The Art of Motor Maintenance

Electric motors are critical to plant operations.  They’re key workhorses for industrial production. Motors to run pumps. Motors to supply electricity. Motors to manufacture whatever widget needs to be produced. And, in a perfect world, every motor runs smoothly, easily, efficiently. But the world isn’t perfect. Things go wrong. Motors break down. In fact, statistics indicate that industrial motors fail, on average, at the rate of about 7% per year and stop working completely every 14 years. Sounds good, I suppose… except when you’re in the middle of a critical production run for a backlogged product. “Lost production” can translate to “lost revenue.” When your motor isn’t running, your line is down. And when your line is down, you’re facing a high cost to fix that motor or even higher cost to replace it. Fixing motors is no easy chore either as the equipment can be in a remote location or simply difficult (and possibly dangerous) to reach.

 

A key to efficient operations is staying ahead of the curve by proactively maintaining motors and other machinery to ensure that your plant operates at peak performance. However, there are a number of approaches that can be taken with respect to maintenance.

 

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

It’s probably not your best approach.  But it happens.  Your lines are humming along smoothly. You haven’t had time to inspect the equipment, but why should you? Everything is running great…. Until it isn’t. Your motor is blown and now you need to ramp up production but can only do so much with your other lines.  Everything backs up until you can get that motor repaired. This is about the time you think, “Why didn’t I take the time to inspect my motors?”

 

“Run it ‘till it stops.” 

You know you’ll have to replace the motor once it fails, but until then it’s full throttle ahead. But repairing on the spot may not be a simple task. To prepare, you might even keep a backup motor in stock for replacement purposes. This means capital outlays before it’s needed and non-utilized equipment while in storage. And, when that backup equipment is finally needed, you may find out it’s outdated and less efficient than newer equipment on the market. If the motor is easily replaced, perhaps you can wait and order when the current motor fails. But this is the game of ‘maintenance roulette’ you play.

 

“Check things out periodically.”

You have a maintenance staff. One of their responsibilities is to check on equipment as part of their job duties. Preventative maintenance schedules are developed and equipment is checked based on timetables. It could be once a week, but it could also be once a month. The challenge with this approach is that other priorities can get in the way. The motor doesn’t get checked because a higher priority issue unexpectedly occurs. Suddenly once a week becomes once every 2 weeks or 2 months. And, in the interim, things can happen… and they’re not all good. However, preventative maintenance can be too aggressive, too. Inspections occur too early and parts that are working fine may be replaced while still in serviceable condition, adding to unnecessary cost in parts and labor.

 

“Smart Monitoring.” 

A more proactive approach is to maintain continual visibility into the performance of your motors. This involves real-time monitoring of key metrics like vibration levels and machine temperatures. To do this requires condition-based maintenance where irregularities like vibration, noise, drag, and temperature allow you to take action. This type of monitoring is improved by leveraging IoT to wirelessly connect your equipment together for a holistic view of operational performance. The installation of smart, connected wireless sensors allows you to actively monitor pre-determined threshold levels and even receive alerts when readings deviate from the normal range that you’ve set. You receive an email or text alert which allows you to immediately take action to fix the problem before more serious damage occurs or something more catastrophic happens. This approach can minimize disruption to your operations, perhaps even by advanced planning for scheduled downtime repairs. For total integration, your data can also be pulled into your SCADA system to provide a single-source view for your key operational metrics.

 

 

Sensor-driven data collection allows for better decision-making when it comes to equipment repair and replacement. This approach offers the type of precision and timeliness that can’t easily be replicated through other methods that are plagued by human error, oversight, or even overwork. A motor that slowly deteriorates may not be caught by human inspection. But smart sensors can detect even the slightest increase in temperature or increased motor vibration due to faulty bearings or other mechanical issues. Operations managers can view the progressive changes by simply monitoring graphs that plot metrics over time. This enables proactive decision-making. Faster decision-making. Budget-responsible decision-making. Smart decision-making.

 

*****

 

If you want to learn more about the SmartHAWK® line of wireless industrial sensors from TDG Technologies, products and other information can be found at www.tdgtechnologies.com.  TDG Technologies can also be reached by calling (760) 466-1040.

 

 

Randy Zanassi