An example of the latter is Ingersoll Rand’s PackageCare for compressors. A stand-alone option is the Machine Health Reporting Program from SKF USA Inc. in Canton, Ohio.
SKF’s program, which launched in 2012, blends a do-it-yourself element with root-cause analysis by specially trained technicians, who crunch the data and develop machine reports that flag alignment problems and pending bearing failures, explains Eric Lautzenheiser, the program’s business development manager.
Clients typically identify up to 100 critical machines — ammonia and air compressors, water pumps, air handling units and other processing, packaging and infrastructure components — and then use Microlog hardware cabled to a transducer sensor to capture vibration data from each machine. The data are then uploaded to SKF to generate machine-health reports.
Bearing failures account for most unscheduled downtime events, and vibration analysis can detect bearing wear well in advance. “Time-based maintenance is by far the most common strategy,” says Lautzenheiser, but that can be both inefficient and a gateway to bigger problems if not properly executed. As part of a program start-up, SKF personnel provide training in lubrication best practices and the use of laser-alignment for shafts, as well as how to use the measurement tool.
The identification of critical equipment is “the heart of asset management,” he adds. “It comes down to, if that piece of equipment stops working, I have to send everyone home.” Those are the machines that manufacturers target for vibration analysis, and “they typically figure out for themselves what those machines are.”
IFS’s Browning seconds that point. “Lots of people are making lots of money analyzing a process to distinguish between critical and noncritical equipment, but they come back with the same results as a veteran maintenance manager,” he says. “A real maintenance guy knows if he has redundancy.”
Blessed are the wrench turners
The asset pecking order has implications beyond where to focus maintenance activities. Rather than applying preventive and predictive maintenance to all assets, it can lead to a blend of approaches. If an asset isn’t critical to continuous operations and doesn’t pose a safety danger, “you can make run-to-failure decisions with more confidence,” says Browning.
Managing plant assets means different things to different professionals in an organization. For senior management, it may be viewed as a cost-cutting tool, and as with any automation system, ROI is tied to labor reductions. For the people in the trenches turning wrenches, EAM and CMMS may be an upgrade from clipboards and Excel spreadsheets, but they also requires a change in standard operating procedures. And that can be unsettling.
“Maintenance often is viewed as a cost, and the first thing companies cut in hard times is maintenance,” Browning reflects. “Software can make it easier for the maintenance guy to be productive, but you’re not going to replace them.
“You sell these systems twice: first to the corporate people and then to the users.” In the end, those users may be the organization’s most critical asset.