Archive | May, 1997


1:07 am
May 2, 1997
Print Friendly

Infrared Options Multiply for Condition Monitoring

may97_infraredOver the past three years, the latest generation of handheld focal plane array (FPA) infrared (IR) imaging cameras have become widely used as temperature measurement tools in condition monitoring programs. Increased usage stems from significant improvements in image resolution and the ease of use accompanied by major reductions in camera size and weight. These cameras are now being integrated with personal computers (PC) and Windows software to provide real-time imaging capabilities that extend the value of these tools for condition monitoring.

Advanced thermal systems are as simple to use as a camcorder. They can save hundreds of thousands of dollars a year by revealing temperature abnormalities that, if left untreated, cause process inefficiencies or line outages. Traditionally used as handheld systems that capture individual images to PC cards for later analysis on a personal computer, infrared cameras can now be connected to PC-based systems for continuous capture and analysis of temperature data at up to 60 frames/sec.

Maintenance technicians have traditionally used IR cameras to detect high temperatures that often indicate a pending electrical failure. However, thermal imaging is increasingly used to find potential problems in mechanical processes. Routine inspections of motors and bearings can reveal out-of-range temperatures caused by lubrication or alignment problems. Furnaces, vessels, and piping also can be imaged. Worn or decaying insulation in these areas can be detected as greater amounts of heat escape to the outer surface.

Modern thermal imaging systems clearly reveal defects with images and temperature data that can be interpreted and acted upon quickly. Improvements in software for image tracking, image analysis, and report generation permit data to be integrated into maintenance programs, from basic to advanced.

Infrared technology
Today’s advanced infrared camera is literally a handheld PC that measures temperature with an advanced focal plane array detector. The most powerful cameras provide 12-bit recording, enabling users to view and measure a scene that contains very hot and very cold temperatures without losing the ability to measure thermal variations of less than 0.1 deg C.

Camera options, such as bar code readers for image tracking, have extended the functionality of IR imaging systems to match the needs of computerized maintenance management systems (CMMS). Bar code tracking offers accurate, operator-independent data entry that adds pertinent condition comments directly to the stored IR image. Even where bar codes are not used to identify equipment, the bar code standardizes all inspection comments associated with the image.

At the completion of an inspection task, stored images are usually transferred to either a stand-alone thermal analysis and reporting software package, or to the main CMMS. Regardless of the type of maintenance management system at a facility, the primary task at this point is to archive collected data and generate work orders for corrective actions. When required, a full range of image analysis software features allow the user to extract temperature values from the stored images on any PC with the Windows operating system.

Real-time infrared
IR system suppliers are delivering real-time IR workstations that can measure dynamic temperature changes in equipment and processes. Although single, static IR images of moving machinery or a dynamic process are useful for recognizing many problems, real-time thermal imaging systems allow machine cycles to be recorded and analyzed easily. This capability speeds accurate problem recognition while eliminating potential misdiagnoses that could lead to costly delays or inappropriate remedies.

The call for more sophisticated application of IR imaging is often initiated after production and engineering departments have battled quality or efficiency problems. The problems may range from poor adhesion of hot-set glues to quality variations in plastic films or poor uniformity in glass products. Invariably, the production equipment has been designed to provide a uniform level of heating to one or more components. Heat is supplied using a system that maintains temperatures based on a simple control mechanism.

It is not uncommon that as management pushes for increased quality, the new levels cannot be maintained over time. At other times, the equipment may have been tuned for a higher level of performance, but the product has recently deviated for reasons not explained by the existing process data. Attaching a thermocouple is seldom an option because the equipment moves too fast, or there are too many points to measure.

In these production situations, the new real-time IR thermal imaging systems are most useful. The systems consist of two primary components: a portable Pentium PC with a digital recording system and Windows 95 software integrated to acquire real-time digital video and to display it in color, extract temperature information, and record the real-time sequences for extended analysis, and a handheld, high-resolution FPA camera.

A key feature is the digital video interface, which transmits every temperature measurement pixel generated by the camera. The camera also can be disconnected from the system and used in traditional snapshot mode.

What makes these workstations so useful for troubleshooting dynamic manufacturing problems is their ability to acquire, store, and analyze sequences of real-time IR images of the equipment under investigation. The system analyzes, displays, and stores up to 60 calibrated IR images every second. The systems use off-the-shelf components to make upgrades possible and ensure compatibility with traditional Windows software.

A 200 MHz Pentium PC with its high-speed PCI bus makes an excellent platform for thermal imaging. A digital frame grabber accepts the digital video transmitted by the camera and transfers it to the high-bandwidth PCI bus. High-capacity hard disk subsystems designed for multimedia applications store the data for subsequent review and further analysis.

