Strategies for an Effective Airborne Ultrasound Program

EP Editorial Staff | December 1, 2003

It would be great if every piece of technology ever bought paid immediate dividends. And if every tool or instrument purchased lived up to its initial billing and was implemented full scale to perform the jobs it was purchased for. The reality is that everyone has made a purchase or implemented a plan with good intentions but never realized the full benefits. This happens for a reason: going forward with no strategy.

Integral to maintenance
Airborne ultrasound inspection is an important part of any company’s predictive maintenance practice. Savings in energy costs, downtime reduction, catastrophic failure avoidance, predictive lubrication procedures, improved product quality, improved building safety and efficiency, and increased employee awareness are some of the benefits of a good program. Despite the obvious benefits, too many companies have invested in this technology with poor results. They had a good idea, but they did not have a good plan.

During a plant visit, it is customary for a vendor to be invited out to the plant floor after a brief presentation of the technology to show the customer the equipment in action. It does not take long after the customer handles the equipment to see how easy it is to find a compressed air leak in a noisy plant environment. Perhaps a faulty steam trap is identified. One customer found a serious and dangerous fault in a high voltage switch panel the first time he picked up the equipment.

These immediate findings are impressive, and often enough justification for a purchase. But finding a faulty steam trap or a compressed air leak does not save a company any money or improve the efficiency of the facility. It just identifies a potential problem. A strategy must be in place to repair the problem once it is found, or even assess if the problem is worthy of the cost of repair.

Setting up a program
Assembling a team and identifying the needs of an airborne ultrasound program is an important first step as it serves two ends. First, it will be immediately discovered that the primary reason for initializing a program is only a small portion of the final needs list. And, it is a way to bring pessimists and doubters onboard. If the strategy does not include a way to convince all those opposed to the project, the project stands little chance of succeeding.

An airborne ultrasound program can address a number of issues in a facility:
• The compressed air system is full of leaks and compressors are at full capacity.
• The insurance company wants to see monthly PM on electrical systems.
• Overlubrication in rolling element bearings is causing unnecessary outages.
• The company wants to implement a simple but effective condition monitoring program.
• The vacuum on key processes cannot be held.
• Faulty steam traps are taxing the boiler room.
• Premature pump failures are attributed to cavitation.
• Leaks in building envelope raise HVAC costs in summer and spring.
• The company wants predictive maintenance in the hands of many rather than a few.
• Troubleshooting complex hydraulic systems will reduce overhaul time.
• The company wants to integrate technology to complement its infrared thermography and vibration analysis programs.

Understanding the full scope of ultrasound applications will triple or quadruple the size of the needs list. See the accompanying section “Steps To Set Up an Airborne Ultrasound Program.

Make the case
After the general need for an airborne ultrasound program has been identified and all the key players are onboard, the next step is to refine the needs and justify the reasons to proceed. Bring together all the key players and form a task force or decision team. Carefully examine the needs list point by point, evaluating the relative merits of each item. Capital will be needed to make the project work and in most cases that will mean selling the idea to a higher level of management.

Because the initial list is exhaustive and quite possibly long, it may be overwhelming to upper management. Decide whether it makes sense to present the entire list or to key on one or two hot points to sell the project. If the latter makes more sense, then choose one or two (or three at most) applications and demonstrate how improvements would be justified with an inspection program in place.

One of the easiest methods to justify ultrasound inspection is leak detection in a compressed air system. If 40 percent of compressed air capacity is lost to leaks (the industry norm if no leak program is in place) and that can be cut to 10 percent (the industry target with a leak program in place), compressor energy consumption and wear and tear will decrease by up to 30 percent.

Bearing failures are another means of justification. Can key machines that will shut down production in the event of failure be identified? A $35 bearing can stop a production line as quickly as a $35,000 bearing. Whatever the justification that is presented to management, be sure to make a solid business case and have everyone onboard.

Set goals
Establishing goals for the program shows that the project is well organized, the participants are serious about making it work, and everyone agrees on the direction and scope of the program. Using the same example of compressed air leaks, the goal can be as simple as reducing leakage from 40 to 10 percent. Another objective may be to move one compressor to standby service. How about reducing or eliminating all bearing failures related to improper lubrication?

Wherever the targets are set, they must be realistically attainable, easily benchmarked, and not carved in stone. Goals exist to add purpose to a project. Making the goals too rigid or unattainable can have a negative effect or even kill the program. It is recommended that plateaus be set for each goal and reviewed on a regular basis to ensure the program is on course and that the goals still fit the program. Good and realistic goal setting will aid the next part of the strategy—measuring the return on investment of the ultrasound inspection program.

Return on investment
In the first part of the strategy it was suggested to identify all the reasons why an ultrasound program should be established and then zero in on one or two key reasons and use those for the justification. If it was rationalized that an ultrasound inspection program would save the company money by improving the steam delivery system, a strategy needs to be in place to back up that claim. How will success be measured? Brainstorm as a team and come up with some suggestions. Here are a few examples:

Steam traps
• Identified and replaced 25 faulty steam traps
• Increased quality of steam at process end
• Reduced energy consumption in the boiler room by 15 percent

Air leaks
• Found and tagged 75 compressed air leaks in first month
• Repaired 90 percent of leaks during planned outage.
• Took electrical readings at the compressor and noticed amp reduction of 28 percent for a savings of $35,500.

