A Technological Approach

While proper pumping systems design and operation remain key pieces in the aim to optimize reliability, technology has an increasingly important role to play.

Condition Monitoring at a Water & Wastewater Plant
Condition Monitoring at a Water & Wastewater Plant

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Advanced control and monitoring system at a water & wastewater plant.

Some industry veterans might say effective pump operation is the best strategy for ensuring pump reliability and limiting maintenance. These same folks might also recommend that before even considering pump operation, system designers can help take an important first step toward reliability by ensuring the pump is properly mated to the system. And while proper pumping systems design and operation remain key pieces in the aim to optimize reliability, technology has an increasingly important role to play.

In a perfect world, a properly designed pumping system that is operated according to its duty coordinates would run efficiently and without failure for its full life expectancy. Unfortunately, this is not a perfect world, and the systems and applications pumps are running in are constantly changing, whether by design or factors beyond control.

The Role of Technology
As sensor costs have come down and sensor performance continues to rise, the shift from run-to-failure maintenance practices to technology-based predictive maintenance has picked up significant pace. “What we’re seeing in the market is that technology has had a pretty big impact over the past 5–7 years,” says Jerry Hines, North American Oil & Gas manager for National Instruments. In fact, Hines says certain leading-edge industrial users have started to move beyond typical predictive maintenance programs to leverage more sophisticated prognostics—an analytical concept traditionally confined to the realms of academia—to dig down and further analyze sensor data.

Still, not all end-users are realizing the benefits of technology for pump reliability and maintenance. “I think we’re on the early upswing—just based on our experience working with customers,” says Hines. “There is still a wide mix of customers that don’t do any maintenance and are in the run-to-fail scenario.”

For those who are leveraging technology to maximize their pump reliability and maintenance programs, there are significant benefits to be had. “I think [technology has] really allowed the equipment owner and operator to enhance equipment uptime—both from a safety perspective and in increasing uptime,” says Hines.
For example, leveraging analytics on an embedded system can take operators out of situations where they need to interface directly with the equipment. Likewise, analytics can be used to more efficiently schedule maintenance based on need rather than traditional time-based maintenance methods.

“Condition monitoring activities allow conditional changes to be identified before functional failures in the equipment occur,” says Trent Phillips, condition monitoring manager for LUDECA Inc.. “This means equipment repairs can be completed at more cost-effective times, and equipment failure conditions can be avoided.”

That said, condition monitoring doesn’t make sense for every piece of installed machinery.  In certain situations, preventive maintenance tasks offer a more appropriate defense against equipment failures. Equipment criticality, certain risk factors, and/or limitations in condition monitoring technologies may make preventive maintenance tasks more suitable.

“Technology is commonplace in all aspects of life; this is particularly true when it comes to our facilities, equipment, reliability and maintenance efforts,” says Phillips. “Technology now guides us in how to design, install, operate, maintain, and improve the reliability of our equipment.”

Key Parameters to Monitor

Why Condition Monitoring Programs Fail

ng is to monitor condition parameters in a way that changes in the parameters being monitored are indicative of a developing failure, Phillips says unfortunately most condition monitoring programs fail. He cites the following as the most typical reasons for such failures:  

  • Inappropriate use of “low tech” or “low priced” condition monitoring (CM) technologies
  • Use of part-time personnel for CM efforts
  • Insufficient (or no) training provided initially and continually
  • Failure to establish certification criteria for employees
  • Insufficient LOA (level of awareness) training for other plant employees so they understand the importance of CM efforts and contribute proactively to them
  • Failure to create sufficient collection schedules (routes)
  • Applying CM technologies to a limited amount of plant equipment or to the wrong equipment
  • Over-dependency upon a single CM technology
  • Improper or outdated alarming criteria
  • Improper utilization of the CM technology and software
  • Improper database setup
  • Poor documentation, reporting and communication of the results
  • No metrics to provide feedback
  • No follow-up inspections on repaired equipment
  • No acceptance inspections on new equipment, lubricants, etc.
  • Vibration and temperature are two of the most commonly measured data points for pumps and rotating equipment, as these are often leading indicators of failure conditions. Now, however, some more technologically sophisticated end-users are incorporating more sensor-based measurements, such as thermal and video surveillance, as well as fluid analysis, to identify potential problem conditions.