Windows 95-based software analysis tools give the system a VCR-like user interface for controlling the digital video recording and playback. Users first position the camera and adjust the viewing temperature range and then select the rate and length for which images are stored to the internal drive, ranging from 60 Hz for as long as 20 minutes, or as slow as one image every hour for weeks. Storage of the video can be initiated from the keyboard or a signal from the device under observation. Once data have been recorded, viewing controls (such as play, fast forward, rewind, slow motion, and time lapse) can be used to review the process, equipment, or event under study.

The software provides a full range of tools for extracting temperature data from the collected thermal image sequence. They range from simple points, areas, and lines to complex regions that help the user measure only specific components of interest. If live sequences reveal dynamic trends, a tool automatically extracts data from a sequence of images and generates a graph for review.

When the system is operated within a network computing environment, video and data can be shared with other users. Sequences that are transferred through this method can be reviewed and analyzed at remote sites, making the thermal imaging system available for monitoring other equipment.

Captured data can be exported to other systems so maintenance managers can integrate all maintenance test data into a CMMS.

The following examples represent some of applications where these systems have assumed an important role in condition monitoring programs.

  • Furnaces and dryers. A range of products including gypsum, chemicals, and agricultural products pass through dryers and heaters of various types. Clogged burner nozzles, misdirected airflow, or malfunctioning radiators can drastically affect performance of the line. Diagnosis can be extremely difficult or impossible with contact temperature sensors.
    Glass production. Bottles, cathode ray tubes, and electric lamps are examples of glass products monitored with real-time systems. Because these products are often produced at fast rates, accurate temperature of the product is critical to high yield and reduced waste.
  • Paper production. Many paper mills use production equipment that is more than 80 years old. These large, complex systems operate continuously. The condition of the dryers is critically important to the quality of the process. Real-time IR systems image the rotating dryers to create a map of the dryer surface. Post-processing allows the inspector to rapidly identify deviations in temperature across the drum surface.
  • Molding processes. The quality of molded plastic and glass components is strongly influenced by the temperature of the material as it flows in the mold and the way the cool-down cycle is controlled. The steady-state thermal characteristics of a mold depend strongly on the flow of product, as well as the condition of the heaters. Static assessment of the molds does not yield the necessary information. Recording dynamic sequences allows the inspector to quickly capture images of either the molds or the released part without interrupting the production process.
  • Robotic welders. The condition of welding systems installed on robotic workstations can be easily monitored by analysis of dynamic real-time IR images. Abnormalities in the cooling cycle of welding tips also can be recognized using real-time digital IR recording.
  • Advanced semiconductor processing. Many semiconductor processes are sensitive to deviations in the temperature of the wafers during processing. Errors created by foreign matter, heater abnormalities, and product delivery can be readily characterized. Recording real-time sequences gives the user the best available data.
  • Web processes. Processes such as application or curing of adhesives or the preheating of paper coatings depend on the proper operation of both application equipment and curing systems. Real-time IR workstations allow the maintenance professional to view temperatures on both the dynamic equipment and the moving product. The high-resolution thermal data captured by the camera allows users to identify defective equipment easily. MT

Information supplied by Dwight Dumpert, director of applications, Flir Systems Inc., Portland, OR; (503) 684-3731; e-mail

Continue Reading →


9:56 pm
May 1, 1997
Print Friendly

In The Limelight

bob_baldwinThe secret is out. The cat is out of the bag. Companies are using off-the-shelf software packages to control expensive inventories of spare parts and to track purchase orders. Somecompanies are using the software to collect equipment failure data that can be analyzed to provide information on how maintenance procedures might be improved. Still other companies are using the software to manage maintenance activities and costs by tracking work orders. And the most progressive companies are using the software for all these activities combined, and more.

The payback is outstanding: unscheduled downtime has been essentially eliminated, purchasing and inventory functions are under control, maintenance and inventory costs have been slashed, and current cost information is easily available, all through using off-the-shelf software. That software, of course, is computerized maintenance management systems (CMMS). But that’s not the news.

I read about these CMMS benefits in magazines that focus on automation, manufacturing processes, information technology, and instrument and control systems, all during the first quarter of this year. And that’s the real news.

But is it good news or bad news? It depends on where you stand technically, financially, and politically within the corporate and plant management structure.

For well-positioned reliability and maintenance mangers, it is good news. It is helpful to have other managers become more aware of the benefits of modern reliability and maintenance practices and learn that performance can be enhanced by investing in maintenance technology.

