Author Archive | Maintenance Technology


6:35 pm
June 16, 2017
Print Friendly

SAP Tips and Tricks: Improve Efficiency with Equipment Bill of Materials

randmBy Kristina Gordon, DuPont

A bill of materials (BOM) is a list of items used to perform maintenance activities. There are different types of BOMs, as they are often called but, in maintenance functions, we generally use equipment BOMs. This material list is created in a hierarchal manner and associated with one specific piece of equipment. BOMs can also be created for functional locations, making it efficient to select materials.

The second type of BOM is associated with a material type called an IBAU. This is a maintenance assembly list created by using individual parts tied to a higher-level material instead of an equipment master or functional location.

Creating a good BOM can be a critical factor in completing work for a piece of equipment. It will, at a glance, make it possible to identify the materials needed to service that piece of equipment.

In the following example, you will learn how to create a bill of material and how to display it in your work order.

Transaction IB01

Enter the equipment master number for the bill of materials you wish to create, plant code, and BOM usage 4 (plant-maintenance usage), and the date you wish to make your BOM valid from.

Click the enter button.


Add the following information

• ICT: This indicates the status of the material, i.e., stock (L), non-stock (N) or text (T).
• Component: This is your material master number.
• Quantity: Number of components needed to service the equipment
• UN: Unit of measure for how you receive the material

Once finished, click the save button.


You will have the ability to see the new materials on the BOM you created under the functional location in which the equipment is installed (transaction IH01).


When creating a maintenance work order for the equipment, pull up the materials on the BOM by using the list button on the components tab of the work order.


This automatically lists the materials on the BOM. Select the check box for the materials that you wish to carry into your work order. Click the green check mark.


Your materials populate in your work order.


Note that a ritual should be built around updating your BOMs on a frequency. This allows new materials, or materials with different specifications, which will also have a new material master number, to be added and any materials no longer applicable to be deleted. This can be completed in transaction IB02, change bill of materials. MT

Kristina Gordon is SAP Program Consultant at the DuPont, Sabine River Works plant in West Orange, TX. If you have SAP questions, send them to and we’ll forward them to Kristina.


8:54 pm
June 15, 2017
Print Friendly

Realize Payback From Motor Insulation Tests

Insulation problems are to blame for a high percentage of motor failures and associated unplanned costs.

Electric motors isolated on black

According to SKF (, Gothenburg, Sweden, and Lansdale, PA), 40% of failures in electric motors are caused by bearing problems. Another 40%, however (a percentage that’s even higher in motors operating above 4 kV), are caused by insulation problems associated with coil windings or loose connections. Unfortunately, predictive-maintenance techniques to detect insulation weakness typically aren’t employed as much as those used to keep tabs on bearing health, i.e., vibration analysis and infrared thermography. (Ground-wall-insulation “megger” testing is common in plants, but, as SKF explained, it’s not a complete test.)

The problems caused by insulation weakness, including catastrophic motor failures and, in some cases, fires, can be just as serious as those caused by worn bearings or overheating. For this reason, it is important for personnel to have a way of assessing insulation integrity and be able to take timely action.

There are two types of insulation in an electric motor. Groundwall insulation is found between the motor stator and the electrical windings. The insulation strength of new groundwall insulation is very high, often 40 times operating voltage. Winding insulation is the thin insulation on the wires used in the motor windings. The insulation strength of new winding insulation is about 15 times operating voltage.

Most motor insulation failures start as winding insulation failures since that insulation strength is vastly weaker. When a winding insulation failure occurs, the motor can fail quickly, often becoming so hot as to also damage the groundwall insulation, causing it to fail.

Automatic testing

Automated motor-insulation testing, using a device such as the SKF Baker AWA-IV, has been shown to make insulation testing easy and remove operator error and inconsistency.

Static insulation testing is done with the motor disconnected from the power supply, and typically performed from the motor control cabinet (MCC). Testing from the MCC also allows detection of electrical faults outside the motor itself, such as in junction boxes or feeder cables. Motors also can be electrically tested in situ through dynamic monitoring, which can reveal problems in the wider power-machine-load system. Typical insulation testing includes:

• Coil resistance tests
• Meg-ohm test
• Polarization Index (PI) test
• DC step-voltage test
• Hipot test
• Surge test.

While the first five tests assess the health of a motor’s groundwall insulation, it’s important to keep in mind that a unit’s winding insulation is more prone to failure. The last procedure on the list, the surge test, focuses on winding insulation.

All of the six listed insulation tests produce clear, unambiguous results that require little interpretation. Those results can also be trended over time. This allows operators or maintenance managers to assess the progress of a potential condition over time. For instance, increasing non-linearity in step voltage could suggest weakening of the groundwall insulation.

Real-world payback

Motor-insulation testing can have an enormous impact on a plant’s bottom line. Consider these real-world examples:

Case #1 (static testing): Technicians with a leading pulp and paper company began using SKF Baker AWA-IV testers to identify problems in about 800 motor systems. Among the many problems this testing found—and solved—were:

• blown holes in insulating boots that covered cable lugs in junction boxes (identified through step-voltage testing)
• a bad lug connection in a motor junction box (found after a failed resistance test)
• a stator coil turn-to-turn short on a booster fan (identified by surge testing)
• a cable shorted to ground in starter, and a pinhole in the cable (found after failed surge and step-voltage tests).

