Why predictive maintenance workers are the superheroes of your plant

June 26, 2013
Improve reliability and production while lowering maintenance costs.

Allow me to introduce the predictive maintenance (PdM) team. We are the silent service branch of the maintenance department. Even though everyone has heard of us, many don’t notice our presence, and only a few really understand our capabilities and function within the operations department. We are the proactive maintenance and reliability team.

We work a different schedule from the maintenance department. The shift techs and project crew work on your equipment when it’s shut down — planned or breakdown. Production and maintenance must both “compete” for time spent with the equipment. Only one can have the machine at a time, as laid out by a carefully organized schedule. PdM activities, on the other hand, are non-intrusive. We collect vibration data on machinery at the same time that operators are running the equipment. We analyze the graphical data from the equipment’s vibration patterns to diagnose the condition of the machine. The vast majority of equipment failures occur slowly and without notice over several months’ time. We continue to evaluate the machine’s condition, and, when it degrades beyond a moderate level of failure, we submit a work request to the planner, well in advance of the imminent failure. This gives him ample time to order parts, plan, schedule, and complete the necessary maintenance repairs, all in a calm manner, before anyone in production ever knew they had a problem. The very nature of our job is a “Catch 22.” The better we are at our job, the more it seems like we are not needed.

Predictive maintenance team mission statement

Our goal is to help our internal customers serve their customers by turning factual information into intelligent business solutions. We will accomplish this by integrating the strengths of engineering principles with all the available technologies of condition-based maintenance (CBM).
The expected outcome is increased production availability, resulting from improved equipment reliability. Long-term maintenance costs are expected to decrease as a result of fewer breakdowns, better planning, and systematically designing out known equipment faults identified by Root Cause Analysis (RCA).

Because we aren’t in the spotlight of the high-profile catastrophes, it’s often assumed our daily work routine does not provide the best value to operations and our efforts could be redirected to other more important repairs and emergencies. On the contrary, consider this analogy: We are the silent lightning rods that protect equipment from danger, and the shift techs are the EMT and fire departments that quickly respond at a moment’s notice, with lights flashing and sirens blaring. When they arrive in your production area, there’s trouble — you’ve suffered a direct hit by lightning and everything is on fire. They are recognized on a daily basis for providing the valuable service of putting out the fire, reviving the victim’s heart, cleaning up the wreckage and patching the hole in the roof. They get everything back to normal, and everyone thanks them for a job well done.

When you see the PdM techs taking vibration readings on your machine, you know that your insurance is paid up and you are being protected by the lightning rods; you won’t have to suffer the pain of receiving a direct lightning strike. However, we are people, and human nature values the short-term results. The shift techs are seen as the hometown heroes while the PdM team is often viewed as the costly monthly insurance bill that is delivered in the mail. Both teams do a great job at keeping production running. But from a business standpoint, it’s unquestionably better to prevent the lightning strike than to go through the physical and emotional trauma of having your house destroyed by lightning and then repaired, only to repeat the process over and over again from multiple hits.

The cost and associated protection of the lightning rod is insignificant compared to the cost of not having one and experiencing just one strike. Wouldn’t it be better to be proactive and install a lightning rod on every machine than to be reactive by building and staffing a fire and rescue station in every production unit? From the day you install that lightning rod, it does its job dependably and reliably every day, yet it can easily be viewed as doing nothing at all.

Mike Pantone is a reliability engineering subject matter expert with Life Cycle Engineering (www.LCE.com). Contact him at [email protected].

When the predictive maintenance team does its job effectively, improved equipment reliability increases production availability. In addition, long-term maintenance costs decrease as a result of fewer breakdowns, better planning, and systematically designing out known equipment faults identified by root cause failure analysis (RCFA) methods.