On the other hand, for a poorly positioned maintenance manager, it could be bad news. Top management in business and operations could get the impression that maintenance is not all that hard if you invest in the right software, and perhaps they may believe that anyone can do it. They may even try to dabble in it themselves.

The attention being given to reliability and maintenance, sometimes under the banner of availability or asset management, provides an opportunity for you to better your position. If you act now, you become part of the business solution. If you wait, you could become part of the problem.

Reliability and maintenance managers are on stage. The spotlight is headed your way. It’s time to see what kind of performance you give. MT

Thanks for stopping by,


Continue Reading →


9:54 pm
May 1, 1997
Print Friendly

Equipment Asset Management, A Lifeboat to the 21st Century

Asset management is being advocated as a necessary improvement for the manufacturing, process, and production industries. But what is asset management? Why should you be interested? Furthermore, what value and benefits can you gain from asset management?

The fact is, I have never seen or heard a good definition of asset management applied to production and manufacturing equipment. So I offer the following definition:

Asset management, or more specifically equipment asset management, is a comprehensive strategy and process directed toward achieving greatest effectiveness and profitability from production and manufacturing equipment assets.

It is a mindset and total life-cycle strategy for optimum acquisition, installation, operation, and maintenance. Asset management links availability, capacity, and operating and maintenance (O&M) costs to business objectives.

Equipment asset management is results rather than task oriented. Priorities and measures of performance are financially based. The entire process is directed by profit center rather than cost center principles. It incorporates and builds on the best attributes of reliability centered maintenance (RCM), total productive maintenance (TPM), preventive maintenance (PM), predictive maintenance (PDM), and even reactive maintenance, with one crucial addition, application of profit-centered prioritization to arrive at an optimum balance.

Asset management is being described and advocated from the perspective of various disciplines, primarily control and maintenance. Within the just-stated definition, requirements and results may be much broader than can be delivered by any individual function. Perhaps asset management is best viewed as the unifying element between production planning, process control, and maintenance that assures safety along with optimum production capacity, quality, efficiency, and profitability.

The asset management process must be accomplished from the top down. Business conditions, and specifically the origin of profit, are the basis. To develop the fundamentals for asset management it is necessary to gain a clear understanding of the principal factor that determines and drives profit. Is it production availability (capacity), market conditions (demand), operating (conversion) and maintenance costs, or is it some combination? The answer is vitally important because it determines the deployment and allocation of resources.

Safety is a paramount consideration. Regulatory (environmental) factors have a strong effect, and so does quality. Does operating closer to quality standards produce greater profit at a given output?

Efficiency improvements are a potential source of added profit. In a facility operating 50,000 hp (37.5 MW) of electrical power consumers, an overall improvement of just 1 percent saves over $260,000 a year in utility costs (at $0.08 per kWh). This saving could be equivalent to $2,600,000 in added production (at 10 percent net profit).

Benefits are many. Maximum profitability is gained by maximum conversion efficiency, minimized unscheduled outages and partial output, elimination of industrial injuries, and minimized risk to the environment.

Measures such as maintenance costs divided by current net asset value are currently used for assessing the performance and effectiveness of equipment assets. This measure forces all efforts toward controlling cost. But is this really where the emphasis should be placed? Progressive leaders are reporting that when all factors are considered–safety, quality, and production output, to name three–optimum cost is typically greater than least cost, illustrating the profit-center mentality that is the core of asset management.

A clear distinction exists between cost and profit-centered mentalities. A cost center has no systemic incentives to optimize. If anything, there are disincentives to optimize. Everyone knows the reward for coming in under budget in a cost center.

It is the opposite in a profit center. A premium is placed on optimization. Investments and added costs are evaluated from the standpoint of results and return. The latter is certainly more healthy and better suited to a complex process or manufacturing environment.

Obviously there is a great deal more to think about. Stay tuned for details. MT

John Mitchell, San Juan Capistrano, CA, is a consultant in condition assessment who has experience as a maintenance professional as well as a supplier of vibration monitoring and analysis instrumentation, leads the Machinery Information Management Open Systems Alliance. e-mail

Continue Reading →


8:10 pm
May 1, 1997
Print Friendly

Keeping Your CMMS Alive

After an organization has implemented a computerized maintenance management system (CMMS), a number of issues must be addressed to keep the system alive and well. Most CMMS failures occur during implementation. Yet a surprising number of systems do well during implementation only to die during operations because the system was not maintained properly (ironic given that it is a maintenance system) or because processes were not in place to promote system health.

These issues need to be addressed during the system selection process, revisited after implementation, and periodically reconsidered throughout the system life cycle. Successful management of these factors will not guarantee that a CMMS will succeed, but failure to manage any one of these areas will almost guarantee failure.