In all, the company reportedly was able to reduce its annual motor costs by nearly a third through the use of the insulation testing rigs.

Case #2 (static testing): A steel mill in Australia had a 6.6-kV pump motor that required maintenance–including a rewind. The motor was rewound at a motor shop, then transported 500 mi. (aprox. 800 km) to a second facility for vacuum-pressure impregnation (VPI). A subsequent surge test, however, indicated that insulation strength was still not right. The motor was then put onto a test stand and run. Motor currents and vibration tests were acceptable so, since the mill was in a hurry to resume production, the motor was put back into service. Three days later, the unit failed catastrophically and ignited a fire. The cause was traced to the windings, which had probably been damaged when the motor was transported to or from the VPI facility. The surge test picked up on the problem, but had been discounted.

This failure showed that tests for insulation strength are real, and to be ignored at a motor user’s peril. If vibration monitoring indicates that a bearing is starting to fail, it is replaced. The same should happen with insulation.

Case #3 (dynamic testing): U.S. utility company Pacific Gas & Electric was facing a potential $23,000 bill to replace a motor on a 125-hp screen-refuse pump, which was overheating and drawing excessive current. Rather than simply replace the motor, the company looked into the reason for the high current, as there were no signs of bearing problems, current imbalance, excessive harmonics, or rotor-bar problems.

Dynamic testing with SKF Baker Exp3000 technology revealed that the load was running higher than the motor’s rated value. Looking back through the maintenance history, the personnel found that a 15.75-in. impeller on the pump had been replaced with a 17-in. impeller. Once the correct-sized impeller was installed, the current returned to normal values.

This testing helped prevent a costly mistake, given the fact that the oversized pump impeller would also have overloaded a new replacement motor.

Case #4 (dynamic testing): On-line testing also prevented a huge loss at a Progress Energy power plant in the United States. Technicians were investigating why one of three submerged circulating water pumps was requesting less input power and, as a result, running faster. An SKF Exp3000 captured the torque signature of all three motors, giving a snapshot of the load demands of each unit. The pump in question had a torque of about 75% of a healthy pump. The torque band was also too wide, and varied dramatically. A diver sent to examine the underwater pump discovered that its end bell had fallen off.

The unit was quickly repaired, which helped to maintain output when one of the other pumps failed soon afterward. The company estimated that it would have lost $3.5 million in revenue if output levels had fallen.

These examples (and many others) show that a simple, inexpensive insulation-testing regime can generate significant benefits for an operation. One example also demonstrates that ignoring insulation-testing results can cost an operation dearly. MT

For more information visit


8:35 pm
June 15, 2017
Print Friendly

Glimpse The Future Of Predictive Maintenance

Critical-asset data can help identify failures before they occur to avoid downtime and protect the bottom line.

Catching problems in their earliest forms, no matter where in an operation they might arise, can help reduce downtime, costs, and risks.

Catching problems in their earliest forms, no matter where in an operation they might arise, can help reduce downtime, costs, and risks.

If you could see into the future, you would never miss a production target, endure a safety incident, or have a machine go down. Unfortunately, unless we somehow gain the power of clairvoyance, this fantasy will forever be out of our reach. While we may not be able to see into the future, we can predict it.

By adopting a predictive-maintenance (PdM) strategy, you can mine your critical-asset data and identify anomalies or deviations from their standard performance. Such insights can help you discover and proactively fix issues days, weeks, or even months before they lead to failures. This can help you avoid unplanned downtime, reduce industrial maintenance overspend, and mitigate safety and environmental risks.

The case for predictive maintenance

The sudden loss of a critical industrial asset can be devastating. It can result in unplanned stoppages and maintenance that eat away at your bottom line, while production remains at a standstill. This was the situation for one company operating an oil-sands mine in Canada. The company had to shut down the operation after detecting vibrations in an ore crusher, resulting in a weeks-long production stoppage that had been averaging more than 90,000 barrels/day. According to analysts, each week of downtime reduced quarterly production by about 1.5% and cash flow by about 1%.

Beyond the impact on production and profits, unexpected failures also can cause catastrophic events, such as explosions or chemical leaks, that threaten lives and the environment.

Many companies use robust industrial-maintenance programs and costly maintenance-service agreements to help avoid these issues. However, even the most comprehensive maintenance programs likely won’t eliminate all unplanned downtime. It can only take one failure to grind your operations to a halt for an extended period of time.

While technicians may not be able to actually ‘see’ into the future, smart technologies and advanced analytics can help them predict it.

While technicians may not be able to actually ‘see’ into the future, smart technologies and advanced analytics can help them predict it.

A smarter approach

Predictive maintenance delivers a more data-driven approach to industrial-maintenance programs. It uses predictive analytics and machine-learning algorithms, based on historical and real-time data, to identify specific issues on the horizon. Often these issues won’t show any physical signs of degradation—even a sharp human eye or an intuitive and well-trained maintenance technician wouldn’t be able to catch them.

In addition to helping prevent downtime, a PdM approach can better identify true maintenance needs. This can assist in making sure that you are targeting personnel depolyment, maintenance activities, and maintenance dollars where they are needed most.

