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

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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.)

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