Purchase equipment, establish training
Before selecting ultrasound equipment, arrange an in-house demonstration and take the instrument to task. Be sure to have a clear understanding of equipment capabilities, and attempt to get out onto the plant floor and try the equipment in real-life situations. The section “Equipment Selection Guidelinesoutlines some features to look for in equipment.

Lack of training is the single biggest killer of airborne ultrasound programs. Users need to be aware of the vastness of applications for airborne ultrasound. “You mean you can scan electrical switchgear with that thing?” or “We bought it to find compressed air leaks and had no idea we could use it for that” are comments heard frequently.

It is proven that certified airborne ultrasound graduates go back to their respective companies more confident and more resolved to get results from their program. Knowledge is gold and without it your program is dead.

Certification training should not be restricted to the operators. Both end users and managers should become certified to at least Level 1. It has been noted that an ultrasound program would be better served if the managers received some instruction and understanding about the technology.

Choose a leader
Leadership qualities often emerge from unlikely candidates. Everyone possesses the characteristics to become a leader, but is not always thrust into a position that allows leadership qualities to come through. Based on experience, companies that have implemented successful and effective airborne ultrasound programs did not have to look for a leader. After the team was assembled and needs were identified, a leader emerged by default.

This person played the largest role in identifying the right equipment to purchase, and excelled during Level 1 training. After the program was implemented, results were benchmarked and successes were rewarded. When there were doubts, the leader provided or found an honest and useful answer.

People can lead when called upon as long as they conduct themselves honestly, have confidence in themselves, can execute with passionate conviction, and, while able to work in a team environment, ultimately are willing to be fully accountable for failures within the program. There will be no shortage of people willing to take credit for the successes.

Reward success
As important as it is to benchmark results to validate the program, it is equally important to validate the efforts of the people making it all work. Rewarding successes can have a motivational effect that will propel the project forward and ensure its survival during lean times.

One agenda for the regular maintenance meeting should be to establish a reward structure that is fair and fun. It does not have to cost a lot of money—or any money at all. It could be as simple as a posted notice on the lunchroom bulletin board or a mention in the monthly company newsletter.

Review to maintain commitment
As part of the regular maintenance meeting, time should be set aside to review the progress of the project. This process should not be difficult. Pull out the written strategy and goal sheet and one by one address each point to ensure everyone is on target.

Are goals being reached or do they need to be revised? Are the goals set too low? If so, revise them with more challenge, and therefore more positive impact for the project. Acknowledge participants who have given more effort than required and open the floor to allow a free flow of knowledge exchange. Use this forum as an opportunity to share new ideas and new uses for the tool.

Document the findings and contact the equipment supplier to write a case study. Getting published in a nationally distributed trade journal can be a satisfying and motivational experience. Publish the review on the company intranet. Frequent review of results will ensure that everyone involved is 100 percent mentally invested in the success of the program.

Airborne and structure-borne ultrasonic inspection provides industry with an efficient solution for all kinds of preventive and predictive maintenance functions. It is considered by some to be the most important reliability tool based on its versatility, low cost, and ease of use. It is a tool that can be used right out of the box with immediate success and payback. A program strategy based on the steps outlined in this article will ensure the success of ultrasonic inspection in virtually any industry. MT

Information supplied by Allan Rienstra, SDT North America, P.O. Box 682, Cobourg, ON K9A 4R5; telephone (800) 667-5325

• Assemble a team and identify needs for a program
• Justify needs by recognizing key areas where improvement can be benchmarked
• Set written goals for the program
• Establish how ROI will be measured
• Purchase quality ultrasonic inspection equipment
• Invest in certification training at both management and user levels
• Choose a leader to technically carry the program forward
• Establish a system to reward the successes
• Frequently review the progress as part of regular meetings
• Ensure everyone involved is 100 percent mentally invested in the program’s success

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• Quality: A first class program needs first class equipment.
• Accuracy: The strategy is dependent upon benchmarking so whatever data is collected needs to be accurate.
• Repeatability: Monitoring the condition of rotating equipment involves trending and comparing data that is repeatable.
• Digital: Choose equipment that uses current technology. If the equipment is not true digital it cannot be used for accurate data trending.
• True RMS: How the signal is measured is as important as how it is stored. Equipment with true RMS capability provides a signal that is linear and stable for accuracy and repeatability.
• Easy to use: Controls should be logical and accessible.
• Upgradeable software: Can the system be enhanced with future upgrades?
• Route capable data collection: This is necessary for benchmarking.
• Multi-functional: Some manufacturers offer sensors with added functionality such as temperature guns, tachometers, noise sensors, and flow meters.
• Warranty: Extended warranties are often available.
• Training: Look for equipment that offers certification training. A 2½ day ASNT approved course is normally sufficient to get users and managers up to speed.

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