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A Day in the Life of a Ball Bearing: EAM at a Glance

A day in the life of a ball bearing - EAM at-a-glance

Even as industrial-grade equipment advances in the age of mobile technology, interoperability and the Internet of Things, business leaders can still learn a lot about their cutting-edge assets from a simple ball bearing.

Yes, those mirrored spheres will forever be a ubiquitous component in machinery, and for good reason. So long as friction plays a major role in asset functionality, ball bearings will be there to lighten the load. But apart from their mechanical service, what greater purpose do these parts provide? Well, in many small ways, ball bearings act as the perfect metaphor for illustrating the value of enterprise asset management throughout industrial operations. In other ways, the connections between bearings and EAM are far more literal, but just as demonstrative. As bearings turn inside industrial assets, EAM solutions turn within the machine of modern industry.

Getting the ball rolling with EAM

As their name implies, ball bearings bear the brunt of the friction created by interlocked rotating components and provide smoother mechanical movement in return. Without bearings, the rotating parts would generate too much heat and pressure for continuous operations. Machines would break down with greater frequency, maintenance labor costs would skyrocket and don't even get us started on how much companies would expend in inventory management and replenishment for all those busted components.

"EAM places a buffer between demand requirements and the technical limitations of the equipment."

EAM, along with proactive or predictive maintenance, perform the same duty for the business at large as ball bearings do for their machines. EAM places a buffer between demand-based operational requirements and the technical limitations of the equipment utilized to meet those requisite functions. Both sides receive equal attention – assets are given in-depth attention through advanced industrial data acquisition and management, while the business continues to prosper thanks to sustained uptime and scheduled maintenance.

Operational data management

Vibration monitoring is one of many techniques widely used in asset-intensive industries to determine wear and parts fatigue. Ball bearings represent a major area of focus for equipment owners and on-site maintenance professionals. According to Dr. Steve Lacey, engineering manager at Schaeffler UK, bearing degradation can often indicate the presence of a number internal factors throwing off asset functionality and efficiency, including:

  • Contamination
  • Lack of lubrication
  • Misalignment
  • Extreme temperatures

For businesses to capitalize on vibration monitoring for ball bearings or other small components, they will need not only the hardware to perform such telemetry but the right EAM data management solution to organize the information and place it at the fingertips of maintenance crews and site supervisors. These professionals can only realize its full potential of deeper visibility into any form of condition monitoring – be it vibration, thermal or otherwise – if the data gleaned from hardware can be interpreted quickly and easily through customizable dashboards, legacy failure mode lists or other such visualizations.

"Indications of future equipment failure could act as checks and balances for current maintenance processes."

The rewards for this level of oversight is twofold: First, businesses effectively preempt catastrophic failure by staying vigilant to small fluctuations in performance efficiency. Once proactive maintenance practices are in full swing, operations managers can make more informed decisions about maintenance scheduling so asset downtime doesn't adversely impact production or service. Second, indications of future equipment failure could also act as checks and balances for current maintenance processes. For instance, if bearing failure continues to occur because of poor lubrication – which would readily show up in historical maintenance data stores – businesses know to adjust their maintenance practices accordingly.

Parts replacement

By their very nature, ball bearings have an incredibly high reliability rate. In a separate piece for Plant and Works Engineering, Dr. Lacey estimated:

  • Nine out of 10 bearings could outlast the lifecycle of their machines.
  • About 10 percent are replaced out of routine, not necessity.
  • Less than 1 out of every 200 bearings fail prematurely.
  • What causes bearing failure? "[P]oor handling, incorrect mounting/assembly or maintenance errors."

While these descriptors might make a ball bearing sound like the Superman of asset components, the truth is all industrial equipment can achieve similar results with enhanced EAM and proactive maintenance strategies. Just as ball bearings would fail more often if maintenance crews neglected lubrication and other kinds of upkeep, other components are subject to the same problems if not regularly cared for. Shafts, tubing, circuitry, pistons – EAM and proactive maintenance can help protect them all, and in the process, reduce emergency labor spend, increase asset availability and allow repair teams to strategize without being weighed down by high-risk, low-value failures that are easily avoided.

"The wrong ball bearing can have a profoundly negative effect on equipment."

Inventory management

Even though ball bearings in an ideal world hardly ever fail, regular rotation is important to keep assets running smoothly. However, with so many different types of equipment, ball bearing stock is bound to be just as diverse. But as maintenance experts know – and laymen can probably deduce – the wrong ball bearing can have a profoundly negative effect on equipment. A slight variance in bearing width could unbalance an entire machine, slowly perhaps, but eventually for certain.

That's why clean, organized inventory management should matter to any and all industrial businesses. Unfortunately, many organizations either neglect their inventories to the point where goods are compromised or overspend on inventory management because of organizational issues stemming from an abundance of spares. Both can happen simultaneously as well.

EAM solutions like IBM Maximo and Infor EAM have the power to not only track critical spares from point of sale onward, but EAM as a discipline helps businesses stratify and prioritize spares according to the importance of their associated equipment to production or service. By ranking assets and sub-assemblies in an actionable order, technicians and inventory specialists can dial up management over the bearings that matter and dial back management on the bearings that don't matter as much, thereby optimizing expenses in procurement, oversight and errors made because of sloppy stockrooms.

So, the next time you're twirling a ball bearing in your fingers, meditate on all the good they do for your assets – and all the good EAM can do for your organization.

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