Archive | Maintenance


2:27 pm
August 14, 2017
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Water, Wastewater Pumping Trends and Solutions

Extending the life of R/O membrane fibers is accomplished through pH adjustment and by administering scale inhibitors–both of which are dosed using metering pumps. Photo courtesy of LMI, Milton Roy.

Extending the life of R/O membrane fibers is accomplished through pH adjustment and by administering scale inhibitors–both of which are dosed using metering pumps.
Photo courtesy of LMI, Milton Roy.

Advancements in water treatment and plant modernization drive growth in the water and wastewater pumping industry.

By Michelle Segrest, Contributing Editor

While new construction in the municipal water-treatment market has remained relatively flat, growth in the industrial water-treatment market has increased—driven largely by modernization efforts that seem to be pervasive across the power-generation segment, according to Charles P. Crowley Company (CPC, Baldwin Park, CA, managing director Jon Crowley. One trend that Crowley sees throughout the industry is modernization through “repowering.”

Repowering process

The repowering process involves replacing old coal boilers with gas-fired turbines that send heat to a heat-recovery steam generator (HRSG), which feeds a steam turbine. These types of systems can increase electricity production and overall efficiency of the plant by as much as 40% more than coal-fired plants. They help plant owners reduce costs—specifically maintenance costs—as newer, modern systems are easier to work with, Crowley said. The switch to natural gas results in other savings because feed stocks are abundant, less expensive, and easy to transport to plant sites.

For decades, plants in areas such as California and Nevada have been at the forefront of the environmental movement. Many have already made the switch to natural gas. Crowley points to a global modernization effort that is following California’s lead—as plants in other parts of the United States, Mexico, China, India, and elsewhere around the globe, are standardizing on natural gas.

Like all power plants, gas-fired plants require a lot of water. This boiler feed-water must be treated to avoid scale, corrosion, and other problems that damage or impede the boiler’s performance. There is a direct correlation between the quality of the water used and the efficiency of the plant. Depending on the feed-water quality, varying levels of pretreatment are necessary to remove impurities and suspended solids, and to adjust the water’s pH to a neutral level. 

Reciprocating and rotary gear pumps are widely used to inject the precise dosage of chemicals needed for these applications. 

Water-treatment solutions

Most businesses in the United States have a need to treat the water they use—whether they are food growers, juice makers, product manufacturers, or businesses such as hotels and restaurants. Some of the processes used include reverse osmosis (RO), pH adjustment, and scale inhibitors.

Reverse osmosis. RO treatment processes work by using a semipermeable membrane to remove ions, molecules, and particles from water. “By applying pressure that is greater than the naturally occurring osmotic pressure, the water seeps through the membrane, while the larger molecules or ions remain trapped in the membrane,” explained Fluid Systems & Controls (FSC, New Berlin, WI, president Donn Davis. “This process demineralizes the water.”   

In areas such as Florida and throughout the Southeastern United States, Davis said he sees a growing demand for RO applications and the associated treatment and maintenance applications that come with maintaining RO systems. 

“FSC works with OEMs that build large-scale reverse-osmosis systems,” Davis said. “Metering pumps are used to move pump chemicals that clean and maintain the RO membranes.” 

RO membrane fibers are cellulose based. They degrade in alkaline conditions, which results in a loss of efficiency. Long-term exposure to alkaline conditions leads to membrane replacement, which is extremely expensive. According to Davis, extending the life of the membrane fibers is accomplished in two primary ways—through pH adjustment and by administering scale inhibitors—both of which are dosed using metering pumps.     

pH adjustment. Raw pre-treated water tends to be slightly alkaline. To protect the membrane, the pH of alkaline raw water is adjusted to neutral, by injecting precise amounts of acids (typically hydrochloric acid), to lower the pH. 

Once the treated (or permeated) water passes through the membrane, it can become slightly acidic. To deliver the best water quality possible, the pH is often re-adjusted using caustics (typically sodium bicarbonate) to achieve a neutral pH. Metering pumps are primarily used to inject the precise amounts of caustics needed for the process.

The specifics of pH balancing are not as stringent as what a municipal drinking-water plant would administer, however the timing of the treatment is uncompromising. Power plants run 24/7 operations and cannot function without abundant supplies of treated water. As such, the pumps used must be highly reliable and able to run continuously.

Following the initial treatment, process water flows to a flocculation basin where chemicals are dosed using metering pumps to aggregate precipitated particles, making them easier to filter out. After this treatment, the coagulated particles settle in a basin where they separate from water and are sent to a sludge-treatment facility.

Scale inhibitors. Other water-treatment applications include administering scale inhibitors for cooling towers. Although water is ideally suited for cooling purposes, its life-giving properties can encourage bacterial growth that can foul system surfaces. Water also dissolves gases (oxygen and carbon dioxide), which can corrode metals. If untreated, scale deposits and fouling can reduce heat transfer and diminish the plant’s efficiency. To protect plant equipment, precise doses of sulfuric acid or phosphate are added to the cooling-tower water to mitigate scaling and to prevent fouling, Crowley explained.

“Once the process water is used, it must be treated before it can be disposed,” he said. “Most power plants have their own wastewater-treatment plants, and these units administer another round of pH adjustment, plus any other treatments required to meet the local environmental-discharge limits.”

One by-product of the RO process is that suspended solids, microorganisms, and mineral scales accumulate on membranes. To extend the life of the RO membranes, and to increase the efficiency of the treatment process, a wide variety of scale inhibitors is dosed by metering pumps on the membranes. 