Predictive maintenance can be especially useful in industries where the uptime of critical assets drives the bottom line. This includes large, heavy equipment in oil and gas, and mining operations, as well as critical machines in continuous-manufacturing operations.

A perfect example is a large, multistate compressor that experienced a bearing failure resulting in more than $3 million in maintenance and lost productivity. A postmortem on the incident, which involved reviewing 16 months of data, found that the bearing cooling system had not been operating correctly for six months.

Had this data been used as part of a PdM strategy, the company likely would have been able to identify the bearing degradation and its root cause before the failure actually happened. What’s more, the company would have been able to identify detailed preventive-maintenance steps for the cooling system.

Predictive maintenance also can be valuable in operations that experience high maintenance costs.

Often, companies can invest a lot of time and resources in maintenance but lack data to know whether their strategy is effective and addressing their actual needs. Predictive maintenance can help uncover unnecessary maintenance, which could save millions of dollars every year in some industries. This was another discovery in the compressor case. The company was performing certain maintenance activities that were unnecessary and could have been eliminated.

How it works

Predictive maintenance doesn’t require an extensive overhaul of your infrastructure. Rather, it can be deployed on your existing integrated-control and information infrastructure.

The process begins with discussions to identify what data you want to collect, what potential failures or other issues you want to predict, and what issues have arisen in the past. From there, the relevant historical data is collected from sensors, industrial assets, and fault logs.

Predictive-maintenance analytics software then examines the data to determine root causes and early-warning indicators from past downtime issues. Finally, the analytics software develops and deploys “agents” that monitor data traffic either locally or in the cloud.

Analytics software uses two types of agents. The first type is failure agents, which watch for patterns that are known to predict a future failure. If such patterns are detected, the agents alert plant personnel and deliver a prescribed solution.

The second type is anomaly agents, which watch normal operating patterns and look for changes, such as operating or environmental-condition changes. These agents also alert personnel of any detected changes so they can investigate and take corrective action if necessary.

Your crystal ball

Predictive technology has been around for decades. It’s used to detect credit-card fraud, fine-tune marketing programs, and even help us search the Internet. Its role in the industrial world takes the form of a rigorous documentation of events and failures that can help us see and address machine or equipment issues in their earliest forms.

Many manufacturers already see the value of historical failure reports as a tool to help prevent failures and downtime in the future. By using this data, which already exists in your assets, you too can reduce downtime surprises, cut down unnecessary maintenance, and potentially reduce risks in your operations. MT

Information for this article was provided by Doug Weber, engineering manager, and Phil Bush, remote monitoring and analytics product manager, Rockwell Automation, Milwaukee. For more information, visit


8:21 pm
June 15, 2017
Print Friendly

Counterfeit Parts: Dangerous and Costly

Is your site putting personnel safety at risk and fueling downtime with the repair parts it buys? 

Bearings abstract composition

By Wally Wilson, CMRP, CPIM, Life Cycle Engineering (LCE)

Counterfeits show up in all areas of our daily lives, from name-brand clothing and accessories to electrical components and repair parts for industrial maintenance. According to the United States Chamber of Commerce (, Washington), counterfeit goods cost the American economy more than $400 billion annually. While items such as fake Rolex watches and fashion knock-offs may not pose a danger to the user, they’ll typically lack the level of performance genuine products would provide. Counterfeit maintenance, repair, and operational (MRO) spare parts, however, can create a serious hazard for equipment systems and facilities, and, most important, the personnel that work with and around them.

The bad news is your operations could be buying and using counterfeit parts and not know it. Counterfeits (or fakes) can look so much like original parts in their packaging, graphics, and engraved identification markings, that it’s nearly impossible to distinguish them from the real thing. The increasing flow of fake, after-market bearings from China and other Asian countries is a good example of this dangerous supply-chain situation. These items continue to create enormous headaches for major bearing manufacturers such as SKF, NSK, and Timken, among others. Many imported counterfeit bearings even come with phony certificates proclaiming that the items were manufactured in the USA and meet specified standards for American-made products.

The main source for counterfeit parts is the Internet, including websites such as eBay and Amazon. This is the first stop for many maintenance planners, given the difficulties in finding what may be categorized as “obsolete” parts for older equipment. Not buying parts on the Internet isn’t the solution, though. Fakes have also infiltrated the supply chain of some of the most trusted distributors.

Alas, maintenance and procurement managers often view the counterfeiting threat as a minor concern. When a bearing fails in a pump or small motor, there’s usually no safety risk, and the collateral damage can be minimal. When it comes to equipment failures in larger components, such as compressors, large-drive motors, and other major process equipment, counterfeits reflect a definite risk of injury to personnel, including operators and maintenance technicians. Sadly, increasing quantities of large-sized counterfeit bearings are said to be showing up on equipment in a wide range of today’s industrial operations.

Distinguishing ‘real’ from fake

The drive to reduce maintenance cost and equipment downtime will sometimes cause buyers who are sourcing parts for equipment repairs to engage suppliers that sell these items at low prices. The cost-reduction pressure has opened the door for the entry of substandard parts into the MRO supply chain and, ultimately, too many plant storerooms. The result is a seemingly neverending, vicious cycle. Installed on equipment, the counterfeits deliver shorter-than-expected service life, emergency calls to address equipment failures increase, and the culture of a maintenance department becomes (or remains) reactive.

