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Does your maintenance team actively work to prevent failure or are they idle until failure occurs? Maintenance departments that employ reactive practices are under the impression that it is the easiest approach because little attention is needed until the event of catastrophic failure. Then, everyone takes action to resolve the issues as soon as possible, often resulting in overtime hours, extensive repair costs, and even a halt in production. With this in mind, it’s evident that reactive maintenance is not only the more difficult approach but also the more detrimental approach.

While it may be simpler to determine how reactive maintenance should be performed, it eventually becomes costlier and more labor-intensive. On the other hand, it can be more difficult to decide how proactive or predictive maintenance should be executed, but it is ultimately easier and more cost-effective. Keep in mind that the longer a maintenance culture has gone down the wrong path, the harder it is to change those habits.

Table 1 As reliability efforts increase, total costs remain relatively low.

Table 1 As reliability efforts increase, total costs remain relatively low.

Those who have transitioned to proactive maintenance have realized that in addition to significant financial benefits from reduced equipment failures and downtime, you can ultimately streamline maintenance activities, saving valuable labor hours.

Below are a handful of practical suggestions to help transition from a reactive maintenance culture to proactive and predictive practices:

Enable Machines for Routine Inspections

A routine inspection consists of quick and frequent inspection tasks that generally don’t require the use of tools, pulling a sample or special inspection aids. This could be as simple as installing an ergonomic sight glass that allows maintenance staff to monitor oil levels and quality.  The following are examples of routine visual inspections related to lubricating oil:

Oil Level – Visually inspect the dipstick, level gauge, or sight glass.

Oil Color and Clarity – This involves a sight glass inspection aided by a strong light. Usually, a comparator image is used.

Foam Presence and Stability – This can be determined by some sight glasses or headspace inspections, or both.

Headspace Inspection – Hinged hatch access aided by a strong light can enable observation of bathtub rings, varnish, and foam.

Corrosion Gauge Inspection – Similar to magnetic plugs, these gauges can be quickly inspected to reveal corrosive conditions associated with corrosion agents, impaired rust inhibitors, etc.

Leakage Inspection – Failed seals and radial shaft movement can cause leakage, but this can also be due to a sudden drop in oil viscosity, change in oil chemistry or ingression of certain liquid contaminants.

Entrained Air Presence and Stability – Also generally assessed by sight glasses and headspace inspections.

Free Water – Inspect water traps or BS&W bowls for a free water phase.

Emulsified Water – Inspect sight glasses for turbidity.

Oil Sediment and Floc – Inspect sight glasses and BS&W bowls for stratified solids and soft insolubles.

Gauge and Sensor Inspections – These inspections utilize various digital and analog gauges, including temperature, pressure, and flow. Some machines have sensors that report oil properties, such as particle count, wear particle density, water contamination, and viscosity.

Heat Gun Inspection – This provides a quick, quantitative assessment of the oil temperature on critical machine surfaces.

Magnetic Plug Inspections – Some sight glasses have integrated magnetic plugs for quick and effective observation.

These inspections take minimal time and can save your plant from equipment failure when implemented consistently. Many plants take it a step further and achieve greater peace of mind with the addition of condition monitoring equipment. The OnTrak, for example, continuously monitors bearings and listens for changes in friction with ultrasound technology. Once a need for grease is detected, the system alerts the operator, providing the ability to grease the bearing remotely. This tool gives maintenance departments an easy way to elevate and simplify their proactive maintenance initiatives.

Control Ingression of Contamination

Forty-two percent of lubrication professionals say contamination is the most common cause of bearing failures at their plant. There are many sources of solid particle contamination including new oil additions, built-in contamination, maintenance-induced contamination, and the ambient air that enters when the machine breathes.

When it comes to ingested dirt, it’s reasonable to conclude that much of it comes from the immediate surroundings including the surface of the machines. A large percentage of rotating equipment is air-cooled, and therefore, is sensitive to fouling of the surface area. Unfortunately, a thin layer of dirt on top of an air-cooled component can cause a dramatic drop in heat transfer. A significant portion of this ingression can be controlled by simply keeping the machines clean on the outside and being cautious when lubricating the machines. By using a single-point lubricator, you can ensure grease is clean and dry when it enters the machine.

Get Quick Wins and Show the Results

Focus on a small set of machines that have experienced failure because of reactive maintenance. Implement proactive and predictive practices and condition monitoring tools for some quick wins and display the results for everyone to see. This can help aid transition by providing an opportunity to reinforce the value of making the change.

Arguably, the most important ingredient to evolve a culture from reactive to proactive maintenance practices is by encouraging a team member to take ownership of the culture change. This is typically someone with leadership skills and credibility to plan and lead the change efforts within the maintenance team. This person must acquire the knowledge of what needs to be changed as well as disseminate this knowledge to the team carefully and repetitively. By following these suggestions, you can obtain long-lasting results and a robust reliability culture.