“Precise dosing saves money on chemical costs and also helps to prevent calcium-carbonate scaling,” Davis added. “Without scale inhibitors, membranes could become saturated with heavy elements that reduce efficiency and clog the process in as little as 48 hours. The metering pumps used to dose the scale inhibitors play a key role in maintaining the equipment.” 

To protect piping infrastructure, scale inhibitors are dosed using metering pumps. Photo courtesy of Pulsafeeder.

To protect piping infrastructure, scale inhibitors are dosed using metering pumps. Photo courtesy of Pulsafeeder.


Many OEMs in the water and wastewater industry have their own maintenance teams. When it comes to maintaining their pumps, some customers know exactly what spare parts they need. Others leverage the expertise of distributors by outsourcing their inspection and maintenance activities.

For example, CPC sells pumps and skidded systems directly to power plants throughout Southern California and Nevada, and they also sell to large OEMs that service the power industry around the globe. These OEMs do not specialize in maintenance. Much of the servicing and repair work comes back to the distributor or service company.

Because uptime is of paramount importance, the maintenance teams at power plants demand a responsive distribution network, with parts that are always in stock and expert service technicians that can respond in a moment’s notice. 

A majority of the water-treatment applications in power plants are best served by rotary-gear pumps. Their seal-less design is easy to maintain because there are no leak points for harsh chemicals to damage the pump or surrounding equipment.   

Because every inch in a power plant is valuable, plant operators prefer pumps with small footprints. The trend is to move away from horizontally laid infrastructure.

“Vertical configurations are less susceptible to flooding, they are easier to work on, and they don’t require staff to crawl on the floor to access,” Crowley said. “The ergonomic, front pull-out-designed pumps can be repaired in place. This minimizes downtime by eliminating the need to lock out/tag out the pump and move it to the repair shop—which, in some plants, must be done by a separate union employee.”

Maintenance activities can be further streamlined by selecting pumps that require a limited number of parts and with pumps that use symmetrical parts that only fit one way. This simplifies parts replacement and keeps repair time to a minimum. RP

Seven trends to Watch in 2017

Bluefield Research (Boston) has forecast seven trends to watch in 2017, and they show significant opportunities for private corporations. These include an emphasis on big data and the Internet of Things, as well as new business models driven by rising water and wastewater bills. Water rates are rising at an average 7% every year, Bluefield stated.

Through its ongoing market tracking and analysis, Bluefield’s water experts anticipate shifts across municipal and industrial water markets. Seven key trends that will have an impact on the water industry in 2017 include:

• Infrastructure investment at the forefront.
Rate escalation sets the stage for business-model innovation.
Developed markets forced to confront aging networks.
Water gets smart with an emphasis on Big Data and IoT.
Bottom line enables innovation for industrials.
California sets the stage for water reuse.
Private sector looks to water for opportunity.

Additional analysis from the firm’s experts about each signpost is available at no cost. The forecast provides valuable insight for environmental managers and water companies about what to expect and market opportunities.

Making Wastewater Pumping Systems Smarter

In the wake of a renewed interest in federal investments in infrastructure, the District of Columbia Water and Sewer Authority (DC Water) and Xylem Inc. (Rye Brook, NY) partnered to highlight the urgent need for investing in smart-water infrastructure to maximize operational productivity. 

In a report released in early March 2017, the American Society of Civil Engineers (Reston, VA) estimated that the U.S. needs to invest a minimum of $123 billion/yr. in water infrastructure over the next 10 years to achieve a good state of repair.

To advance research and development in the area of smart-water infrastructure and advanced data analytics in the sector, Xylem and DC Water expressed a commitment to accelerating innovation through field-driven pilots that focus on increasing the productivity of managing water and wastewater and improving the resilience and sustainability of those operations. 

“In the U.S., our water and wastewater infrastructure faces a daunting investment gap that places these critical systems at risk and leaves our communities vulnerable to the consequences of system failures,” said Patrick Decker, president and CEO of Xylem. “We are so pleased to be able to partner with DC Water–a true industry leader–to address these challenges, leveraging technology to develop new, more sustainable solutions.”

George Hawkins, CEO and general manager of DC Water, said, “At DC Water, we’re always looking down the road for the next innovation that will help us do our job better, at less cost. This new technology accomplishes that and I’m excited about the implications not just for us, but for the industry as a whole. It’s also an important demonstration of partnerships between the best elements of private-sector innovation and public-sector operational know-how, and I’m proud to be on the forefront of this effort.”

DC Water’s service area covers approximately 725 sq. mi. and the enterprise operates the world’s largest advanced wastewater treatment plant with a capacity of 384 million gal./day and a peak capacity of 1.076 billion gal./day.

Michelle Segrest is president of Navigate Content Inc. She specializes in creating content for the industrial processing industries. Please contact her at

For more information on Fluid Systems and Controls, visit Information about LMI pumps is at The Charles P. Crowley Company is at For more information on Pulsafeeder, visit


7:38 pm
August 10, 2017
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Can You Be Lean Without Reliability?


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

The goal of most facilities is to increase production and reduce costs. Implementing a Lean process enables an ongoing focus on continuous improvement by constantly reducing waste from, among other things, overproduction, material movement, excess inventory, and rework. In short, it’s a systematic method for removing non value-added practices.

