Heat, noise, and vibration. These are the hallmarks of productive engineering and manufacturing environments. They can also be part of an early-warning system that highlights impending problems.

Tracking and analysing data is an invaluable part of a condition-monitoring process. If a maintenance operator understands a machine’s normal operating parameters, they can identify any anomalies. This is important, because if equipment starts to generate excessive noise or overheats, it’s almost certainly a sign something needs urgent attention.

What happens next, though, is not necessarily cut and dried.

Critical thinking
If a problem has been detected, a choice has to be made – take the machine offline as soon as possible for repair, or wait and see what happens. If the machine or part is not involved in critical operations, there will be less of an imperative to get it fixed early. But ensuring it doesn’t fail at the worst possible time becomes more crucial if it is business-critical.

Dr Moray Kidd is a respected academic in the field of maintenance engineering. He believes leaving a problem alone can sometimes be an acceptable course of action. But, he says, too many businesses default to that option without knowing whether it’s the right thing to do.

“A lot of companies will tell you they do condition monitoring,’” he says. “But when you scratch the surface and ask what interventions they subsequently make, they’ll often say they haven’t got the resources to undertake any interventions.”

That becomes a problem if a critical resource is at risk of failing.

“There are many examples of small components within a larger system failing for one reason or another. In terms of their monetary value, these are low-cost items, but they can trigger multimillion-pound outages,” Dr Kidd says.

The only way of predicting the consequences of letting a part run-to-fail is to have assessed how important it is to the overall operation. “A criticality assessment identifies the high-risk components within a system,” Dr Kidd explains. “That's when you can really make the biggest difference.”

These kinds of evaluations have traditionally been the preserve of industries where safety is a high priority – oil and gas, nuclear, and aerospace, for example. Understanding which elements of an operation simply cannot fail helps safeguard lives and protect the environment. But it can also make good business sense and is now being used in sectors like food and pharmaceuticals, according to Dr Kidd.

“A criticality assessment identifies the high-risk components within a system.”Dr Moray Kidd, maintenance engineering academic

Maintenance engineering that pays you back
Keeping people safe, reducing harm to the environment and generating value are the primary objectives of most businesses, regardless of industry sector. Good engineering practice is an essential part of meeting these objectives. But there is no denying there are costs involved and most businesses do not have limitless engineering resources.

Condition monitoring helps overcome the challenge of juggling resources by providing data that can be used to determine maintenance priorities. Clearly, this means being able to act fast in the face of an impending critical failure. It also means deprioritising non-urgent maintenance so resources aren’t occupied by unnecessary tasks.

“This kind of insight into the health of your equipment allows to you react accordingly,” says Gary Harvey, Head of Field Services at RS. This can help reduce the risk of unscheduled outages, avoiding intrusive downtime, while maintaining machine-performance optimisation.”

According to a study carried out by the Wall Street Journal and Emerson, unplanned downtime costs industrial manufacturers an estimated $50 billion per year. Around 42% of that unplanned downtime was caused by equipment failure.

Any investment that reduces downtime, keeps productivity up, and avoids the cost of repairs and maintenance is going to pay for itself, in Dr Kidd’s view: “Amazingly, many businesses still consider maintenance engineering an overhead rather than an activity that adds value. Good engineering does not cost you – it pays you.”

“This kind of insight into the health of your equipment allows to you react accordingly.”Gary Harvey, Head of Field Services, RS

With more than 30 years’ experience and expertise as a market leader in condition monitoring and predictive maintenance, the RS Maintenance Solutions team has helped hundreds of organisations large and small. It makes it easy for clients and customers to appreciate what is involved and why, and features four steps:
1. Measure up
2. Trace
3. Appraise
4. Control

In the Indirect Procurement Report 2020: The Evolution of MRO – RS Components’ white paper produced in partnership with the Chartered Institute of Procurement & Supply (CIPS) – 42% of UK businesses said ‘ageing assets’ were their biggest cause of downtime.

Some of the main day-to-day challenges organisations face involve identifying the most efficient and cost-effective maintenance strategies to follow. The more enlightened will realise there are opportunities to minimise not just maintenance costs, but the total life-cycle costs of their production assets.

Effective condition monitoring can be the difference between a managed interruption to perform maintenance and a protracted period of costly, unplanned downtime. It also has the potential to offer much-needed benefits, reducing costs and failures and improving asset lifespans.

To find out more about how Maintenance Solutions from RS can help you create the right condition monitoring strategy for your business, or to learn more about our other services, please visit our website.