliminate root causes of failure. Second, the organization does not fully believe in the condition-based maintenance philosophy or the benefits of precision and proactive maintenance. As a result, the organization struggles to keep up with fault conditions detected and thus does not place a high priority on eliminating root causes. (Of course, if the root causes were eliminated, the volume of work would be reduced.)

The best way to overcome these challenges is to strive to become a tier-three program.

What is a tier-three program?

A tier-three program is a strategic, structured program designed to deliver the greatest value to the organization. It strives to help the business achieve its goals. A tier-three program understands the value of reliability improvement and it delivers clear, actionable information about the health of the equipment and the corrective action that must be taken.

A tier-three program executes true condition-based maintenance (not just condition monitoring) based on the asset strategy, which is based on business needs (mitigating risks and achieving targets). The aim is to detect failure and root causes, and it implements root-cause failure analysis (RCFA) to avoid future failure and to improve the asset strategy.

How do you become a tier-three condition monitoring program?

It is almost impossible to deliver the greatest value unless you really understand the business’s goals and priorities. If we had unlimited resources, we would do our utmost to detect every fault and eliminate every root cause. You probably don’t have unlimited resources, but then you probably shouldn’t, because detecting every fault and eliminating every root cause could not be justified.

The goal therefore is to design the optimal program that strikes a balance between the costs to implement the program and the benefits that can be achieved. While the benefits of condition monitoring are often focused on risk mitigation (safety, environment, costs, downtime, etc.), it is critically important that due consideration be given to the ways in which it can help the business achieve its goals (capacity, throughput, quality, reduction of process interruptions, yield, dependability, cost and waste reduction, etc.).

What does the company value?

The first stage is to step back and ask why the company employs you and pays for the monitoring instruments and training. The obvious answer is to avoid failure and thus the consequences of failure. But it is worth digging deeper into the company’s values.

Based on the company’s ownership structure, whether the company produces a product or provides a service, the company’s position in the market (high-cost leader, low-cost competitor, etc.), a given plant’s age, and many other factors, key business and maintenance drivers and primary risks can vary, and thus the business’s priorities can vary. The company must identify the relative importance of each of the following.

  1. Quality
  2. Uptime and throughput
  3. Equipment failure and secondary damage
  4. Safety (employee and customer)
  5. Environmental protection
  6. Cost reduction
  7. Life extension
  8. Brand, reputation, and customer satisfaction

You could call this exercise a “business process review.” It will help you prioritize elements of your condition monitoring, reliability, and maintenance strategy, and it can help justify a reliability improvement program (at the commencement and on an ongoing basis).

How do you use this information?

If you know which pieces of equipment are your most critical (via a criticality ranking) and you understand failure modes and lead time to failure, then you can develop an asset strategy that combines condition-based maintenance, time-based proactive and corrective maintenance, and run-to-failure when the use of other strategies cannot be justified. Utilizing criticality and with an understanding of failure modes and root causes, it is possible to prioritize which equipment gets monitored, which pieces are tested with multiple technologies, and how frequently tests should be performed.

What if you can't test all of the equipment you would like to test?

With the above prioritization, you may conclude there are some machines you don’t have the resources to test even though you feel their criticality is high enough that testing is justified. If management won’t agree to additional resources, what should you do?

You could consider testing equipment less frequently, but then you potentially put critical equipment at risk. If you have a good idea of an asset’s reliability, though, and management is willing to accept the higher risk, then this can be an acceptable approach.

You could opt to use fewer condition monitoring technologies. But consider this move carefully, too, because it will increase your risk.

Three additional possibilities:

  1. If doing so can be justified, you could use online monitoring systems. That requires a capital outlay but consumes fewer resources on an ongoing basis and reduces the risk of missing the signs of a fault condition.
  2. You could utilize operator-driven reliability (ODR) – asking operators to perform basic tests to give you a warning if an asset’s health appears to change.
  3. You can look at ways to use automation to detect change in your data to avoid analyzing every piece of data collected. A lot of time can be wasted analyzing data that has not changed. Setting good alarm limits (ideally using statistics) can save a great deal of time. You could also consider automated diagnostic systems and predictive analytics.

How else can you improve the value of your service?

You need to provide information about the health of the equipment so that everyone with an interest can see what its status is and what is being done about any equipment in poor health. Maintenance people need reports with actionable information, not vague comments about high vibration, spectral patterns, and looseness. They want to know what’s wrong and how urgently they need to respond.

This is one of the biggest complaints I hear about condition monitoring programs – that they produce inaccessible, confusing reports with too much data. These reports are your primary deliverable, so it’s critical that they provide people with the information they need to make their key decisions.

How can you ensure that people understand the value of your service?

In addition to providing actionable information, you need to constantly sell what you do. Tell management about the costs you have avoided and the risks you have averted. Save bearings and gears that have been removed from machines and keep them on display. Determine how your service helps to reduce risk and helps the business achieve its goals, and maintain and publicize KPIs that indicate how they have improved thanks to the condition monitoring (and reliability improvement) activities. You should see OEE improve, maintenance costs decline, and the number of lost-time injuries go down.

At least annually, you need to ensure that all plant and corporate managers are aware of the benefits of your service and what will happen if they remove your service – a return to the bad old days.


Condition monitoring can help a business become safer and more competitive. For the sake of the business, you need to ensure that condition monitoring is focused on the business’s most critical assets, that it is part of a well-designed asset strategy, and that you provide actionable information. For your own sake, it is critical that you publicize the benefits of your program, especially to senior management.