At the UE Ultrasound World conference last month, the crowd was reminded of a sure-fire money maker by Tim Dunton of Reliability Solutions (www.reliabilitysolutions.net). Tim was talking about the larger issue of setting up a visible, intelligent asset strategy system for the whole plant, and following up on the work that is discovered. I don’t mean for one minute to take away from that message, because it is essential to plant stability and sustainability. But Tim also dropped a gem during his talk that could help most of us jump start reliability and demonstrate its relevance by throwing off some zero investment, instant savings. Tim said, “Check your belt slippage, especially if you’re about to have a shutdown when you could make the necessary adjustments without disrupting production.” Tim was right on target, and, if you calculate your losses while production is still running and plan the work properly, you can have clear, documented savings when you’re done.
When was the last time you checked slippage? Belts are supposed to be simple, quiet, low-maintenance drive systems, and they are. But the fact is that while we’re paying attention to the more complex systems, belts are getting worn, dirty and oily. Then they quietly rob the plant of a lot of electrical cost. The amount varies from plant to plant, of course, but a quick review of the number and horsepower of your pumps, compressors, fans, conveyors and other belt-driven equipment will probably be an eye-opener. An enterprising team of one engineer and one or two mechanics should be able to use a strobe or ultrasound device to identify the shaft speeds of the pulleys that are running your equipment. The readings are best taken under load, as long as safe access is available. The percentage of slippage in the system is an easy calculation once you have the working diameters of both pulleys and the shaft speeds. Given the horsepower at which the equipment is running, converting the slippage to kilowatt hours and then to dollars is pretty straightforward. You’ll also want to give the bearings a listen and maybe a thermographic look to see if they need attention, too. If you take the system down, you’ll also want to check alignment when you put it back to work.
Sometimes a little ingenuity can pay off. For instance, if your system is doing its job in spite of a lot of slippage, maybe a lower-speed ratio will be adequate after cleaning and alignment. Likewise, if someone has blocked half of a fan’s discharge vent, perhaps less horsepower is needed with the vent reopened. Low- to no-cost repairs or refits can yield exciting results at today’s electric power rates. A check figure can be developed by computing the slippage again when the system is recommissioned. That’ll give you a savings number you can bank on.
If you don’t have enough belts to score exciting savings, you can perform a compressed air leak audit or a thermographic scan of walls and roof when the weather’s hot or cold. All energy leaks are fair targets, but who hasn’t seen ancient, dirty belts humming away through nights and holidays, keeping the electric company warm and cozy?