Condition Monitoring November Reliability

Condition-Monitoring: 10 Common Management Mistakes

EP Editorial Staff | November 13, 2013


Management’s decisions are major factors in the success of most efforts around a facility, including the ensuring of equipment health and uptime. The wrong ones can erect obstacles. How does your management team stack up?

By Trent Phillips, LUDECA, Inc.

Management is responsible for ensuring that a facility performs in line with certain safety, operational, maintenance, environmental, competitive and financial goals. Even on a good day, this can be daunting task. Every cost-effective resource available should be leveraged to achieve those goals. Condition monitoring (CM) is one such resource.

Management teams have, unfortunately, been known to make some mistakes when attempting to implement successful condition-monitoring programs. Understanding those mistakes is key to a site capturing the returns that it seeks from its CM efforts. Thus, it’s important to beware of the following situations.

Mistake #1: Failure to plan and execute correctly 

Proper planning is critical for any aspect of business. What is not well planned cannot be well implemented. This holds true for the implementation of a CM program or related technology—for which a detailed, accurate, concise plan should be completed and executed. At a minimum, the plan should address:

  • Funding requirements
  • CM technology selection
  • Seeking advice from internal and external resources
  • Training requirements
  • IT requirements
  • A detailed list of what equipment will be monitored
  • A criticality assessment of the equipment to be monitored
  • Database implementation
  • Linking to other business critical applications (CMMS, etc)
  • Standards

Mistake #2: 
Failure to support adequate training

One of the biggest mistakes in implementing CM is not allocating enough time or resources for training (i.e., increasing the skills, capabilities and knowledge of employees). Training should be a continuous process. If done correctly—and continually—employee morale improves, less supervision is required, fewer mistakes are made, productivity increases and quality improves. Yet, training is usually one of the first things cut when budgets are tightened. 

While management will typically fund the implementation or updating of a technology, it frequently won’t provide necessary funding and resources to train employees in the technology’s use and interpretation of results. Training should always be included in funding for CM technology—and provided for on a continuing basis. Lack of training is one of the primary reasons for CM-program failures. There are two main categories of CM training. Both are equally important to the success of a condition-monitoring program:

1. Technology Training covers how to use the hardware and software that collects and presents the data to be analyzed. Don’t assume that because personnel may have been using a similar CM technology that training isn’t required for a new one. Different methodologies can be applied to the same basic CM technology—and different vendors may implement the same technology differently. It is critical that your employees understand how to use the specific technology they are required to apply. Otherwise, they will not be able to utilize the technology in the ways that will provide the best results.

2. Analytical Training helps employees fully understand what specific data provided by the technology is of value and how to interpret it. The technology could provide crucial information that provides little value, because no one understands how to interpret it and draw meaningful conclusions.

Clear training and technology certification criteria should be established for your enterprise, facilities and employees. This will ensure that your employees are trained to standards that will provide the optimal results from the CM technologies being utilized and help you determine what funding is required for training efforts.

Mistake #3: Failure to use technology appropriately

Having the “right tool for the job” is especially relevant when it comes to CM efforts. Selecting a “low-tech” or “lowest-priced” device often generates limited or no value in return. Such devices may not provide the capabilities to properly identify equipment defects, manage results and identify opportunities for continual improvements. Nor will they necessarily provide root cause analysis capabilities.

Don’t become over-dependent upon a single CM technology. While it’s important to identify the failures that occur in your equipment, it’s also important to identify the CM technology best suited for the identification of those failures. A good condition-monitoring program will utilize a combination of technologies to correctly detect, diagnose, confirm and report equipment issues.

Mistake #4: Failure to commit to full-time CM personnel

Many condition-monitoring programs fail because management won’t allow CM employees to work with those technologies full time. CM employees are often seen as extra maintenance resources that can be utilized to perform equipment-repair and/or other duties. Understanding the underlying principles of advanced CM technologies and how to use these tools and software isn’t something that employees can be expected to do successfully on part-time basis. Since most employees can’t do two jobs well at the same time, they will focus on the one they think management feels is most important. This way of thinking contributes to the reactive work style that CM technology is supposed to avoid.