In most cases, original replacement parts, if they are installed correctly and maintained properly, will perform longer and better than counterfeits. Reliability engineers and maintenance planners should be tracking the service life of all installed components and parts. Take, for example, a motor bearing with an expected service life of 60 months that’s only lasting 30 months or less. The equipment’s maintenance history can be a clue that you’re using substandard parts.

Other aspects to track or monitor in determining if counterfeits are being used include MTBR (mean time between repair) or MTBF (mean time between failure). Many organizations are implementing RCM (reliability-centered maintenance) programs to manage their production equipment. The problem, in many cases, is that they’re not using the data from these analyses to create valid strategies to address the root cause of their equipment failures, which might be associated with counterfeits.

Risk/Reward 101: Gambling on unknown suppliers can be a dangerous, often very costly game. Certifying a primary supplier provides the most effective preventive measures for ensuring that spare parts are genuine and will perform as expected.

Risk/Reward 101: Gambling on unknown suppliers can be a dangerous, often very costly game. Certifying a primary supplier provides the most effective preventive measures for ensuring that spare parts are genuine and will perform as expected.

The results of a root-cause analysis could also be an indicator that additional training is required. Alignment, lubrication, and preventive monitoring are areas that should have standard procedures to ensure the equipment is installed, operated, monitored, and maintained the same way by all of the maintenance technicians, which is crucial in combating counterfeits.

Monitoring the TCO (total cost of ownership) of equipment is also helpful. It can provide a business-case justification for upgrading to new technology or modifying current equipment to eliminate the need to embark on a treasure hunt for obsolete parts every time the need arises.

Note: In the case of bearings, whenever there’s an indication that a failed component is a counterfeit, legitimate suppliers can conduct an analysis to determine the cause of the failure and validate the part as original or counterfeit.

Reducing counterfeit risks

Don’t be complacent. If you understand the health of your equipment and you have trusted/certified suppliers, the risk of getting counterfeit parts is greatly reduced. Plant personnel, however, still must remain vigilant. Consider purchasers at a major aircraft manufacturer who thought they were buying name-brand ball bearings produced by a trusted American manufacturer, only to learn differently. The sub-standard imported products, i.e., fakes, were discovered during a positive material identification (PMI) inspection during the storeroom receiving process and a potential catastrophe was avoided.

The earlier in the MRO supply chain that counterfeit parts can be identified, the lower the risk the parts will get into your storeroom and production equipment.

Certifying a primary supplier for needed spare parts provides the most effective preventive measures for assuring that procured parts are genuine and will perform as expected. Keep in mind that we make suppliers reactive when we don’t properly maintain equipment.

In summary

When you understand the health of your equipment, it is much easier to implement a proactive maintenance program that reduces reliance on Internet and excessive expedited purchases. Being able to plan and schedule equipment downtime for repairs allows your suppliers to be true partners in your MRO supply chain. We expect our trusted suppliers to solve our problems and get parts to us quickly. If, for some reason, they can’t, sites may put their operations at risk by gambling on unknown sources. In the end, that can be a dangerous, very costly game.

It’s important for maintenance departments to never let their guards down.

Stay alert. Among other things, monitor equipment-repair histories and key performance indicators. Check your spare-parts inventory to make sure you don’t already have counterfeits in your storeroom, and that your procurement processes aren’t opening the door to new ones. Finally, always remember this: Deals that seem too good to be true can come back to haunt you. MT

Wally Wilson is a senior subject-matter expert in materials management and work management, planning, and scheduling with Life Cycle Engineering (, Charleston, SC. He can be contacted at



8:06 pm
June 15, 2017
Print Friendly

Optimize Your Belt-Conveyor Systems

How well you treat these industry workhorses affects how long, how safely, and how cost-effectively they’ll run.


Belt-conveyor systems are used for a wide range of purposes. Regardless of the application, minimizing the cost per ton to move material and items without compromising safety, product integrity, and efficiency is accomplished by harnessing the best available technologies and maintenance practices.

Preventive maintenance

Developing and implementing practical preventive-maintenance (PM) programs that have measurable results is key to reducing costs and maximizing your cost per ton. Continual daily upkeep is critical to extending conveyor belt and component life.

The entire system, including the belt, idlers, pulleys, frame, and accessories, should be included in the maintenance program. Routine system inspections, designed to encompass all aspects of each conveyor will help identify issues that, if not addressed and corrected, will cause catastrophic component failure, resulting in ancillary damage and potential safety hazards.

Prior to any inspection, perform appropriate lockout/tagout verification procedures. Ideally, the conveyor system is shut down and empty. This allows inspectors to check for damage to all components, including the belt and splice. Any damage noted during the inspection should be repaired as quickly as possible to prevent further degradation.

Keep in mind that the following checklists are general guides, and not all-inclusive. The key words are clean and operational. Pulleys or idlers that have material build-up on them will cause tracking problems. The same can be said for pulleys with uneven lagging wear. Belt-cleaning devices or systems, plows, and self-aligning idlers must be operational to perform their tasks. Belt damage, pulley damage, and tracking problems will result if these accessory components are not maintained.