For instance, by analyzing the fluid that is being used to cool the pump, end-users can gain added visibility into pump operating conditions. Also, strategically positioned accelerometers can be used to pick up vibration signatures from bearings, shafts, etc. to more specifically identify the location of potential problems.
Pump misalignment is a common root cause for pump problems, leading to coupling, seal, bearing failures, and other reliability issues, as well as higher power consumption. “Keeping a machine properly aligned will help maintain it in the best operational context while also reducing operating costs,” says Phillips.  

Not-So-Best Practices
When devising a maintenance and reliability program, it is important to build on a solid foundation of proven best practices. In order to do this, users must be mindful of common pitfalls of maintenance and reliability gone wrong.

Hines says one of the problems he sees end-users running into is not taking a very strategic platform-based approach to maintenance and reliability, particularly when it comes to the tools that are being employed. For example, he says users will often take a piecemeal approach toward maintenance and reliability, applying one type of hardware to monitor one piece of equipment and a different hardware for another piece of equipment, without considering how easily the two can be integrated to monitor the entire process. To guard against such a misstep, Hines recommends users view maintenance and reliability as a holistic process. “Look at [maintenance & reliability] from a platform versus a tools-based approach to be more efficient,” says Hines.

According to Hines, other common pitfalls include relying on the equipment manufacturer to handle the maintenance and reliability program without having access to the monitoring data; or choosing a warranty in lieu of a maintenance and reliability program. A warranty-based approach enables inefficiency, says Hines, while not being actively involved in the monitoring program puts the equipment owner in an unnecessarily risky situation where the manufacturer has all of the control and can use this information to speculate on warranty information.

“If I were an equipment owner and going to buy a pump from a manufacturer, I would want to be an active participant with the manufacturer in developing the monitoring system,” says Hines. “I would want to make sure I had visibility into the data produced from the monitoring system.”

‘Big Data’—The More You Know
As the world continues to grow more technological, the amount of data the average person encounters on a daily basis is mounting quickly. No doubt, there are answers to be found in this mounting mound of information, but it takes a diligent and well-thought-out approach to efficiently parse through the availble data and identify the most important nuggets of information.

“For me personally, the more I know about the pump and the more data I have about that pump, the more comfortable I’m going to be,” says Hines. “If you’ve got any visibility into the operation of the pump, then you can more accurately protect against any reputation costs for equipment failures—particularly if you can rule out your equipment as a possible source of problems.”

While pump technology hasn’t changed much over the years, Hines says it is growing increasingly important for companies to be adept at interpreting the performance of their pumping systems, as unexpected failures are tremendously costly in this modern age where a lost day of production can have a huge impact.
“It doesn’t take a lot to generate a ton of data—and that’s valuable—but the real value is on the back-end data reporting and data evaluation,” says Hines.

Going forward, Hines says he expects to see prognostics become more commonplace in industry, whereby equipment owners will be taking very specific pieces of monitoring data to better understand and address potential equipment issues far into the future.   

“Changes in equipment condition can be easily sent via email, text messages, etc., and that information can be easily shared with all employees responsible for the operation and care of the equipment,” says Phillips. “This allows additional time to respond to changes in equipment condition before unwanted results take place.”
Phillips says remote data collection and analysis are becoming more commonplace due to changes in technology. As a result, he says facilities can take advantage of any centralized expertise they may have available or leverage the expertise of outside resources. “This helps control costs and focus so the greatest returns possible can be achieved with condition monitoring efforts,” says Phillips.

Matt Migliore is the director of content for Flow Control magazine and FlowControlNetwork.com. He can be reached at 610.828.1711 or Matt@GrandViewMedia.com.

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