The best CM programs are managed in a way that truly understands the values of condition-monitoring efforts within the facility or enterprise. In such programs, management allows CM employees to focus on their technologies (crafts) full time. This type of approach always generates the best return on investment with such technologies.

Mistake #5: Failure to create widespread awareness

CM analysts and reliability engineers typically understand the practices and technologies they utilize on a daily basis. Repair and operations employees and supervisors may not always understand CM practices and technologies. Moreover, they may not be accustomed to seeing their co-workers walking around the facility with strange devices or spending hours focused on computer screens reviewing odd-looking information. That can cause distractions.

“Level of Awareness” training will ensure that all plant personnel have a basic understanding of the capabilities and limitations of various CM technologies used at their facility. This type of training doesn’t require a lot of time or expense to complete, but in the long run, it can be crucial to the overall success of a plant’s CM efforts.

Mistake #6: Failure to effectively integrate data

Data integration is important because it allows information to be disseminated to those needing it most. This means that operations and maintenance can automatically be advised of equipment issues and possible solutions generated from the results of condition-monitoring efforts. 

CM-related information should be an integral part of the planning and scheduling process. It allows a facility’s reliability efforts to take a holistic approach. Data from different CM technologies, along with process data, can be assimilated to provide greater analytical results than a single technology is capable of delivering.

Mistake #7: Failure to create standards

Many facilities—especially corporate entities—don’t understand how critical standards are to the overall success of reliability and condition monitoring efforts. Standards should be determined for the technology selection, including how it is applied, how results are analyzed and how reports are generated. A lack of clear standards leads to random efforts from everyone involved and disappointing results in response to those efforts. If an employee is free to act on his/her own behalf, the results may not be in the best interest of the facility or enterprise.

Another reason for creating standards in your CM program is based on the fact that similar technologies can be purchased from different vendors. This, in turn, leads to different implementation requirements, a lack of specificity in required capabilities, different training requirements, integration difficulties, inability to drive continual improvements and other negative consequences.

Continual improvement is a major goal of reliability and CM-based programs. These types of efforts, though, can’t continually improve if the application of technologies, analysis of data and reporting of results are random and not based upon the overall goals of the facility and/or enterprise. Standards will help drive continuous improvements.

Don’t, however, let your standards become obsolete. Implement a process that periodically updates your standards based upon current technologies, revisions/updates to technologies you already have and criteria used to analyze the results provided by your CM technologies (alarms, benchmarks, etc.)

Mistake #8: Failure to create sufficient collection schedules

Failure to collect data frequently enough will lead to unforeseen equipment failures—which, in turn, will lead to the perception that the CM technology or the individual(s) using it failed. In reality, the equipment failures could be the result of the actions (or inaction) taken by management. The fact is, management will often rely on wrong reasons to determine the desired data collection interval for the CM technology. Most of the time, this interval is based upon an arbitrary number or based upon the amount of time management believes can be spared to collect the required data. 

Data-collection intervals should be determined by the failure rate of specific equipment faults that the CM technology is capable of detecting. Note that the interval can vary depending upon the machine, its type(s) of failures and their timeframes. The results should be reported to maintenance and operations as soon as they are detected and diagnosed by the CM Analyst. This allows the most time possible for scheduling and planning the required corrective actions.

Mistake #9: Failure to be proactive

Don’t use condition monitoring as a reactive tool: Let it be a proactive part of your reliability program. Reactive condition monitoring, however, is one of the most common traps a facility or enterprise can fall into.

Although condition monitoring is a key ingredient of a proactive-management process, just having a CM program does not make a facility proactive and reliable. A process of early problem detection and defect elimination leads to improved reliability.

Conversely, a culture that supports repeated requests for monitoring of equipment to obtain every last minute of operation, or one where the results of the CM technology are simply ignored signify a reactive process. The CM resources that could help bring about more reliable operation are instead being misused to foster a reactive philosophy. In this type of plant, CM employees are expected to rush out and check why a machine is squealing (each time it squeals) or, perhaps, determine why a similar machine failed the night before. The answers may point to management not ensuring that the results of its CM efforts are being followed up on properly, or that the CM employees aren’t allowed adequate time to routinely monitor and provide analysis results. 