Shut-Down-Conveyor-Inspection Checklist. A typical maintenance-inspection walk-through of a shut-down conveyor should include, but not be limited to, the following 19 items:

  1. Perform the lockout/tagout (LOTO) verification procedure.
  2. Identify safety hazards.
  3. Complete belt inspection.
  4. Inspect head pulley and/or drive pulley for damage, cleanliness, and worn lagging.
  5. Inspect for proper lubrication of bearings and mechanical devices.
  6. Inspect for the presence of material build-up and trapped material.
  7. Inspect skirting in the loading area for proper adjustment and condition.
  8. Inspect impact/slider bed or impact idler for damage and cleanliness.
  9. Inspect return- and carrying-side idlers for damage, cleanliness, and free-turning.
  10. Inspect all self-aligning idlers, both carrying- and return-side to ensure they are capable of operating (actuating from belt friction) and not tied off.
  11. Inspect for cleanliness of primary and secondary loading station.
  12. Inspect trippers to ensure they are clean and operational.
  13. Inspect structure/frame for integrity and alignment.
  14. Inspect tail-pulley condition.
  15. Inspect head-pulley cleaner to ensure it is operational.
  16. Inspect head, bend, and snub-pulley condition.
  17. Inspect the clean and operating take-up.
  18. Ensure plow (V-guide or angle) is operational.
  19. Ensure all bearings are clean and capable of operating.

Once inspection of the shut-down conveyor is completed, confirm that all personnel, tools, and equipment are clear of the system and accounted for to avoid injuries or damage to the equipment when it is restarted. Next, energize the system and let it run empty to ensure proper belt tracking. Perform another visual walk-through and listen carefully to make sure there are no unusual noises, which could indicate idler or bearing failure or rubbing of the belt against the conveyor structure. Be sure the belt is running reasonably well before introducing a load and conducting the next inspection. Note that empty and loaded conveyor systems may track differently. Furthermore, remember that any component with which the belt comes in contact will affect its tracking.

Loaded-Conveyor Checklist.

A typical maintenance-inspection walk-through of a loaded (running) conveyor system should include, but not be limited to, the following 13 items:

  1. Inspect for satisfactory tracking along the belt’s entire length.
  2. Inspect for and ensure there are no bearing noises.
  3. Inspect for primary and secondary loading-station spillage.
  4. Inspect carrying-side idlers to ensure they are turning freely.
  5. Inspect self-aligning carry idlers to ensure they are functioning (actuating from belt friction).
  6. Inspect for excess material spillage.
  7. Inspect head and/or drive pulley, snub, and bend pulleys to ensure they are running smoothly with no slippage.
  8. Inspect belt cleaners to ensure  they are functioning.
  9. Inspect return idlers to ensure they are clean and turning freely.
  10. Inspect tail pulley to ensure that it is turning freely without product build-up or carryback.
  11. Inspect take-up pulley to ensure it is turning freely without bearing noise, is clean, and moving freely in the frame.
  12. Inspect for belt tracking, in general.
  13. Inspect plow (V-Guide or angle) to ensure it is operating properly.

Following completion and documentation of these inspections, a corrective-action plan should be implemented. Any safety concern must be addressed immediately, including, among other things, installation and/or repair of conveyor crossovers, safety-stop cables, failed holdbacks on incline conveyors, misalignment switches, motor guards, hand rails, and cleaning of walkways.

Conveyor housekeeping

The importance of clean conveyor systems can’t be overstated. Cleanliness is a safety issue. Premature conveyor belt wear, idler and pulley failure, along with structural damage to the conveyor frame are all indicators of a system experiencing significant carry-back and fugitive-material contamination. Product build-up on return-side pulleys and idlers not only reflects a housekeeping issue, it can lead to belt-tracking problems and added stresses on the splice. If a belt isn’t clean on the return flight, any pulley that comes in contact with the belt’s carry side will accumulate product.

Material build-up on a belt and components doesn’t simply cause tracking problems. It could bring a system to a grinding halt, costing the operation countless dollars in lost material, downtime, clean-up, damage to the system, and, potentially, personal injuries. A clean conveyor system is not only a safer system, it can maximize your cost per ton.

Primary and secondary belt-cleaning systems at the discharge area and plows in front of the tail pulley are essential to reduce damage to the components. Sticky materials present a real challenge when it comes to preventing carryback. A well-engineered and maintained cleaning system to minimize carryback will reduce associated cost. Some variables to consider when designing and installing a cleaning system include the material to be conveyed, environmental and operational factors, and belt type and condition.

Conveyor safety

It’s a given in any plant: Safety should be the number one priority of all owner/operators and workers, and an integral part of the workplace culture. Zero is the only number acceptable for incidents and accidents. Safe habits take effort to develop, and are less likely to be broken when developed. Once a culture of safety is established in any organization, it will perpetuate itself.

