Laying the groundwork for successful condition monitoring

11 December 2023

Charly Achter discusses the benefits of adopting condition monitoring and moving away from reactive to predictive maintenance strategies.

With geopolitical and supply chain issues, combined with ongoing workforce shortages, there is more pressure than ever on maintenance teams today to deliver and shift to more proactive operations to protect not only the health of assets and operators. Condition monitoring is one way of achieving this shift, and technology advances have made condition-based maintenance more attainable for companies of all sizes and budgets. 

Condition monitoring is a maintenance approach that allows maintenance teams to move from reactive maintenance to predictive maintenance. Instead of responding to damage and downtime after they happen teams have the insights they need to predict potential failures in advance – and address them before they occur. 

By aggregating around-the-clock measurements, teams can gain a clear picture of asset health anytime and anywhere. This level of insight and perspective can provide a number of benefits, including improved response times and decreased maintenance costs which are the result of eliminating premature changing of resources and components, as well as from preventing downtime and damage. 

But what does a facility need to have in place in order to take advantage of the condition monitoring approach? There are three main keys to making it work – Sensors, connectivity and platform.

When an Internet-enabled condition monitoring device is mounted on a machine, it collects real-time asset condition measurements around the clock. The frequency of the measurements can be determined based on the criticality of the asset, the capabilities of the condition monitoring device, and more. 

The measurements taken by the device must then be transmitted to software for storage and analysis. This context is where the real value of the measurement data comes in. By monitoring machine health in real time, maintenance teams can track the health of each machine while also gaining a comprehensive view of their facility’s overall asset health.  

Software, paired with the condition monitoring sensors, can generate alerts or alarms whenever changes in machine health are identified. When maintenance teams are notified of condition changes in real time, they can respond quickly to assess problems and identify the next steps. This approach also means that maintenance teams can focus their time on the machines that need attention — and not spend time and energy on those that do not.

Culture change
Traditionally, most maintenance teams would use either reactive or preventive approaches to maintenance. With these approaches, machine repairs are done either after failures occur or based on guidelines set by the machine’s manufacturer. Many teams still operate this way and changing a strategy requires a different outlook and different practices in addition to different tools.

The tools needed for condition monitoring to be effective keep getting better and better. Machine health data has to be collected, then transmitted, and finally stored, analysed, and made shareable. All of these steps can now be accomplished more reliably and more easily. 

The key point for selecting a sensor is knowing what is behind the need to monitor the machinery. The complexity and cost of the machinery essentially drive the complexity of the sensor.

Part of the reason that sensors are more affordable today is that their batteries are smaller and longer lasting. Smaller batteries have led to some smaller and lighter sensors, increasing the range of machines that are suitable candidates for sensors. 

When people talk about sensors, they commonly mean condition monitoring sensors mounted on devices. But handheld measurement tools also contain sensors  –  a sensor is essentially something that collects machine condition data. Handheld tools can be an important part of a successful condition monitoring program. Not every asset requires a devoted sensor collecting measurements around the clock. 

Vibration monitors are one common type of condition monitoring device, but there are different modalities. Not every asset is necessarily going to require the same type of sensor. Vibration is only one part of the complete story of a machine. Temperature or oil analysis, for example, also help indicate problems with assets.

After sensors collect data from machines, teams need to do something with the data in order to make it truly useful. An ERP (enterprise resource planning) or CMMS (computerised maintenance management system) software can take the asset health data and help identify the next steps that should be taken. 

The ability to monitor equipment safely from anywhere is one of the benefits of condition monitoring. For one thing, it can improve worker safety. Machine-mounted sensors that transmit data reduce the number of trips that maintenance team members must take to perform route-based measurements. When assets are located in hard-to-access or hazardous places, there is more risk to the workers. Mounting a sensor on an asset and monitoring the asset remotely reduces the number of visits workers must carry out.

Mobile accessibility is another advancement that has made condition monitoring more attainable. Data can be shared, meaning teams are not limited to in-house staff or even local consultants. Teams can access and share asset health data from smart devices anywhere they have an internet connection.

Connected to the cloud, sensors seamlessly transfer the data to software where it can be stored and evaluated. Dashboards make data accessible at glance.

When starting a new strategy, it can be tempting to want to do it all at once. But starting with a small pilot program, learning from the successes and the failures, and then scaling up is much more effective. 

It is important to first determine which assets are costly enough, in terms of repair costs or impacts to production, to merit condition monitoring sensors. Asset criticality rankings can help determine which of a facility’s machines would make the most sense to monitor around the clock. Time to failure is another factor – if a machine is prone to failing quickly, route-based measurements with a handheld device may not happen frequently enough to identify problems in advance. 

Charly Achter is a Product Manager at Fluke Reliability. 


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