Vendor support
Every organization develops resident experts in part or all of the CMMS application. The level of knowledge varies depending on training, employee interest, management commitment, ease of use, and other factors. For a CMMS to stay alive, the resident experts need someone to turn to when they require help in maintaining the system and in adjusting the system to meet changing business needs.

If the system is implemented in phases, support from the CMMS vendor becomes even more important. Most vendors offer some type of application support. Proper support management is absolutely critical to successful CMMS operations. There are many types of support, including the following examples:

Pre-sale support, what you get before you buy, is sales oriented. Vendors place their best people on pre-sale support teams. If you have problems with demonstrations, prototypes, hardware and software interfaces, and other technical activities before you buy, the pre-sale team takes care of them. If you have trouble with pre-sale support, you can count on it not getting better after you buy. Pre-sale support should always be free.

Post-sale support kicks in after you buy. Several options are usually available. Vendors give the levels various names showing some incremental progression, for example, bronze, silver, gold, and platinum. The cost goes up as you move up the ladder of options, and the level of service also should go up. The level needed depends on the operation. Frequently the support features vary by when you can call and who will deal with your problem. For example, platinum service may mean that you can call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. You also should receive the services of the highest technical experience available.

The level of support must be selected carefully. You may need a high level of support at some point in the system life cycle, such as during implementation, and then only a medium level after the operation is stable. The differences in levels can mean big differences in costs. And you must be sure you get what you pay for. Sometimes the highest level of support means that you get the number of an answering service; someone then calls you back the next day. Frequently the same service is available from the same company for a lot less money.

The best advice is to look carefully at the support options and keep records on support use. You may want to consider testing the support. Can you really reach a person? Can that person answer your questions? Does someone return your calls in a timely manner? Are there third party support options? Are there real differences in the various levels of support or do you just pay more for the same service? Organizations need to revisit support issues as the system’s life cycle changes.

Post-sale support can be obtained in two ways: planned or emergency. With planned support you have an action plan and procedures to obtain needed support:

1. You have planned for the support
2. You have negotiated a contract for service and price
3. The vendor recognizes that your account is current
4. The people needing support know how to obtain it.

Under emergency support, when nothing else works you call someone about a CMMS product problem:

1. You call the company support number given when you purchased the product
2. You give a credit card number
3. You pray you can get someone who can help you.

The method you choose depends on your situation. You may want to ask, “How much can we afford to have the system down?” Late nights and weekends are times when you usually cannot get emergency help no matter how much you are willing to pay. During the day you may get some help, but during the business hours of the vendor, who will want to bill the service to a credit card. Frequently, the person supposedly providing the support is a trainee who may not be able to help you without support from others.

Planned support provides the security of receiving help at specified times and usually provides an avenue to receive off-hours support. It also offers a better chance of reaching someone who can solve the problem.

There is a real difference between support and training. Too often management confuses the two. Support is the capability to answer questions about how a product works, not how you are using it. Training shows users how to use the product and can frequently be tailored to particular situations. Support gets you out of a bind. Training is an investment in smooth and well-run operations. Training gives long-term rewards. If you try to use support as a training vehicle, the vendor may cut off your service.

Data collection
Data collection is “the gathering of information for your CMMS.” Data must be collected correctly and input into the system in a timely manner. For a CMMS to remain alive and be of value, data collection and input must be kept current. A system is useless unless data collection is a well-defined process. A CMMS lives on data.

Too frequently, closed work orders pile up to be entered later. This situation produces erroneous results on team performance and can cause inventory shortages and a host of other problems. Automated tools such as bar-coding and radio frequency portable data collectors can assist with data collection but cannot work on their own unless good processes are in place.

Data quality
The problem of garbage in, garbage out applies to all systems, including CMMS. Many CMMSs have died because bad data gave bad results and dissatisfied organizational team members then scuttled the system. Data quality must be constantly reviewed. Too frequently this issue is never addressed after implementation. Successful systems have some process to review and improve data quality throughout the system life cycle. This process can take many forms, including user pride, user groups, total quality maintenance metrics, committees, system manager’s thinking about it on his day off, use of consultants, system performance results, audits, and process improvement initiatives.

A company should use whatever combination works best for its circumstances and budget constraints. It is important to address data quality throughout the system’s life.

