Engineering & Maintentance: Prevention Is Better Than Cure

Tim Haïdar

Prevention is better than cure, as the phrase goes, and for industry this means avoiding costly unplanned shutdowns and unscheduled maintenance activities - and the inevitable cost they bring with them.

Investment in a strong engineering maintenance strategy will pay dividends, allowing for the optimisation of production and increased efficiency, ultimately leading to improved competitiveness and a healthier bottom line.

With these benefits in mind, more companies are switching from a strategy of reactive maintenance to predictive maintenance, by measuring the performance of equip to determine when maintenance should be performed – both ensuring unnecessary work is not undertaken and parts don't fail without any warning.

Laying the Foundations

Building a strong predictive maintenance strategy requires companies to lay the foundations from an early stage.

A system must be put in place, accompanied by clear documentation, for the monitoring and tracking of equipment, comprising both human assessment and condition monitoring using technology.

The more invested in the system, the greater the benefits are likely to be. Industry estimates suggest as much as 5 percent of production capacity is lost each year as a result of unplanned shutdowns, which are often related to equipment failure.

For many industries, in particular the energy sector which operates in extremely demanding environments, pumps represent a key pain point.

The deployment of pump monitoring solutions, such as that from Emerson Process Management, which monitors cavitation, excessive temperature, vibration, leakage, seal pot level, and pressure imbalance, form part of the answer.

GE has been providing similar condition monitoring technology measuring vibration and temperature to enhance BP's production at the Rumaila oil field in Iraq.

Tim Olsen, refining consultant at Emerson Process Management, added: "It's not unusual for plants to invest in expensive online monitoring systems for only their most critical or expensive pumps.

"The rest may be checked occasionally during technician walkarounds, but as many as two-thirds of essential pumps are 'running blind' most of the time – and at risk of problems that can lead to unexpected downtime, leaks, fires, or other situations that threaten safety and profitability."

Employing Predictive Maintenance

One industry in particular which is switching on to the benefits of predictive maintenance is the wind power sector.

Operation and maintenance costs account for a significant proportion of the expenses of operating a wind farm. Driving these down will have a major role to play in driving down the cost of offshore wind generation and securing its future as part of the energy mix.

With Asia currently representing the world's largest regional market for wind energy, thanks to the growth being witnessed in both India and China, employing predictive maintenance strategies in the sector holds particular benefits.

Access to turbines is one of the particular concerns and the industry is keen to minimise the number of site visits it has to make, particularly as wind farms move out into harsher environments.

Anil Srivastava of Areva told "We have a responsibility for increasing the reliability and availability. We have three lines of intervention into a wind park.

"We have a scanner control system, remote management, we have more than 1,000 sensors in the machine to predict the problems and solve them remotely. The second line is helicopter intervention and the third is only for heavy lift, we use a vessel."

Anders Soe-Jensen, head of offshore wind at Vestas, added: "In offshore, it is much more important that you have predictive maintenance, that you have a surveillance that lets you know exactly [what is happening at the site]. When you go out to a turbine, you don't go out to find out what is wrong."