A well-planned condition monitoring program can save both money and lives.

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Posted on Jan 10, 2022 1:17 AM by

Robert Rice



(Article originally published in the September / October 2021 edition)


It is well known that reliable monitoring of the condition had a difficult childhood. In many ways, the practice has grown on its own over the years, much like a child growing up without parents or without a specific set of proven guidelines on what to do and how to do it. But those of us in the field know this best, and difficult childhoods often make the most interesting adults.

When equipment breaks down, it is expensive to get it back up and running. For this reason alone, maintenance should never be seen as a simple drain on resources. Maintenance costs can be offset and, given accounting changes and a different management approach, even show a profit. Senior company executives and their accountants value too little the opportunity to make maintenance a profitable operation rather than a lead product.

Expenses management

The analysis of maintenance costs clearly shows that a repair after a failure will be three to four times more expensive than the same maintenance activity when it is well planned. But maintenance is generally not seen as a top priority by most shipping companies, who do not fully appreciate the cost of downtime or the financial impact of unusable machinery on their ships.

Unfortunately (and wrongly), maintenance has too often been viewed simply as a direct cost of labor, material and overhead – fixing machines when they fail instead of performing preventive maintenance. routine “expensive”. However, the real expense is actually incurred when the equipment breaks down because the more modest scheduled maintenance expense has been rejected as part of company practice.

A few years ago I was assigned to a ship that changed operating companies. The predecessor company had a firm policy that every four years every pump and engine on the ship would be removed, taken to the shop and overhauled. The result was zero failure. With the new operating company, this policy was seen as an unnecessary expense and was abandoned. It worked for a while, but soon the breakdowns started to happen and the repair costs skyrocketed.

Of course, senior management tried to blame chief engineers for the increase in outages, but to quote John Adams: “Facts are stubborn things; whatever our desires or the precepts of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and proofs.

Managing preventive maintenance systems on board ships in the 21st century is a daunting task, but one that really deserves a lot more attention. Growing global competition, rapid advancements in technology, safety and environmental considerations, and changes in the management structure not only offer tremendous opportunities to improve performance, but also a much-needed competitive advantage. the soul of any reliable preventive maintenance system, or at least it should be.

Multidisciplinary approach

Effective maintenance management requires a holistic and multidisciplinary approach to systems thinking encompassing economics, instrumentation engineering, scientific discipline, and information technology to detect and predict failures. The potential benefits of such an integrated multidisciplinary approach are numerous. It has been clearly demonstrated that the use of effective packaging monitoring and maintenance techniques can provide companies with significant improvements in terms of efficiency and direct improvement in profitability.

They also have a major impact on the operational efficiency of each vessel. This impact increases as systems become more sophisticated and their components more dependent on each other. This requires an interdisciplinary approach, dependent on monitoring the condition of all relevant parameters – prediction, prevention and control.

It is an unfortunate truism that we rarely change our ways or take action until disaster strikes and losses mount. This “sacrificial lamb” approach will be regretted both in the short and long term when it comes to machine breakdowns and the costs associated with staff injuries and potential litigation.

The trend towards higher machine speeds and more power has led to the design of machines that are increasingly sensitive to vibration phenomena. High speed machines place a limit on the operator’s capabilities. Lack of proper education and training to deal with this unfamiliar environment can lead to unpredictable system failures, costly shutdowns, and the many safety issues associated with these failures.

The role of information technology

Nothing is more important to the good management of a business than information. Whether we are looking to improve performance, reliability, profitability, or the time it takes to get from point A to point B, the results can only be as good as our information. Information is to businesses what air and water are to us.

This is why information technology has played such a central role in making businesses more competitive. But studies have shown that many companies fail to take full advantage of the latest potentially beneficial technologies.

The impact of information technology on condition monitoring and maintenance management is significant. Over the years, condition monitoring has evolved from an instrument-based technology focused on measurement to a results-driven strategy, with the intelligent information it provides to designers and operators becoming the dominant focus. . This paradigm shift has shifted attention from instruments to personal computers (PCs).

At the same time, the PC has undergone a radical change. At one end of the spectrum, a large number of PCs have been grouped into networks to replace the mainframe. On the other end of the spectrum, the PC has shrunk in size, making it more portable. Additionally, the boundaries between the instrument and the PC have been eroded as the PC has been replaced by field data collection units (DCUs) to collect real-time data which is then uploaded to PCs on the network. for analysis on land.

The impact of these changes has opened up new possibilities for condition monitoring. Networks can now upload raw data to the cloud, and this latest iteration allows data to be shared across the enterprise, allowing condition monitoring to be part of a comprehensive management strategy for the entire organization. company, and not just for a ship’s chief engineer.

The costly need for Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) to be available locally is also eroding. In addition, many disciplines in the field of condition monitoring and diagnostics that existed independently of each other in the past have been integrated with all the intelligence available to decision makers when and where they need it and at a low cost. attractive price.

All of this requires an effective approach to condition monitoring and condition-based maintenance (CBM) to avoid the costly expenses of machine failures and personnel injuries.

Pay dividends

CBM alone or in combination with scheduled maintenance has been shown to minimize maintenance costs, improve operational safety, and reduce the amount and severity of machine failures in service. An added benefit is that it provides historical data, including the reliability characteristics of a system as a function of the hours between maintenance tasks.

Monitoring the condition predictor of items requiring maintenance has the advantage of extending achievable operational life and hence increasing system availability by reducing or eliminating equipment failure.

Put simply, condition-based monitoring of equipment pays dividends far beyond any reasonable factor in standard cost / benefit analyzes.

Robert Rice is Secretary-Treasurer of the Union of American Maritime Officers and Chief Engineer, Unlimited-Motor, Steam, Gas Turbine. This is his first appearance in the magazine.

The opinions expressed here are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Maritime Executive.