Like much in life, the best maintenance strategy is a combination of complementary practices. In this case, that means using sensors to monitor critical assets around the clock and teams to complete route-based actions for these and all other machines.

“Critical” Means Crucial to Production

To determine what should be monitored with sensors, first define what’s critical and what isn’t. An asset that may seem simple, like a motor or pump, may in fact be highly critical.

Criticality isn’t about size or complexity — it’s about how crucial the asset is to the operation. If production is impeded or halted from an asset, it is probably critical. Critical assets, by nature, need continuous condition monitoring. Only an online system comprised of internet-enabled sensors and intelligent software can reliably handle the task of 24/7 monitoring.

Aerial view of a manufacturing plant.
Organizations looking to implement online condition monitoring must have a well-organized maintenance and reliability (M&R) program as a foundation on which to grow. That is, a mature maintenance program that integrates sensor- and route-based condition monitoring tools in its predictive maintenance (PdM) strategy to avoid unexpected downtime and productivity losses.

Sensors send parameters — such as temperature, rotation speed, vibration, particulate amounts in lubrication, and other measurements — to condition monitoring software for processing. From there, technicians and managers can check asset status in real time, visualize data in dashboards and reports, and make the correct decisions based on incoming data.

Route-based maintenance is still necessary for maintaining critical assets. But as long as an asset is operating within parameters, regular maintenance checks are often less urgent and more routine. That’s because as soon as a measurement crosses a defined threshold, condition monitoring software sends an alert to technicians. For example, when vibration on a gearbox exceeds peak tolerances, the team automatically receives a notification.

Harbor cranes loading and unloading cargo from container ships.

Choosing Condition Monitoring Tools

One might ask, “Why have manual, route-based monitoring if there’s already an online condition monitoring system?” However, these two maintenance strategies are not mutually exclusive.

A maintenance team’s approach should be balanced: retaining manual, route-based measurements and monitoring with handheld devices, while adding online monitoring through sensors and software. Around-the-clock  monitoring is especially for the most critical assets.

Additionally, not all handheld tools have adequate sensor counterparts. As sensor technology continues to evolve, technicians can still rely on known and trusted handheld tools.

Luckily, handheld devices are increasingly becoming internet-enabled. These types of condition monitoring tools allow technicians in the field to send measurements back to the same software used with automated condition monitoring sensors.

Only by combining sensors and handheld devices can teams analyze the full breadth of data to determine performance trends and predict asset health. These two practices complement each other, rather than replacing each other. Using them together is the best strategy for lowering maintenance costs and extending asset life.

Are you trending? Do you predict or react?

While the sweet spot for predictive maintenance (PdM) lies in combining online and route-based strategies, the data sits there until experts analyze and trend the data over time. Trending data is the best way to detect recurring abnormalities that indicate an impending fault.

For example, data from continuous vibration monitoring provides an early indication of bearing, seal, or coupling wear and tear. Experts trending the data can pinpoint the problem with plenty of time to order replacement parts and schedule downtime to occur when it doesn’t impact operations.

Teams leveraging emerging technologies, such as Maintenance 4.0 or the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT),  effectively “listen” to what assets are saying through the data that is gathered, trended, and analyzed. Maintenance activities become more agile and less costly. And operations can reliably deliver on time — whether they’re at sea, on shore, or rolling off a production line.

Maintenance man in a manufacturing facility using the VIBSCANNER vibration measurement tool on an asset.

Saving costs and a harbor crane’s life

A Fluke Reliability client used harbor cranes to load and unload cargo from container ships. One crane was having recurring issues with the gearbox. The maintenance team detected a prematurely worn out gear, but the problem persisted even after replacing the component and reinforcing the gearbox for heavy loads.

Using an online condition monitoring system, a technician discovered the problem’s root cause in the amount of particulate in the lubricating oil. During colder temperatures, the internal operating temperature dropped below 17°C (63°F), increasing vibration and accelerating wear on the gear. It was only through the utilization of an always-on, online condition monitoring system that experts found the root cause.

The client saw a near-immediate return on investment into the condition monitoring system, as the crane returned to operation quickly, had fewer oil-related breakdowns, and had higher reliability. Cargo flowed on and off the ships once again.

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