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Is Bad Tribology Wearing Down Your Predictive Maintenance Program?

Tribology and Predictive Maintenance

These three questions can align on-site tribology with predictive maintenance programs to improve both simultaneously.

Asset-intensive industries experience a lot of metaphorical friction: budgetary friction, friction with vendors, friction with government regulators. Today, we're going to put aside figurative friction in favor of the literal kind. Let's talk about tribology and its impact on predictive maintenance.

What is tribology?

Tribology is the study of how two surfaces interact in relative motion, or friction.

Practical tribology uses like lubricant application and bearings assessments have the potential to deliver incredible rewards to the industrial sector. According to two engineering professors from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, improper lubrication creates deficiencies and equipment losses in excess of 6 percent of the Gross Domestic Product of the United States.

However, facilities can only achieve such returns if they harmonize tribological processes with their other predictive strategies already in place. That is, if the two don't rub each other the wrong way. These three questions can align on-site tribology with PdM programs to improve both simultaneously:

"Poorly lubricated bearings cause 40% to 50% of all machine failures."

Should I blame the lubricant or the lubrication?

The subtle difference between these two matter when poorly lubricated bearings account for 40 to 50 percent of all machine failures, according to research from Igus, a plastic ball bearing producer. More often than not, failures are caused by long periods of time without lubricant reapplication. But in constructing better PdM practices to address this neglect, don't accidentally forget about the lubricant itself.

When the wrong lubricant is applied to equipment, it has an insidious impact on operational excellence. Although on-site application specialists may perform their jobs exactly as expected, a lubricant with, say, a lower heat threshold than the operating temperatures of the equipment it's applied to will exhaust faster, demand more frequent check-ups and increase risk of failure.

When the grade of lubrication matches its use, maintenance teams effectively eliminate a major contributor to asset failure. As such, supervisors must craft systems that allow operators or maintenance professionals to corroborate lubricant grades in inventory. Small data-driven confirmations like these compensate operations with reliability almost immediately.

Am I training my ultrasound operators well?

Thanks to highly advanced ultrasound equipment, asset-intensive businesses no longer need to shut down and/or dismantle machinery to check for issues. This alone is a boon to uptime and scheduled maintenance programs. According to Jim Hall, executive director of The Ultrasound Institute and contributor to Uptime Magazine's February/March 2017 issue, that's exactly what makes ultrasound so ideal for PdM.

However, Hall raises a valuable question: Are plants that employ ultrasound equipment spending enough time teaching staff, especially operators with light maintenance duties, the finer points of ultrasound use? After all, bad readings force reliability-conscious maintenance departments to fall back on those inefficient processes ultrasound was supposed to get rid of.

To maintain strong tribology and uphold PdM, answer these questions about your current ultrasound operations:

  • Do users know how to adjust kilohertz accordingly when trying to get a reading in a noisy area?
  • Do users know precisely where ball bearings lie beneath the surface of the machine?
  • From which assets have past users failed to obtain ultrasound readings?

Did I write it all down?

If maintenance managers want to support real PdM, they must place data on friction into a CMMS, such as IBM Maximo Asset Management or Infor EAM. With so many mechanical components to monitor, businesses in the industrial sector owe it to themselves and their staffs to democratize the acquisition and analysis of this information across a mobile asset management platform.

Additionally, poor past tribology could explain bad actors today. Supplementary context provided through CMMS is undeniably valuable when asset managers investigate how to repair chronically deficient equipment or if a replacement is necessary.

Tribology has the potential to enhance PdM, but only for those organizations that wield data on friction in a manner that supports the core of their maintenance operations: to improve reliability, remove risk and save money with modern enterprise asset management.

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