Condition Monitoring & Matters of the Heart: Listen to doctor Bob and make like Larry

So picture this. Larry, makes an appointment to see his local doctor that he’s known for years. Upon arrival Larry waits as per usual until told by the receptionist that: “He’ll see you now.”

In he goes and sits down as he has always done on previous occasions, but with a very serious and concerned expression on his face.

“What’s up Larry? What can I do for you today?” the Doctor enquires. Let’s call him Doctor Bob.

“Well Doc, do you know any reputable and reliable heart surgeons?”

Slightly taken back and concerned, Doctor Bob probes further: “Why do you ask? Are you feeling unwell?”

“Not really” Larry replies, “but I’d like to understand how healthy my heart is so I figure the best thing to do is to have myself opened up and have a look see.”

Well as you can imagine, Doctor Bob is quite taken back by Larry’s proposed and extreme course of action and finds the whole situation reminiscent of a Monty Python sketch. (If you haven’t heard of Monty Python, I’m too old and you’re too young but read on regardless.)

“Have you ever heard the expression,
if it isn’t broke don’t fix it?”

Unfortunately, Larry isn’t joking and sits patiently waiting for a response.

Having contemplated pressing the red button under his desk that summons the men with the butterfly nets, Doctor Bob goes on, “well Larry, I’m not sure you really want to do that and as your Doctor for many years now, I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out the immediate dangers in taking such a course of action.”

“Dangers! What Dangers? Replied Larry. “I’ve been coming to you for many years now and have been in good health for as long as I can remember. I exercise regularly. I eat the right foods. I don’t drink or smoke so what’s the danger?”

“Have you ever heard the expression, if it isn’t broke don’t fix it?”

“Sure I have” Larry replied.

“Well Larry, there are plenty of other ways we can assess the health of your heart without opening you up”. Yes you are very healthy for your age but putting you through a major surgical procedure is not only expensive, it can leave you open to other risks such as infection, not to mention the time it will take you to recover. Consider the possibility that you may not get put back together correctly afterwards. All these risks could end up creating a problem where none exists.”

Suffice to say, Larry had a change of heart (irresistible pun) after speaking with Doctor Bob, who offered him a variety of non-intrusive tests that would keep him o the operating table but provide Larry with a good on going indication and reassurance that his heart is healthy.

In terms of Larry’s heart, there are at least 6 types of non-intrusive tests that could tell him what he wants to know. Depending on the results of those tests, Larry would have more data to make informed decisions on how to take better care of his heart into the future and improve on those results.

“This isn’t being cheap, this is being practical and efficient with your maintenance resources and budget.”

Think on the above cautionary tale the next time you’re about to arbitrarily strip down or dismantle a gearbox, pump or other asset as part of a planned activity.

The fact that a piece of equipment has run well and exhibited zero signs of defect or failure, should never be ignored in the run up to a maintenance. Instead, take time to truly consider why that may be the case and factor this in when deciding how to approach future inspections.

In terms of a gearbox; Oil Analysis is always a good indicator of the internal health of your gears and bearings etc. For Larry, a simple blood test would provide a wealth of information and break down of his HDL (good) and LDL (bad) cholesterol to name only one of a litany of possible tests.

Sample your oils and review the analysis reports. Consider the duty and run hours for the equipment. You may find that an oil change could be stretched out from 12-24 months. This isn’t being cheap, this is being practical and efficient with your maintenance resources and budget.

How about an Electro-cardiogram? If Larry had said he was experiencing palpitations, skipped beats, a racing heart, fainting, shortness of breath or chest pain, this would be an ideal alternative to opening him up for what would only be a visual inspection anyway. At least however Larry would have recorded symptoms that would enable Doctor Bob to decide what tests to run based on the “failure mode”. Do you see where we’re going here?

Except now you just have to make sure it’s all put back together exactly as you found it.

Visual inspections are a vital first port of call for all Condition Monitoring but do you need to fully open up your gearbox to do one? No you don’t. Find a window of opportunity, use the inspection hatch and a borescope to identify any possible damage to teeth bearings or shafts etc. It’s cheaper and less labour intensive than stripping the gearbox down, only to find everything’s ok.

Except now you just have to make sure it’s all put back together exactly as you found it. And oh by the way, production need that back up again for the 07:30am start, but try and resist the urge to rush so you can be home in time for The Simpsons.

Consider the table below in relation heart and apply the same thinking critical assets. None of these tests will put you in immediate danger but each test is designed to address specific failure modes/sympt and facilitate a diagnosis so more informed decisions can be made for treatment. Monitoring anyone?

For a gearbox, consider the following checks, none of which are massively labour intensive but can reveal important information regarding condition and won’t cost the earth:

What’s the morale of the story? If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Monitor it. The better you monitor and increase your understanding/awareness of the possible failure modes within your assets; the better positioned you’ll be to: make savings on unnecessary maintenance, improve your asset life-cycle, increase Reliability and prevent mall problems from developing into big problems.

Listen to Doctor Bob and make like Larry.

Autor: Liam Doyle
Operations & Business Development Manager at AVT Reliability (Ireland) Ltd

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