My Lean implementation experiences involve more than 30 elements, including 5S, mistake proofing, TPM (Total Productive Maintenance), just-in-time (JIT), and kaizen. When I roll out a reliability and maintainability (R&M) process, it’s done with 14 elements, including work management, equipment and process design, TPM, standardized processes, and root-cause analysis (RCA).

The most successful Lean and reliability processes start with organizational culture (first improving employee engagement, developing a culture of discipline, and forming an operations and maintenance partnership). Lean and reliability reduce defects. Lean builds quality in station and reliability reduces designed-in R&M issues as organizations move from reactive to more-proactive maintenance. Lean uses a kanban (pull-system) to build product on-demand, and reliability promotes condition-based maintenance to respond to demand, i.e., measured target values.

Many additional things need to happen to make Lean and reliability successful, but they should all be driven by small-team continuous-improvement efforts. Lean and reliability basically share a number of similar core processes. A few key ones include:

• focus on the operator/autonomous maintenance
standardized work/processes
waste reduction
continuous improvement
data-based decision-making.

In actuality, reliability shares and improves many of the elements needed for Lean.

In actuality, reliability shares and improves many of the elements needed for Lean.

Reliability also supports Lean through lifecycle asset management that increases Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE) and reduces cost. After all, unstable machine conditions make a pull-system difficult or impossible.

The toughest part of implementing Lean and reliability is culture-related, i.e., when transfer to daily practice needs to occur. Implementation might work for a short time, but can it sustain? Unstable (low-reliability) processes can’t be sustained. Kaizen is much easier and positive when sites have a history of team problem solving.

My research has shown that top-quartile companies in reliability, i.e., lowest reactive maintenance:

• were 27% better in OSHA Recordable Incident Rates than the average of the remaining facilities.

• averaged 7% higher OEE than Middle (2nd and 3rd quartile) performers and 11% higher OEE than those in the bottom quartile.

• averaged nine suggestions per employee versus one for the lower 75% of companies.

• were 28% better in maintenance cost (expressed as a percentage of sales) than the middle 50% and 69% better than the bottom quartile.

A study of more than 400 facilities showed that more than 70% of Lean implementations failed, i.e., attained less than half of the expected business results. Reasons for these failures often involve not being culturally ready, lack of workforce discipline in standardized work, and employees not engaged in continuous-improvement efforts.

My facility assessments indicate a high correlation between improved organizational culture and increased plant reliability-process maturity. While it’s critical to have the right processes in place, improving culture helps operations quickly achieve top-quartile performance.

Reliability shares and improves many of the elements needed for Lean. It can also provide detailed technical direction on process variability and capability. Using Weibull analysis, you can better plan for maintenance and calculate such things as how much variability is acceptable and if the operation is running at the highest possible throughput.

To answer the question in the title, the foundational elements of Lean and reliability are so intertwined that you can’t accomplish Lean without reliable people, processes, and production machinery and equipment. 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


7:14 pm
July 12, 2017
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What’s Your Noisy Pump Really Saying?

Centrifugal pump and motor in power plantBy Eugene Vogel, Electrical Apparatus Service Association (EASA)

Everybody likes a quiet pump–it just does its job, leaves you alone, and doesn’t break down often. But a noisy pump raises concern. Although the noise is often attributed to cavitation, not every noisy pump is suffering from this problem. Failing bearings, flow turbulence, recirculation, and even a machine’s mechanical or electrical geometry can generate noise, any of which may be a more immediate problem than long-term damage from cavitation.

Cavitation erodes the suction eye of the impeller without affecting its other surfaces. Disassembly and inspection will confirm if significant cavitation is responsible for pump noise, but the first step is to rule out other potential causes with non-intrusive tests.

Rule out bearing noise.

To determine if the noise may be due to failing bearings, listen on the pump volute and bearing housing. An ultrasonic listening device is helpful, but a mechanic’s stethoscope will do. If the sound is louder on the volute than on the bearing housing, bearing noise can be eliminated as a source.

randmChange suction pressure.

Next, increase the suction pressure (head) if possible and listen for a decrease in the noise. If suction head can’t be increased, reduce it and listen for an increase in noise. Cavitation is directly related to suction head and flow, so changing either of these should cause cavitation noise to change accordingly.

Check for recirculation.

If suction head changes have little effect on the noise, the source may be recirculation resulting from a discharge flow restriction, perhaps due to a blockage or closed discharge valve. For closed systems without flow-rate instrumentation, verifying flow may not be easy. A portable flow meter attached to the outside of piping will provide accurate data, but such instruments can be expensive.

Another approach is to open a drain valve in the discharge line near the pump and allow flow to exit the system. If this reduces the noise at the pump, the flow through the system is very likely restricted, and recirculation is the source of the noise. Recirculation can damage pump impellers and volutes and subjects the pump to unnecessary vibration. Of course it’s also a waste of the energy consumed by the pump.

Determine if the noise is related to mechanical and electrical geometry.

If changes to neither the suction head nor discharge flow alter the noise characteristics of the pump, the sound is probably mechanical in nature. Mechanical sounds occur at specific frequencies related to the machine’s mechanical and electrical geometry. Vibration-analysis techniques can identify and characterize these sounds and their relationship to any mechanical forces.

The most common frequency of sound and vibration in centrifugal pumps is vane-pass frequency, which occurs at the multiple of the number of impeller vanes and the rotating speed. Technicians familiar with pumping machinery may well be able to audibly separate the vane pass and other mechanical sounds from the random noise of cavitation and recirculation.

