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Condition monitoring offers insurance against downtime

Condition monitoring offers insurance against downtime
By using the latest condition monitoring systems and automatic lubrication systems for bearings, companies can reduce the risk and costs associated with unforeseen breakdowns to critical production plant and machinery.

In the downstream oil and gas sector, 'lost' production time can equate to hundreds of thousands of pounds per day. So surely we too need to ensure that our high value capital goods, such as production machinery and other critical plant equipment are adequately insured against the cost of unforeseen breakdowns?

Although the cost of a machine component such as a bearing, pump or electric motor is very small compared to the total cost of the machinery, the cost of production downtime and any consequential losses as a result of the bearing failure, are often significant. For example, take a petrochemical processing plant. The typical cost of production downtime can be anything from £100,000 to £500,000 per day. Total maintenance costs for a typical oil and gas processing plant are around 10 to 15% of total costs.

Of course, every processing plant has a maintenance department to deal with problems like these, but often, because of time and resource constraints, the maintenance team becomes reactive, fire fighting problems around the plant as they occur, with no predictive maintenance systems, little preventive maintenance and often with no maintenance strategy at all. But today there are numerous technology safeguards out there that, when compared to the cost of lost production, are relatively inexpensive. Using the latest condition monitoring and predictive maintenance systems, including bearing vibration monitoring, acoustic emissions monitoring and thermography to protect plant and machines, is what the more enlightened plants are doing. But many more companies need to pay heed.

"Plant managers and maintenance managers need to justify any expenditure on condition monitoring systems and services, to their finance director or MD," says Kate Hartigan, Managing Director of Schaeffler (UK). "We would suggest using a risk management approach for this. Ask the question of your finance director: 'What will it cost the company in lost production if I lose that critical pump or motor for five hours?' Or 'What would you be prepared to pay as an insurance premium, to secure the running of the plant and to protect it against unforeseen breakdowns?' You may get some very positive responses."

Asset protection
One of the finance director's responsibilities is to ensure that the company's assets are protected. Risk assessments should be carried out regularly to see what effect breakdowns would have on critical machinery and equipment. The severity and likelihood of breakdowns on particular machinery are assessed and given a corresponding risk value. Those with the highest risk scores are given priority by the maintenance team and should certainly be protected with some sort of condition monitoring device. So what is the true cost of a bearing failure in each of your key production areas?

Hartigan says: "By installing a predictive maintenance system, companies pick up any problems early. During the next convenient downtime period, the maintenance team can then remove and replace a bearing with minimum disruption costs and also avoid the risk of breakdown damage to the equipment."

Condition monitoring also prevents maintenance teams replacing components unnecessarily and introducing possible new and unrelated problems. Manufacturing maintenance staff should be using CM systems to predict when failures are likely to occur and plan replacement during production shutdowns. "In too many companies, parts are changed on a time basis rather than on a condition basis because the maintenance team considers this to be the safest option," says Hartigan. "However, this introduces a further risk, because whenever there's human intervention, problems can occur." If a process plant plans to achieve very high production efficiencies, predictive maintenance is critical. Unforeseen plant breakdowns simply cannot be tolerated.

In order to help companies monitor vibration levels on critical rotating plant or machinery, including electric motors, drives, bearing arrangements, gearboxes, pumps, generators, ventilators and fans, Schaeffler has developed the 'FAG ProCheck' online monitoring system. This system enables maintenance teams to monitor vibration levels and diagnose faults on critical rotating plant, therefore preventing costly machine breakdowns and eliminating problems before they occur.

What really differentiates ProCheck from other condition monitoring systems is its inherent flexibility due to its modular design. This means the system can be easily integrated into a customer's existing control and automation environment. FAG ProCheck is intelligent, easy to set up and is both robust and reliable. The system is ATEX-certified and so can be used in hazardous or explosive environments and the system has a range of communications interfaces so that it can be easily integrated with a company's existing plant management or production control and maintenance systems.

Once set up, the system can operate automatically without further intervention from the user, to measure, record, analyse and issue alerts on vibration data from rotating plant. By continuously monitoring a machine or piece of rotating equipment, FAG ProCheck can detect changes in their behaviour early and alert maintenance personnel to a potential problem before it actually occurs. Maintenance teams can therefore improve their planning and scheduling and production downtime is significantly reduced.

The FAG ProCheck system can be easily expanded and customised through a new expansion slot system and digital filter algorithms. The unit is therefore easy to integrate into a company's existing production data management system, statistical process control (SPC) system or PLC network.
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