Constantly pay attention to your work environment and those working around you. This situational awareness could prevent a possible accident before it happens and save you and the organization unwanted pain and expense. When it comes to conveyors, keep these basic safety tips in mind:

  • Always perform proper lockout/tagout verification procedures.
  • Use only trained and authorized maintenance and operating personnel.
  • Keep clothing, fingers, hair, and other body parts away from moving conveyor parts.
  • Don’t climb, step, sit, or ride on conveyors.
  • Don’t overload conveyors.
  • Don’t remove or alter conveyor guards or safety devices.
  • Know the location and function of all stop/start controls and keep the locations free of obstructions.
  • Confirm all personnel are clear of a conveyor before starting or restarting it.
  • Keep areas around conveyors clean and clear of obstructions.
  • Report all unsafe practices to a supervisor.  MT

Information in this article was provided by Don Sublett of Motion Industries (Birmingham, AL). Sublett has worked in areas of conveyor-belt design and service since 1976 and is an active member of various professional associations in the field. For more information, visit or see the Mi Hose & Belting video here.


7:45 pm
June 15, 2017
Print Friendly

Musings on Maintenance And Mobility

klausblacheBy Dr. Klaus M. Blache, Univ. of Tennessee, Reliability & Maintainability Center

What we do and how we do it have changed dramatically with regard to maintenance and its impact on reliability. Gone are the days when you could easily repair most things on your car and perform regular maintenance. Today, it’s all about computer sensors, algorithms, and data historians. As a result, in most cases, we take for granted that our transportation modes are adequately maintained and reliable. Let’s look at some snippets of what’s going in areas of reliability and maintenance (R&M) on cars, trains, planes, and ships.

Cars: Tesla’s plant in Fremont, CA (, Palo Alto) is now the most advanced and talked about automotive factory in the world. The site was the former home of New United Motor Manufacturing Inc. (NUMMI), a joint venture of General Motors and Toyota (1984 to 2010). Based on my scan of recent Tesla job postings, maintenance technicians in Powertrain are expected to perform at a Journeyman Level on all machines in the assigned area and be responsible for preventive maintenance, troubleshooting/repair, clean lines, and escalation of assigned equipment. Individuals in these roles must be willing to tackle whatever maintenance challenge arises and to assist and learn from others in their areas of expertise. A sampling of the posted jobs seems to highlight the company’s interest in worker flexibility and high levels of employee engagement. This doesn’t mean maintenance technicians are expected to have all the answers regarding plant culture. Installing and sustaining an autonomous workforce may be more difficult than building autonomous vehicles.

Advances in technologies, approaches, and methods are helping to keep our various modes of transportation moving, as well as ensuring that they are reliable and safe.

Advances in technologies, approaches, and methods are helping to keep our various modes of transportation moving, as well as ensuring that they are reliable and safe.

Trains: Railways are considering using drones to help with security, initial track inspections, and predictive maintenance. Some already leverage them for safe, economical checking of switch-point heating systems. Other advanced-technology approaches include the use of: wheel-temperature detectors (infrared) to check brakes, wheel-profile monitors (lasers and optics) to assess wheel wear, and acoustic-detector systems (acoustic signatures) to identify wheel-bearing failure. Deutsche Bahn (DB) and Siemens are piloting predictive analytics to avoid failures and make vehicle maintenance recommendations. All diagnostic data is ultimately made available to maintenance personnel.

Planes: The 472 million-cubic-sq.-ft. Boeing aircraft plant in Everett, WA, is the largest building in the world by volume. A tour guide told me maintenance costs on new 787 Dreamliners produced there are 30% lower than for earlier models. These planes are also expected to have a 30-yr. life (versus 20 for metal planes). Built mostly from carbon/polymer resin (lighter than aluminum, tougher than steel) Dreamliners consume 20% less fuel than earlier Boeing planes. Maintenance on these technological marvels also requires expertise in repairing composite structures.

Ships: On the Hawaiian cruise ship “Pride of America,” I discussed maintenance and operations with the vessel’s chief engineer. Manned by a 927-member crew, this 81,000-ton, 921-ft., ship runs with 25-MW propulsion power and 50-MW auxiliary power. (Its maximum speed of 27.6 mph is fast enough to water ski). Typical maintenance activities include corrosion repair; cleaning drains, air ducts, and chiller and boiler tubes; venting engine fumes; and conducting on-board monitoring. The 54-person engineering staff is “hands on” and also does maintenance. Big maintenance is performed in port. Conditioned-based maintenance is often outsourced.  Spare parts can be a particular challenge, since the ship is usually moving from place to place.

Much goes into keeping cars, trains, planes, and ships moving. Next time you travel by any of these modes of transportation, think about what’s being done to ensure your reliable and safe journey. MT

Based in Knoxville, Klaus M. Blache is director of the Reliability & Maintainability Center at the Univ. of Tennessee, and a research professor in the College of Engineering. Contact him at


7:39 pm
June 15, 2017
Print Friendly

Focus on Automation System Updates

Keeping software updates current is an oft-neglected activity, resulting in exposure to cyber attacks and reduced reliability.

It is essential that software updates/patches be kept up to date throughout an automation-system lifecycle to prevent cyber attacks and maintain reliability.

It is essential that software updates/patches be kept up to date throughout an automation-system lifecycle to prevent cyber attacks and maintain reliability.

As companies focus more energy and resources on protecting mechanical equipment, one key asset is often overlooked: the plant’s automation system.

Because automation-system hardware components are typically very reliable out-of-the-box, it is easy to deprioritize monitoring and maintenance activities for the overall control system. Unfortunately, “set it and forget it” is not a good strategy with automation systems. To keep such a critical investment running reliably over its 30-to-40-yr. lifespan, organizations must focus on proactive maintenance and upgrades of their automation systems.