In other words

Your noisy pump may be telling you something important. With a methodical approach and through the process of elimination, you can translate its language and avoid pump failure. MT

Eugene Vogel is a pump and vibration specialist at the Electrical Apparatus Service Association Inc. (EASA), St. Louis. EASA is an international trade association of more than 1,900 electromechanical sales and service firms in 62 countries that helps members keep up to date on materials, equipment, and state-of-the-art technology. For more information, visit


7:05 pm
July 12, 2017
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Store Your Bearings Properly

Metal bearings with random rotation and scale.Bearings are a critical part of the design and function of most mechanical equipment. Sadly, due to improper selection, storage, and installation, the majority of these components never reach their intended design life. Consequences for a plant from these situations can include compromised equipment operation, lost capacity, and increased costs.

A recent post on the Ludeca (, Doral, FL) blog urged readers not to condemn their equipment to death through improper bearing storage. The author, Trent Phillips, CRL, CMRP, offered a number of best-practice must-dos and don’ts to help facilities ensure bearing reliability.

— Jane Alexander, Managing Editor

Bearing storage must-dos

Do store bearings in a clean, dry, low-humidity environment. Moisture from the environment, work gloves, and other sources can result in corrosion and/or etched sections that create fatigue on a bearing. Avoid storage near direct sunlight, air conditioners, or vents.

• Do eliminate the possibility of shock/vibration during handling and storage.

• Do store bearings on pallets or shelves in areas that aren’t subjected to high humidity or sudden or severe environmental changes.

• Do store bearings flat and never stack them. Lubrication and anti-corrosion material could squeeze out of stacked bearings.

• Do (always) lay bearings on clean, dry paper when handling.

• Do keep bearings away from sources of magnetism.

randmBearing storage don’ts

• Don’t store bearings on the floor. Doing so will introduce contamination, moisture, and vibration/shock.

• Don’t remove bearings from cartons/crates or protective wrappings until just prior to installation in a machine. The exception may be bearings in wooden crates, as they could attract moisture.

• Don’t clean bearings with cotton or similar materials that can leave dust and/or contamination behind. Use lint-free materials.

• Don’t handle bearings with dirty, oily, or moist hands.

• Don’t nick or scratch bearing surfaces.

• Don’t remove any lubrication from a new bearing. Lubricants in stored bearings will deteriorate over time. The bearing manufacturer should specify shelf-life limits. These dates should be noted on the packaging and monitored to help ensure bearings are fit for use when needed. MT

Visual Inspections

Proper storage techniques are just part of the reliability picture when it comes to bearings. According to Trent Phillips, the following visual inspections of bearing integrity should be completed periodically on stored bearings, and just prior to putting them into service:

Examine packaging for indications that the bearing could have been damaged during shipment or storage. The item should be discarded or returned to the supplier if signs of damage are found.

Examine the grease or oil for evidence of hardening, caking, discoloration, separation, and other problems. Re-lubrication for continued storage or replacement maybe required.

Trent Phillips, CRL, CMRP, is global reliability leader with Atlanta-based Novelis ( To read more of his insight on Ludeca’s website (, including Part 1 of the two-part post “Has Your Equipment Been Condemned to Death?” on which this Reliability + Maintenance Center page is based, go to


6:52 pm
July 12, 2017
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On The Floor: Continuing Storms Ahead for Industry

Stormy landscape background with street

By Jane Alexander, Managing Editor

This month’s MT Reader Panel question was sparked by Bob Williamson’s June 2017 “Uptime” column. In it, he recounted asking an audience of approximately 90 maintenance pros at an Oklahoma Predictive Maintenance User’s Group event to list the top three maintenance challenges they expected to see in the next three, to five, to 10 years. They came up with 117 challenges, which Bob discussed in detail. We wondered if our Panelists shared similar concerns. For purposes of this unscientific survey, we asked them to discuss a single “top” challenge—the most critical one in their respective views.

Q: From their perspectives as end users, consultants, or suppliers, what was the top maintenance challenge they would expect to continue nagging sites or emerge as another fact of life in industrial operations in the near future (over the next decade)?

The answers we received point to several storms rolling across the industrial landscape. Here, edited for brevity and clarity, are some of our Panelists’ thoughts.

Plant Engineer, Institutional Facilities, Midwest…

More testing is now tied to computers and maintenance departments use them to not only operate equipment, but to track maintenance and repairs. That means the average maintenance employee will need classroom training and hands-on experience in these technologies. On a related note, years ago, new equipment came with a user’s manual of about 20 to 50 pages. These manuals are now complete books, with as many as 500 pages (including 100 pages just on troubleshooting). Going forward, industrial maintenance or operations personnel will probably require at least a two-year associates degree. Those who used to be able to learn on the job may be left behind.

CBM Specialist, Power Generation, South…

The biggest challenge I see coming for maintenance and reliability across all industries is impending inexperience within the craft. It takes about three years for a reliability technician to become proficient in collecting good data, downloading it, analyzing it, and making good, solid recommendations. I don’t see any movement by upper management to begin incipient training in the reliability field or leverage valuable training from experienced reliability technicians that will retiring from industry within the next decade (and taking their knowledge and skills with them). This is my personal experience, knowledge, and general observation of the industry.

College Electrical Lab Manager/Instructor/Consultant, West…

Companies can’t find skilled technicians that have the values and ethics to stick to maintenance functions. Many techs don’t seem to want to learn continuously and tend to jump from one employer to another for a few dollars more.