Hardware, communications, and system level software support
Hardware, communications, and system level software make up the platform or automated foundation that a CMMS must have to operate. Failure in any of the parts that make up the platform will halt operation of the CMMS. A company must have a plan of action to follow when servers, operating systems, workstations, or other vital components fail. In large organizations there is usually a support group to perform hardware repair and maintenance. Most organizations subcontract technically complicated activities like big server repair to specialists. This support usually comes in the form of a service contract with options of service such as response times and service times. These companies also take on the burden of costly spare inventories.

With the advent of client/server technology and the growing interest in personal computing, many organizations are developing a hybrid approach to system maintenance. They may subcontract maintenance of critical, highly technical components and use internal resources to fix or replace the less technically complex components. This rationale is particularly true for workstation and printer components. Internal resources may consist of a spare personal computer, or the systems administrator or resident computer person may fix the less technically complex components.

The best guide to determine what options will work best for your organization is to consider the following: How critical is the system? What are the options? What can be budgeted? What skills are available? These issues must be considered throughout the life of the system, and your needs may change during the system life cycle.

The need for system level software support greatly depends on the compatibility of the operating system, database, CMMS application, and general hardware platform. Support is often needed when the version of the CMMS, database, or operation system is upgraded. When versions change, configuration files must be adjusted at many levels. If the changes are not made correctly, the system may work but perform poorly. CMMS vendors usually include instructions on what to change when upgrading their products. The skills, tools, and parts must be available to handle the needed maintenance or repair tasks.

CMMS administration
CMMSs need constant care and attention. Tasks required to keep a CMMS alive are listed in the accompanying section, “CMMS Administration.”

Training cannot be limited to the implementation phase. Refresher training maintains proper use of the system and keeps employee confidence high. Training also can promote process improvements and system functionality enhancements. Release of a new CMMS version requires training at all levels of the user population and support groups. Training is frequently a budget problem. However, for a system to succeed you must have an active and long-term training program, whether it is a computer system or a paper system.

Staff buy-in is the most important component of a successful CMMS. Of all the considerations this one is the most tricky to manage. The support of management and of staff members in every affected department is very important. To manage buy-in you must communicate what is happening with the system, when it is going to happen, and what benefits it has for the department and each person. Above all else the schedule must be realistic.

In summary, these areas can be of risk to the life of your CMMS . Effective management of these risks can prolong and enhance the life of the CMMS and the benefits to the organization. Careful management of these factors will not guarantee a successful CMMS, but neglect in managing any one of these areas can almost guarantee failure. MT

Cullen Tilman is a partner in Enterprise Management Systems, 8033 Sudley Rd., Suite 155, Manassas, VA 22110; telephone (703) 437-7414; e-mail

User and general security systems
can sometimes be difficult to design and implement. The proper balance must be struck between protecting the system and its data and providing users with maximum assess to system functions. As the system life cycle changes, so do the needs of the system security setup. The system must be updated when new users need access, when the ability of users to access parts of the system changes, and when former users need to be restricted from the system.

The security system is always set up during implementation. During operations you need the capability to make adjustments quickly. If you rely on someone outside your organization to provide this function, be sure you obtain the service level required. If your organization performs this function, always have a backup. More than one person should have the passwords and capabilities to administer the system.

Archival and retrieval procedures are of paramount importance. System disaster recovery procedures should be performed and followed rigorously during the CMMS implementation phase until the system is declared dead. Backup frequency depends on how much you wish to risk data loss and user wrath. Heavily used systems should be backed up daily or have built-in redundancy (mirroring). Some systems can get by on a weekly backup. It is important to test the process before you need it.

A host of technical ghosts can allow archive procedures to work perfectly yet prevent successful retrievals. Bad media, incorrect file formats, and hardware device errors are only a few of the things that can happen. The archival and retrieval process should be tested each time a major hardware or software component changes. Even installing a software package that has nothing to do with the CMMS can affect the hardware and software platform the system relies on.

Offsite storage is the most frequently overlooked item in disaster recovery plans. It can protect the company from damage to the system and tape storage caused by fire, water, lightning, and employee vandalism. Without offsite storage there is always a risk.

Data administration is a maintenance function that must be performed periodically. The frequency depends on the complexity and size of the system. Very large systems employ a staff of database engineers to make adjustments to database structure, tuning, performance, and data content. Small and infrequently used systems may require data administration once a year.

Data volume limits are part of every system. Data archiving can be the sleeping dog that can easily awake and bite you. As you use the system, the record volume can increase until it collides with the maximum limits of system disk space, the application, or the database engine. The CMMS can come to a complete halt if these limits are reached and corrective action is not taken. You must have a plan of action to follow before these limits become a problem. It is important to know what the record volume thresholds are for system disk space, database system free space, database table space, table utilization, application record limits, and data obsolescence, and where you are in relation to those limits.

Continue Reading →