Proper automation-system maintenance means keeping critical hardware and software elements up to date. Leaving the system and its operating environment unpatched or out of date means exposing the plant to potential equipment failure and cyber attacks. In addition, it is essential to maintain the hardware and software backbone on which the automation system relies.

Behind the curve

A properly installed system should start with all software and hardware completely up to date. When a plant begins using its new, fully patched and updated system, it is easy to be lulled into a false sense of security and let it operate without further intervention.

Unfortunately, nowhere is it truer than in the technology field that “change is the only constant.” Though an automation system may continue to run under its original configuration for a long time, the environment in which it operates is continually evolving.

Every month, Microsoft releases new security updates. These updates add or improve essential functionality and security in the operating system that supports the automation system.

Along with operating-system updates, automation-system manufacturers will also release regular updates, patches, and hotfixes for their products. Staying up to date with these improvements means protecting the organization from unexpected failures or unauthorized intrusions, while also adding opportunities to improve plant and operator performance.

Furthermore, at some point, the hardware and software on which the automation systems run will no longer be supported by the manufacturer. Organizations then must move beyond updates and look toward upgrading systems.

Often, an organization will wait 8 to 10 years before considering an upgrade to their automation-system hardware or software, as they don’t see the urgency if they don’t witness any active problems. Yet, there is a serious risk to operating in this manner.

System hardware has a lifespan. Eight years ago, Microsoft Windows 7 was released, meaning a 9-yr.-old system today is likely running Windows XP (retired) or Windows Vista (soon to be retired). Hardware failure on a Windows XP or Windows Vista machine will be tremendously difficult to remedy. Because these operating systems are either no longer supported, or soon to be retired, manufacturers have ceased producing computers or parts for these systems. At best, users will be able to find used replacement parts that are unreliable themselves, due to their age. At worst, they could be facing an outage until they can complete an emergency upgrade.

Moreover, the cyber-security risk of running an outdated operating system is significant. Since the April 2014 termination of support for Windows XP, several security flaws have been discovered in the retired software. These include CVE-2014-6332, which remains unpatched in Windows XP since its November 2014 discovery, allowing remote attackers to execute code on the machine, even to the point of remote control of the system. With such vulnerabilities not only in existence, but also widely published, running an outdated operating system leaves organizations open to a potential disaster scenario.

There is also a strong business case to be made for keeping automation systems updated and upgraded. Organizations that strive to improve reliability, automation, plant and operator performance, and cyber security will find themselves facing an uphill battle if they try to make these changes with an old, outdated automation system. Advancements made in the past five to eight years have enabled plants to realize vast improvements in intrusion prevention, alarm management, optimized work practices, process throughput, and paperless record keeping. All of these advancements can be implemented to give organizations better visibility to the health of their assets and the status of their processes.

Yet, even knowing the risks of falling behind in system health, many organizations let updates languish for a variety of speculative reasons. There are several understandable and resolvable concerns that can keep operations from performing the system monitoring and preventive maintenance that they need.

What if something breaks?

Users are sometimes concerned that, by updating their software or hardware, some features, or even the entire system, will stop working. In addition, companies often worry about the risk of updates having a negative workflow impact if employees need to be retrained because the interface changed.

The reality is that properly planned and executed system updates are successful. Updates, patches, and hotfixes released by the operating- or automation-system manufacturer undergo regular, rigorous testing for compatibility and are thoroughly documented on the manufacturer’s support site.

In addition, though interface changes are a reality, such changes are designed with efficiency in mind. Changes to operator interfaces are generally implemented with the intention of increasing efficiency. Thus, any potential workflow upset will be offset, over time, by increased operator efficiency when users learn and leverage the new system updates.

We don’t have time.

A plant’s priority is to stay productive. As such, many organizations feel that they do not have the time to properly maintain their system health, even if they recognize that patches, updates, and upgrades are essential for improved performance and security.

However, the goal of a plant’s control system is to help the plant stay productive. As such, keeping automation-system technology up to date can be a key to finding more time. Unexpected failures in automation-system servers and workstations can mean plant downtime until issues are resolved. If resolving the issue requires sourcing legacy parts, the outages can be lengthy.

A facility that doesn’t have the time or staff to dedicate to system monitoring and preventive maintenance and upgrades can and should find a solution to keep its automation system up to date. Investing in a key partner in automation-system reliability and maintenance can pay significant dividends.

Expensive systems should work.

Automation systems can be a huge capital expenditure. A high-quality, well-designed automation system will work well for a long time. However, as with any intricate, high-quality system or device, a large capital investment does not preclude maintenance and upgrades.

Maintenance and upgrades become more capital intensive based on how long it has been since either was last performed. Ignoring the automation system for 8 to 10 years will mean that making changes will be a more complicated and more expensive project. Smaller steps are often more manageable, take less time, allow organizations to take advantage of new features and functions more quickly, and prove less complicated with a smaller risk of major hardware and software overhaul.

Where do we start?

Implementing a best-practice automation-system maintenance and upgrade strategy begins with lifecycle planning. Organizations that want to keep their systems up to date need to understand and document the lifecycles of each control-system component. These vendor-specific guidelines will be available in product documentation for all automation-system components, as well as in vendor-support services such as Emerson’s (Round Rock, TX, Guardian Support (see sidebar).