Many colleges teach theory with little hands-on training and trouble- shooting skills. I’m 72 years old and still working. I’m educated, skilled, have degrees, licenses, all that stuff you earn after 50 years in the field. The people entering the maintenance field today want to solve everything with a computer and not get dirty.

Maintenance Leader, Discrete Mfg, Midwest…

This is a pretty easy question to answer, using another question: How do we replace our aging tradesmen and tradeswomen? At our facility, the average age of our trades force is in the mid-fifties. Within the next five to seven years, close to two thirds of our workforce could retire. Given the lack of young people interested in skilled trades over the last two decades, we really are in a bad situation. Having to hire a retired tradesman who is in his early sixties to fill a position goes to show you how much trouble we’re in.

Maintenance Manager, Food Processing, South…

To sum up the top challenge that will be affecting industry for years to come, we’ve basically lost at least two generations of maintenance technicians. Those that we (our operations) get now are what I call “gamers.” They’ve done nothing but play video games.

When I “signed up” for maintenance, everyone knew weekend work was part of it. Most newer maintenance workers seem to be against working weekends, the time maintenance really has to do their PMs and project work.

Our turnover is very high, which has really taken a toll on experience in my department. Having lost most of the senior techs, we are finding that the younger generation takes no ownership of equipment or shows much dedication. They will call in [take off work] regardless of our plans, knowing we’ll be in a jam. What’s worse, they’ll show no concern [for putting us in a jam] when they return.

Over the past couple of years, we’ve been anywhere from 10 and 12 to 20+ short in maintenance (from a 67-person total staffing). This leaves us with 20% to 30% of our workforce open, which creates a backlog of work that just keeps getting bigger, with no end in sight. About 50% of my current maintenance staff has less than three years seniority, and 75% of these have about a year to year and a half. We are challenged to say the least.

Industry Consultant, International…

Any and/or all of the points Bob Williamson discussed are of concern. As a consultant, I would say one challenge that has developed over the years involves almost all of them.

Senior management used to plan budgets with maintenance managers, plant engineers, maintenance superintendents, and others, on at least an annual-budget basis, with five-year plans furnished as estimates. These days, senior management frequently is tied to quarterly bottom-line results that tend to push quarterly financial results as a high priority.

The overall result is that maintenance asset management is often short-changed for the short-term goal of maximizing the quarterly bottom line. While this is basically a corporate management problem, it continues to interfere with good asset-management practices. MT


4:54 pm
July 12, 2017
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Move from Time- to Condition-Based Lubrication

Increasingly sophisticated machines and operations require more than legacy PM approaches.

With plant equipment and processes growing more sophisticated and demanding by the day, so must everything that keeps them up and running, including approaches to machinery lubrication. Integrated, proactive-maintenance technologies and strategies are key for fast-paced industrial operations that want to be competitive, and are easily justified in economic terms.

With plant equipment and processes growing more sophisticated and demanding by the day, so must everything that keeps them up and running, including approaches to machinery lubrication. Integrated, proactive-maintenance technologies and strategies are key for fast-paced industrial operations that want to be competitive, and are easily justified in economic terms.

By Ken Bannister, MEch Eng (UK), CMRP, MLE, Contributing Editor

The term “time-based maintenance” is well understood in industrial operations. The premise is simple. A regular maintenance/lubrication event is scheduled on the basis of a calendar anniversary, i.e., weekly, monthly, quarterly, yearly, or other interval, or on a machine’s run-time clock, i.e., 100, 250, 1,000 hr., or some other specified number of hours. Foundational to legacy preventive-maintenance (PM) programs, this type of event scheduling has served industry well for decades.

Plant equipment systems and processes, however, are becoming more complex and demanding by the day. In turn, they are requiring increasingly sophisticated maintenance approaches. Going forward, if they haven’t already done so, sites will need to adapt to an integrated, proactive-maintenance approach that maximizes machine availability and reliability. The economic justification is simple.

In a legacy time-based event, a forced machine downtime is usually scheduled to perform maintenance or lubrication, e.g., oil change. Older equipment designs usually dictate that a machine must be shut down and locked out to determine its status and conduct scheduled activities in a safe manner. This method obviously has an impact on an operation’s throughput capability.

Given today’s fast-paced operating environments, a forced two-hour downtime to change oil on a calendar schedule—whether it needs to be changed or not—is no longer acceptable. We still need to change oil, but we need to treat that oil as we would any asset and maintain it over an extended lifecycle. That means changing it only when conditions warrant change. This type of monitoring strategy reduces machine intervention and increases production throughput, as well as reduces costs related to the purchasing, handling, and disposal of lubricants at a site. It also fits perfectly in any corporate asset lifecycle or sustainability initiative.

Moving from a time-based to a condition-based lubrication program is an ideal change-management vehicle for transforming and improving an operation’s state of lubrication. Successful design and implementation of a condition-based lubrication program can manifest itself in different forms, depending on a plant’s industry sector and current state of lubrication. Several “conditional” strategies can help your site gear up for this move with little effort and expense.

Implementing conditional strategies

Two basic elements underpin a condition-based lubrication program. The first speaks to the integrated, proactive-maintenance approach through involvement of operators as the primary “eyes and ears” in performing daily machine condition checks. The second element assures consistency and accuracy in the execution of value-based condition checks and lubrication actions.

Some maintenance personnel might argue that the old PM job tasks stating “Fill reservoir as necessary” or “Lubricate as necessary” are perfect condition-based instructions. Not so fast: Those instructions, unfortunately, rely solely on maintainer experience. They will not deliver consistency and accuracy without controls that dictate how we assess a machine’s condition and take appropriate actions built into the “necessary” part of the work-task equation. That’s where implementation of the following conditional strategies pays off.

