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Top 10 tips for condition monitoring

05 June 2015

Condition monitoring of plant is now a common method of preventing failure of critical equipment and maximising uptime. However, David Manning-Ohren, of ERIKS UK believes that many engineers are making some basic and costly mistakes.

Effective maintenance management depends on the accurate forecasting and diagnosis of problems with plant and machinery. Using the wrong maintenance technique can waste time, money and resources and will have no beneficial effect on the uptime of a pump, compressor or machine tool’s availability.  While condition monitoring can play a vital role in a maintenance programme, all-too-often its implementation is haphazard, targeting the wrong equipment and having little effect on productivity.
There are many rules that an engineering maintenance team could follow when implementing a condition monitoring programme, based upon application and skillset within the team. However, the following are the most important:
1. Never use condition monitoring on its own – Condition monitoring should never be used on its own as a trending tool. For monitoring to work best it needs to be implemented in harmony with a strong maintenance strategy and repair feedback from the maintenance team or outside suppliers. A sound maintenance programme should take into account multiple factors, not just trends.
2.  Spend your money on the most valuable asset – Not everything needs to be monitored. The key to more uptime is assessing what plant is critical and then devising a schedule that takes into account its failure or repair history and cost to a business when it is unproductive.
3.  Get close to your key plant and machinery – The best condition monitoring device ever invented is man. Tap into the people who are using the machine every day and notice the rattles, smells, squeaks, drips, bumps that are out of the ordinary. Every one of these will help you foresee and predict failure before it occurs. The machine operator is using the machine every day and will know its weaknesses. 
4. There is no ideal condition monitoring frequency – How often you monitor the condition of your machinery will depend on many variables from the maintenance regime, through to the quality and age of the equipment and its criticality. 
5.  Keep a vibration database – Vibration is a key part of a strong condition monitoring regime. A good vibration database will include three types of vibration reading, trend, spectrum and time waveform. Vibration checks every 4-8 weeks are a good starting point.
6. Understand the plant and understand the operating conditions – Always walk around a site before taking any readings and switch on any machinery to ensure that it is warmed up and fully operational. A reading when a piece of plant is cold could be very different from a machine that has been running flat out for two hours.  The speed of plant can also change, causing vibrations and temperatures to alter non-linearly.  Base-lining with respect to speed and operating load is excellent practice.
7. Certification is better than qualification – Condition monitoring is constantly evolving. Any qualification therefore has a shelf-life and expiry date because the techniques are being constantly updated. Certification, which requires updating every five years, is therefore preferable to any qualification. If you are condition monitoring in-house you need to ensure that your key people are up-to-speed with the appropriate certificates and are aware of new technologies and practises.
8. If you going to outsource insist on seeing paperwork – Condition monitoring is constantly evolving so many maintenance teams are outsourcing to third-party suppliers. There are sound reasons for doing this but do ask to see some paperwork to ensure you are employing condition monitoring experts. Engineers should be qualified to ISO 18436 and abide by the British Institute of Non-Destructive Testing (BINDT) code of ethics.
9. Judge a condition monitoring provider on more than the day-rate – Condition monitoring is a specialist job so price should not be the key determinant for users of plant and equipment. Typically, the cost of condition monitoring is based upon the number of machines that require monitoring multiplied by the expert’s day rate. Unfortunately, this takes no account of the type of data being taken, software being used or basic competence.  Also consider the support that can be offered – expertise on bearings, gearboxes, pumps and motors are essential to any condition monitoring service provider.

10. Delay failure with good maintenance – Be sure you are taking the appropriate measures to delay the failure as long as possible by doing obvious things such as appropriate lubrication, dusting down cooling fans on motors, running a vacuum over the distribution board and cleaning the pool of oil under the machine so any new drips are noticeable. Some people call this 'preventive maintenance' but it’s just common sense.

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