Developing a condition monitoring strategy

Published:  11 May, 2018

For manufacturers interested in harnessing Industry 4.0, condition monitoring is often a quick win. It can reduce downtime, extend the lifetime of equipment, and improve Total Cost of Ownership (TCO). Like Industry 4.0, however, it is also in danger of becoming yet another “buzzword” that is mentioned frequently, but not understood. David Manning-Ohren, condition monitoring manager at ERIKS UK, sheds some light on how to implement condition monitoring effectively, regardless of the business or the budget.

1: Understand the process.

Before implementing any form of condition monitoring, whether that’s a temperature monitor or an early-warning system for leaks, analyse your process, your equipment and your needs. Look methodically at each part of the production line and establish an idea of how everything works (or doesn’t work) together. If certain areas of the production line aren’t your particular area of expertise, draft in an expert to review it for you.

2: Set realistic and achievable goals.

In a perfect world, each application across your production line would have a condition monitoring system for collecting and analysing data. It would be a folly to attempt this straightaway, however. The costs, not to mention the downtime, required for such an ambitious undertaking would be prohibitive for even a FTSE100 company. Focus instead on small, achievable goals within a single application. Expand your condition monitoring capability gradually, learning from each implementation as you go.

3: Decide what you want condition monitoring to achieve.

This may sound obvious, but it is often neglected. A condition monitoring strategy is only as useful as the way in which it is used. Harness it effectively by deciding how it should benefit your business from the outset. Identify KPIs, set objectives or map-out ideal scenarios. If your business has remote sites spread across the UK, for example, a useful KPI may be a reduction in the number of site visits required across the year, following the installation of a remote analysis capability. Don’t be too concerned if your KPIs are not met at first. They will provide a useful learning tool for future condition monitoring implementation.

4: Budget wisely and prioritise critical applications.

Any condition monitoring strategy will be expected to achieve a return on investment. You can facilitate this by ensuring that high-end condition monitoring equipment, such as Optical Gas Imaging cameras, is prioritised for critical assets.

5: Use known failure modes to influence your decisions.

Have any parts of the production line failed in the past five or ten years? Can you identify any patterns, or common denominators, across these failures? Identifying problematic areas, particularly those that are having a demonstrable impact on production and efficiency, will help you to identify condition monitoring equipment that will provide the best return on investment. It will also help you to identify a root cause, allowing you to address the actual problem, not just its symptoms.

6: Be open-minded.

A one-size-fits-all strategy doesn’t exist. Each one will vary depending on the needs of the business, as well as the processes involved. Be prepared to consider, and invest in, a number of different solutions, such as thermographic survey equipment, vibration analysis, oil analysis or ultrasound emissions. Don’t let budget constraints dictate your choice of strategy, either. The cheapest solution is rarely the most effective, and you may find yourself compromising on analysis capabilities and results. Beware of false economies and prioritise performance over price. You’ll see better cost savings in the long run.

7: Leave your assumptions at the door.

“I didn’t know you could measure that”, is a phrase frequently uttered by my customers. You may also be surprised by the variety of solutions available. Did you know that you can measure the loss angle (or tan delta) of an insulation system to determine its integrity and prevent deterioration, or use lasers to align two rotating parts perfectly? Applications you may not have considered could unlock hidden potential within your business. If that’s a little out of your comfort zone, consider working with a specialist.

8: A condition monitoring strategy needs a data handling strategy.

The data collected by condition monitoring equipment can be invaluable to enhancing production, processes and profitability, but only if they are used correctly. Do you have the capability to analyse and action the data you receive? If not, you may need to outsource this. A data management strategy is a pre-requisite to a successful condition monitoring strategy and will come with its own costs. For this reason, it needs to be a consideration from the very beginning.

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