Strategy 1: Reservoir-fill condition

If a lubrication system is to deliver peak performance, it will require an engineered amount of lubricant. In re-circulating and total-loss systems alike, designated minimum and maximum fill amounts aren’t always clearly indicated on the reservoirs. In such cases, the first step is to ensure that a viewable sight gauge is in use, complete with hi-lo markers for manual checks.

For critical equipment, an advanced approach can utilize a programmable level control to electronically indicate the fill state to operators and maintenance personnel. Some equipment, of course, is designed with reservoirs inside the operating envelope that require machine shutdown to perform checks or fill up. These systems can be inexpensively redesigned with remote “quick-connect” fill-lines piped to the machine perimeter that will allow the reservoirs to be filled to correct levels while the machine runs. (For additional tips, see this article’s “Learn More” box at the bottom of this article.)

Strategy 2: Oil condition

When the term “condition-based” is used, oil analysis often comes to mind. The first stage in controlling the oil’s condition is to ensure the product is put in the reservoir at the correct service-level of cleanliness and that a contamination-control program is in place. This will require a number of things: an effective oil-receiving and -distribution strategy, operators and maintainers working together to keep the lubrication system clean, use of desiccant-style breathers, and remote, “quick connect” fill ports that can be hooked up to filter carts outside of a machine’s operating envelope. (For additional tips, see the “Learn More” box at the bottom of this article.)

The second stage is to monitor the oil’s condition for contamination, oxidation, and additive depletion through the use of oil analysis. Extracting oil samples for testing purposes is predominantly a manual process that can be conducted outside of a machine’s operating envelope through a remote-piped “live” re-circulating line or by using a remote-piped sight-level gauge with a built-in extraction port.

Based on a condition report, the machine’s oil can be cleaned by using a filter cart, with no downtime, or replaced at a conveniently scheduled time. An advanced alternative is to use an inline sensor to monitor and electronically indicate pre-set oil cleanliness and water-presence alarm levels. (For additional tips, see the “Learn More” box at the bottom of this article.)

Oil-temperature condition is important wherever ambient temperatures fluctuate and an oil might become too viscous to be pumped through a system. This situation can create a bearing-starvation effect. In environments where this could happen, a thermostat-controlled automotive block heater or battery blanket heater can be incorporated in the system to ensure lubricant usability and machine uptime.

Strategy 3: Machine condition

The ultimate lubrication-control is based on equipment running condition. Effectively lubricated machinery will require less power to operate and bearing life will be extended by as much as three times that of ineffectively lubricated machines. Correctly engineered and set up, automated, centralized lubrication-delivery systems ensure the right amount of lubricant is applied in the right place, at the right time. If your plant’s equipment is predominantly manually lubricated, investigate converting to automated systems that require less maintenance and return their investment in weeks or months. (For additional tips, see the “Learn More” box at the bottom of this article.)

Automated systems are highly adaptable to new IIoT (Industrial Internet of Things) protocols. The capability now exists to install bearing-heat sensors (that set temperature ranges of different bearings) for monitoring, amperage metering (needed because friction demands an increase in motive power that translates through amperage draw), and sensing of oil levels and cleanliness.

Condition signals can be sent to an automated system’s lubricator to turn on and off for a timed or actuation cycle, or to indicate an alarm state. These conditions can be monitored with software tools and used for computer-based automated decision making to reset a lubricator program based solely (and precisely) on condition needs of a machine within its ambient operating environment.

Remember this

Condition-based lubrication respects and treats the oils that a site relies on as integrated assets in equipment and process uptime. The condition-based approach is an excellent first step for a site that wants to shift its focus from legacy PM approaches to integrated, proactive-maintenance strategies. Regardless of industry sector, this type of maintenance is what plants of today and tomorrow require to be competitive. MT

Condition-based lubrication and system design are among the topics covered in contributing editor Ken Bannister’s 2016 book, Practical Lubrication for Industrial Facilities–3rd edition (Fairmont Press, Lilburn, GA), co-written with Heinz Bloch. Contact Bannister at, or 519-469-9173.

learnmore2“All Sight-Level Gauges Aren’t Created Equal”

“Control and Avoid Lubricant Contamination”

“Put Portable Filter Carts to Work”

“Implement an Oil-Analysis Program”

“Practical Oil Analysis: Why and What For?”

“Tune Your Lubrication-Delivery System”


4:40 pm
July 12, 2017
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Good Processes Enable Good Results

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

Processes can be formal/informal, followed/ignored, audited/uncontrolled, and so on. The extent to which a standardized process is followed is typically a good indicator of how well an organization is doing. Hidden operational costs accumulate quickly with increasing process variation from such things as work management, document control, material management, and root-cause analysis. This is not true just for reliability and maintenance, but for any interaction of people, process, and technology. I’ll use my experience on a recent trip to explain.

It began with a decision to fly on a major airline that I had not used for some time. The troubling issues I experienced piled up fast, starting with check-in for my outbound flight. During the trip, I tried to document as many problems as I could recall, categorizing them into four areas: system malfunction, ineffective existing process, poor use of human resources (people issues), and redundant activity/time wasted. Here are several examples:

• At the airport, despite having checked in online and printed my boarding passes the day before, I was told to go to an automated kiosk where I had to enter the same information to start the baggage-tagging process. Other travelers received the same instructions. Unfortunately, nobody was informed we had to visit the kiosks until we reached the check-in counter. You can understand the frustration of individuals running out of time to catch their flights.