A properly implemented CM group would already have monitored the squealing machine and identified why it sounds strange, or identified the potential failure condition before it forced unscheduled equipment downtime. In a well-managed, proactive reliability environment, sufficient time would have been allotted to take corrective action before the machined forced a reactive action.

Mistake #10: Failure to properly apply CM technologies

Not every CM technology should be applied to every type of machine in your facility. Certain technologies are better for certain types of machines and the fault conditions they experience. It imperative to understand the equipment in your plant, the failure conditions experienced on your equipment and how a specific CM technology can best be applied for identification of those assorted conditions.

It also is imperative to apply Reliability-Centered Maintenance (RCM) principles to determine how best to utilize your CM resources. Condition monitoring is not the only effective equipment-management tool. When properly applied, preventive maintenance (PM) time-based care and run-to-failure approaches are also valid. CM resources are not free. Don’t spend them on equipment that can be managed more cost effectively in another way.

Don’t simply predict failures
CM technologies, if properly applied, can identify most equipment issues and provide enough advance warning for correction before a costly impact is experienced. This provides a great return on investment. You should not limit your actions to the simple routine of problem identification and corrective action. Falling into this routine will likely result in the need to identify and correct the same equipment issues over and over.

Make sure that the CM technologies at your site are advanced enough to help you determine the true causes of the equipment problems you are identifying and correcting. This will result in fewer repairs, lower maintenance expenses, reduced spare-parts inventory, etc. In other words, think of your CM technologies as a tool to help eliminate equipment failures and downtime.

Monitor the results
Too many companies spend good money for little or no result from the condition monitoring and reliability efforts in their facilities. The most common reason for this is that CM results are not being acted upon (i.e., CM-based work orders aren’t completed in a timely manner, etc.)

It’s crucial to monitor how much work (via work orders, etc.) is generated as a result of the condition-monitoring and reliability efforts in your plant. Tracking how much of this work is being completed, how long it takes, etc. is just as important.

Remember to monitor the results of your efforts. That’s the only way to identify why your CM and reliability programs may not be producing the results you expect.

Conduct follow-up and acceptance inspections
Once a repair has been completed, the equipment should be quickly inspected (monitored) by the appropriate CM technology. This will verify that the repair was completed correctly; that no other fault conditions were introduced as a result of the repair; and that the equipment is in a healthy condition and ready for operation.

Whenever possible, hold your suppliers accountable by doing acceptance inspections on equipment. Once you accept the equipment, any unknown problems usually become your responsibility to resolve—better to discover them in advance! Use CM technologies to make certain that the equipment, lubricants and other materials provided by your suppliers are free of defects before you accept responsibility.

Document, document, document
Don’t forget to document the successes of your CM and reliability efforts as a justification for the expenditures made on them. Also remember that it’s just as important to document the failures. You may be surprised at the cost of doing nothing—which could easily exceed the cost of doing something.

Finally, be sure to document equipment failures you could have identified if an additional CM technology had been available or additional training provided. Not providing funding for a particular CM technology or training may be costing your facility plenty. (This process will help you identify which CM technologies and training to implement next to achieve your goals and further reduce cost.)

Thoughts on management support and style
Regardless of their respective management styles, good managers know they can’t do the work of each employee in their facility, or do the work as well as those they manage. Instead, they work to remove the obstacles their personnel face so that each employee is free to do the best job he/she can do—and is encouraged to do.

Obstacles can include a lack of training, inadequate tools and/or not enough time to complete the work, an inability to properly deal with results and more. Any one of these reasons—or a combination of them—could explain why condition-monitoring and reliability efforts might have failed in a facility. It is the responsibility of management to identify and remove these obstacles so that employees can focus on the condition-monitoring activities and improve reliability as they were hired to do. MT

Trent Phillips is the Condition Monitoring Manager of LUDECA, Inc. Telephone: (305) 591-8935; or email:




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