Following is a general trend for component lifecycles, though length will vary among specific vendors:

• control-system software: 5 to 7 yrs.workstations: 4 to 6 yrs.
• controllers: 10 to 15 yrs.
• I/O cards: 25 to 30 yrs.

In addition to automation-system-specific component lifecycles, organizations must consider devices that aren’t system-specific but have an impact on performance:

• switches
• firewalls
• virtualization infrastructure
• universal power supplies.

Fig. 1: Over the course of an automation system’s lifecycle, individual system and infrastructure components will have their own lifecycles that need to be managed.

Fig. 1: Over the course of an automation system’s lifecycle, individual system and infrastructure components will have their own lifecycles that need to be managed.

All of these components will have an expected lifecycle that affects the organization’s plan. Figure 1 above shows a typical automation-system lifecycle.

In combination with component lifecycle data, organizations should take advantage of a site evaluation available from automation-system vendors. Effective site evaluations look at component firmware, lifecycles, cyber-security issues, plant performance and Key Performance Indicators, and value-add opportunities. This information is used in conjunction with a return on investment (ROI) calculator to determine tangible benefits that will come from adding individual features during an upgrade. Armed with lifecycle information, a site-evaluation report, and ROI data, organizations can find a lifecycle plan that will keep systems up to date without financial risk.

Maintaining momentum

Whether organizations want to implement their lifecycle-planning programs themselves or work with vendors to do so, many offerings and/or programs are available to help the process. For example, to avoid the shock of a single capital expenditure for the project, many vendors offer flexible payment schedules, allowing organizations to spread the payments out over several years.

Many organizations are also looking to hardware virtualization to simplify the update and upgrade process. By moving from standard computer hardware to virtualized systems, organizations can, to some extent, decouple some hardware and software requirements, allowing them to quickly move machines between different hosts and easily create test environments to ensure that updates and upgrades will be successful, before they are applied.

The process of keeping automation systems up to date is never finished. Effective, sustainable, and measurable programs for maintaining and improving automation-system reliability and performance are always evolving. By staying on top of the update process and developing and sticking to thorough equipment lifecycle plans, organizations can leverage the newest features, the best cyber-security protection, and the most stable equipment platforms to help drive plant reliability and performance every day. MT

Information for this article was provided by Yoga Gorur, program manager in Emerson’s PSS Lifecycle Services organization, Round Rock, TX. He manages global service offerings to DeltaV customers, and the DeltaV Upgrade Service, Scheduled System Maintenance, and Site Evaluation Service. He has a degree in Instrumentation Engineering, an MBA, and PMP certification. 

Find more information at

Automation-System Support

Guardian Support is a comprehensive, prognostic service designed to optimize reliability and performance of an organization’s automation system. The program helps organizations minimize and simplify automation-system issues with comprehensive incident management. Users have access to 24x7x365 global factory support, and can speed issue resolution by collaborating with Emerson ( experts to determine the fastest and most appropriate corrective actions.

To help ensure automation-system performance over its 40+-year lifespan, Guardian Support offers organizations lifecycle management. Users can simplify record keeping with system-specific inventory management. In addition, organizations can ensure the best cyber security and patch management with proactive lifecycle status notifications on their automation systems.


7:43 pm
May 15, 2017
Print Friendly

SAP Tips and Tricks: Manage Assets with Refurbishment Order

By Kristina Gordon, DuPont

randmWhen assets need to be refurbished or fabricated, SAP offers an order type called a Refurbishment Order. The purpose of this order is to assist sending the item to a repair shop, either on or off site; having that asset repaired or fabricated; and then receiving it back into inventory at a different valuation or cost. The new store-room inventory value will be based on the cost charged to the refurbishment work order.

Name a work order type by whatever nomenclature your company uses. In this example, we will call the refurbishment work order type WO10. When creating and executing a refurbishment work order, follow these steps from creation to closure. Note that some of the transaction codes used here are finance- and costing-based. Such steps may be designated only by your finance department.

1. Set up transaction IW81 (standard SAP transaction code for refurbishment):


2. Fill in the needed information (note that the screen layout looks very different from a work order created in IW31):


3. Create the operation steps for internal labor and a line with your PO information for outside services:


4. Add the asset/material to the work-order components, then release and save the order:


5. Once work is completed and the asset/material is ready to be returned into inventory, confirm the internal labor hours to the work order that was added in step 3, using transaction IW41.

6. Add actual overhead to the work order using transaction KG12:


7. After time confirmations are completed and material movements have been made, TECO the work order.

8. Using Transaction IW8W, return the material back to inventory.

9. It is now time to financially settle the work order. This will also change the value of the material in inventory (Note that this screen looks very similar to the overhead calculation screen in KG12):


Creating and executing a refurbishment order is more labor-intensive than normal work-order types. However, refurbishment orders will keep your inventory value correct and maintain complete tracking and history of the work performed on the asset. MT

Kristina Gordon is SAP PM Leader, DuPont Protective Solutions Business, and SAP WMP Champion, Spruance Site, Richmond, VA. If you have SAP questions, send them to and we’ll forward them to Kristina.