• As it turned out, the person at the understaffed check-in counter was sending customers to the kiosks to buffer her growing line. It wasn’t a good strategy. The kiosks weren’t properly performing all functions, so they were sending customers back to the harried counter employee. Soon, she was dealing with two lines—the original one and one returning from the kiosks. All the while she was complaining that her end-of-shift replacement hadn’t arrived and she wasn’t even supposed to be on duty.

Wherever and however they occur, process variations can be expensive and frustrating.

Wherever and however they occur, process variations can be expensive and frustrating.

• Luckily, there were three people on duty at the baggage X-ray area when I arrived, and they seemed to have plenty of time to chat among themselves. Once they realized I was waiting to drop off my bag, one of them strolled over and attempted to hoist it onto the conveyor belt. I use the word “attempted” because the gentleman seemed to have difficulty lifting the <40-lb. item. Instead, he had to slide the suitcase on the conveyor, where it barely stayed in place.

In total, I documented 15 improvement opportunities. Fortunately, airlines have better processes regarding aircraft maintenance. The Federal Aviation Administration has regulations and guidelines for standardized processes. They clearly don’t extend to check in.

So, how do my travel woes relate to your site’s reliability and maintenance efforts? When assessing and implementing a reliability and maintainability (R&M) process, the first step should be to create the culture, including, among other things, a reliability plan and goals/targets. (Best results come from implementing several foundational elements first.) The next step is to implement elements enabling standardized work processes. This leads into steps for optimizing and sustaining the effort. Then it’s on to application of R&M best practices and continual improvement. Plant personnel should all be tied to a RASIC (responsible, approve, support, inform, consult) “roles and responsibilities” chart and/or swim-lanes (diagrams of workflow).

In the end, stable R&M processes lead to multiple benefits, among them: increased throughput, reduced wastes and costs, improved safety, reduced process variation, error reduction, higher employee involvement, and easier training on and sustaining of processes. People associated with the process, though, must be capable and willing. You’re only as good as your processes allow. 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


4:37 pm
July 12, 2017
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Flying Inspections

Drones are rapidly becoming a fast, economical inspection tool in the industrial arena.

Drones save time, money, and may be the only data-collection option in accident situations.

Drones save time, money, and may be the only data-collection option in accident situations.

By Sean Woessner, Industrial Skyworks

Most people call them drones. Technically, they’re UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) or sUAS (small unmanned aircraft systems). No matter what you call them, these flying camera and sensor holders are rapidly becoming a valuable industrial inspection tool.

Drone-based inspections are helping companies improve efficiency and data quality, while increasing safety and speed of operation. Because it’s an evolving technology, some people may not be aware of the potential benefits they can realize using UAVs to inspect assets.

Drone inspections can dramatically reduce the high costs, safety risks, and time involved with conventional inspection methods. Since drones are small and inexpensive to operate, you can carry out more inspections every month than you can with conventional methods, without shutting down operations and affecting production. In traditional methods, you need to schedule a shutdown and assemble several workers, vehicles, helicopters, and other inspection equipment, especially for the energy sector. Also, the mobility, speed, ease of use, and efficiency of drones provides companies with the opportunity to collect data on a large scale. Since the drones can be used in even the most difficult areas, it makes it possible to inspect a whole pipeline and its surroundings, just in case there is need to analyze the extent of a leak.

Drone-based field investigations provide invaluable information to operational and maintenance managers with the following added advantages:

• timely reporting and investigation of damage/material loss when carried out under a defined schedule

• enhanced personnel safety by avoiding close proximity of humans to hazardous environments and dangerous locations

• firsthand delivery of information to supervisors/managers without the need to visit a site

• cost-effective alternative to route reconnaissance and aerial-surveys

• access to inspectors for investigations without plant-shutdown requirements.

In addition, drones may be the only data-acquisition option in emergency/accident situations.

Implementing drones

As with anything, you must do some prep work to successfully implement a drone-based inspection program. Based on your organization’s activities, ensure that you have estimates for all of the costs that will allow you to perform drone-based inspections. Currently, there two ways of operating drones—you can either purchase a drone or hire a drone-inspection-service company.

Should you decide to purchase a drone, evaluate the regulations and cost requirements. The major component costs are:

• drone purchase cost
• cost of acquiring the cameras and sensors that will address your organization’s needs
• software applications for imaging and analytics
• training or hiring a drone pilot
• obtaining relevant permits and licenses
• type of data you need to gather and how to handle it, uploaded to either a cloud-based server or company servers
• network requirements.

If your choice is to hire a drone-inspection-service company:

• research and obtain the costs of hiring a drone service that will address your needs
• consider other factors such as the relevant licenses required for the area to be inspected
• confirm the type of data and reports the company provides after the inspections.

Drone regulations

As with any technology of this type, there are rules and regulations that control commercial and industrial use of drones:

• The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration issued Part-107 of the Federal Aviation Regulations in August 2016, providing guidance for operating requirements, pilot certification, and device certification for UAVs.

• The Canadian government has incorporated/amended rules for certification and compliance requirements for UAVs as section 602.41 of Canadian Aviation Regulations SOR/96-433.

• UK Civil Aviation Authority issued regulations related to Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS) as CAP 722—Unmanned Aircraft System Operations in UK Airspace for regulating RPAS operation in UK.

