by Jeff Craig, Senior Project Manager, Fuss & O’Neill

Manufacturers worldwide have many challenges in their processes; one of the challenges they face, more often than not, is how to keep their equipment reliable. Some organizations operate in pure reactive mode, just fighting fires as they happen; others are doing maintenance that is either non-value added or doesn’t prevent the failure modes they are experiencing. Regardless of what they make or where they are, decreasing unplanned downtime, increasing their capacity, and keeping quality high are very desirable but can seem out of reach.

The challenge with achieving reliability are barriers that prevent good maintenance from being completed in a timely manner. The most common complaints we hear from maintenance teams are “Production won’t give us the equipment,” “We don’t have time to do our PMs,” and “We don’t have enough people.” When I hear these, I first ask, “What kind of Predictive maintenance do you do?” the answer is almost always the same, “We don’t!”

Predictive maintenance (PdM), like preventive maintenance (PM), also has its barriers. Some of the most common are “it’s too expensive,” “it’s too complicated,” or the impression that preventative maintenance needs to be perfect before predictive maintenance can be performed. These perceived barriers can prevent organizations from changing their maintenance culture from reactive, which can cost time and money that could be used to grow the business, to proactive. The reality is that PdM is more accessible and less costly than people think, and it provides a better understanding of the current health of the equipment. Breaking down the barriers that get in the way of good maintenance can start with PdM. Think of it this way: if you can predict the equipment failure, and you plan and execute the repair before it happens, then you have prevented the failure from occurring.

So how does this work? Researching and understanding the different options can go a long way in selecting a starting point. That brings us to one of the most powerful PdM tools we can have, and that is data. Tracking and trending failures can point to the tools that predict and, therefore, prevent them in the first place. For example, bearings are usually a high-failure item and can be over-greased just as easily as under-greased. If we take the PM that has us grease bearings every Monday and change it to listen to the bearings monthly with ultrasound, then we have moved from calendar-based maintenance to condition-based. We then have made applying grease an action to a specific condition rather than a task of the day. So, if that condition isn’t met and there is no change to the decibel level, then the PM is complete, and no further action is needed. If we cannot lower the decibel level with lubrication, then we can say it is in a failure mode and plan the repair. That small change has saved time and money and gathered valuable dynamic information on the health of a normally high failure item, and we didn’t have to shut the equipment down.

There are many PdM tools to choose from: Oil Analysis, Thermography (IR), and Motion Amplification, to name a few. Identifying barriers, gathering data, and understanding what predictive maintenance can do to transform the organization from reactive to proactive is an investment worth making.


Side Note: Jeff Craig is facilitating a 6-month ‘Maintenance Master Certification’ program from January-June 2024 at regional manufacturing facilities and registration is now full. We are currently planning another cohort to begin in July 2024. Find more info at nwirc.org/maintenance. Jeff has more than 30 years of experience in Engineering and Maintenance Management. As a Reliability and Maintenance Professional, he’s an expert of TPM (Total Productive Maintenance) and maintenance excellence procedures.