• EASA (European Aviation Safety Agency) Basic Regulation, adopted in December 2016 by the European Council, contains the first ever European Union-wide rules for civil drones to fly safely in European airspace. This regulation contains general principles on revised common safety rules for civil aviation and a new mandate for EASA. On the basis of these principles, EASA will develop more detailed rules on drones through an implementation act, thus making it easier to update the rules as technology develops.

Rapid development of drone technology for commercial and industrial use has out-paced policy makers in many countries. Various governments are in the process of drafting or amending existing laws and regulations. Information regarding progress by various countries with respect to enactment of drone laws can be obtained from respective government authorities.

Minimizing risk

While UAVs have been successfully deployed globally for the past five years to inspect hazardous energy and petrochemical sites, manufacturers are still defining what can universally be understood to be an intrinsically safe drone-inspection platform. Specific health and safety plans will differ from facility to facility, but there is a set of guiding principles that successfully reduce the risk of professional UAV inspection operations to acceptable levels.

Power sources: Most professional UAV platforms now use brushless, magnetic motors that dramatically reduce risk of ignition from friction. While some long-range and heavy-lift UAVs are powered by liquid fuel, any UAV platform used to inspect hazardous sites will be powered with sealed batteries. It is important, when flying over sites such as live flare stacks, to minimize the risk of sparks on battery connectors or of UAV-mounted components (such as external batteries and sensor payloads) falling. UAV platforms that incorporate internal batteries inside the UAV’s body, together with sensor payloads that are mechanically integrated into that UAV, should therefore be deployed on these types of projects.

Additional thermal or gas sensors: Professional-grade inspection cameras now often incorporate thermal and visual sensors. Even if it is only photographic data that is being captured for an inspection project, the real-time feedback from the thermal sensors can provide a warning of extreme conditions onsite throughout the survey. When inspecting cold, venting smoke stacks, where un-ignited hydrocarbons can be present, methane or various other gas sensors might be used to provide additional warning during the inspection operation.

Flight plans: The best way to mitigate risk when inspecting flammable and hazardous sites is through comprehensive planning. The reason that drone inspection is used at all is because it enables visual and non-destructive inspection of a site without requiring personnel to be on the structure itself. Pre-planned flight paths can easily keep a drone 20 to 50 ft. from a structure and high-resolution imaging can easily be captured from 300 ft. away. The exact distance will always be defined by the UAV inspection-service provider and the facilities manager at the plant. Common sense also dictates that flight plans keep the UAV at an angular tangent away from the structure, rather than directly overhead, should anything fall.

Deploying UAVs to flammable sites: All operations around oil and gas infrastructure need to be carefully regulated and tightly controlled. Policies such as those related to intrinsic safety have long been in place to protect people and the environment on these types of sites. While intrinsic safety describes a set of electrical design principles, it also considers deployment procedures.

UAV platforms are not intrinsically safe in their electrical design. However, professional UAV inspection operations can offer an inspection procedure that minimizes health and safety risk to plant staff and the public, in addition to delivering significant economic savings to the plant.

Acquiring data

Using professional UAV inspection services, an asset manager can reduce the time that inspection personnel need to spend on the building itself. Provided a mission’s flight route has been well planned, a drone can collect imagery data that covers the entire building envelope in a fraction of the time that it takes for inspection personnel to traverse it.

Typically, visual and thermal imagery are collected. After applying automated statistical processes to convert the imagery into a 3D ‘point cloud,’ it is straightforward for skilled interpreters to identify locations and areas of deterioration on the building envelope. Since the data are being viewed in 3D, the roof and facades can be visually interpreted.

As the data in the point cloud is geo-referenced with real-world geographic coordinates, a plan or a map can be provided to an inspection and maintenance team to identify areas of deterioration  before anyone needs to climb any ladders or scaffolding, undertake rope-access procedures, or walk on a roof.

Longwave vs. handheld mid-wave IR cameras

Typically, a roof-inspection company might use a MWIR (mid-wave infrared) handheld camera or a LWIR (long-wave infrared) unit to collect data using an airborne platform. The advantages and disadvantages to the agency undertaking the roof inspection and the customer need to be assessed in terms of the sensor technical characteristics and the implementation implications.

Handheld MWIR can increase sensitivity among reflective/cool roofs and increased scaling values in output images can make results easier to interpret. However, the reduced dynamic range the cameras have could mean reduced sensitivity across all material types. On the other hand, using drone-mounted longwave IR provides a high dynamic range that leads to increased sensitivity across dark, cooled roof structures. But, LWIR technology requires an increased expertise to interpret subtle differences in thermal capacitance between different roof materials, especially when highly reflective.

In terms of implementation, drone-mounted LWIR doesn’t require inspection personnel to walk on a roof. The entire building envelope, including hard-to-reach areas can be imaged. Thermal ghosting (or leakage) is minimized by a high straight-on view of a roof by a camera. A complete, geo-referenced report can be quickly provided to the client.

Drones, equipped with a combination of sensors, are revolutionizing oil and gas inspections. At the moment, drones with thermal imaging, photo, and video cameras, as well as gas sniffers and other sensors, are performing a variety of inspection functions. The mobility and sensors allow the drones to analyze facilities for existing and potential defects safely, quickly, and efficiently.  MT

Sean Woessner is an FAA licensed pilot at Industrial SkyWorks (, Houston. He holds IFR and FAA Part 107 Remote Pilot sUAS ratings. Woessner has conducted more than 500 inspections and logged more than 400 sUAS hours.