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Production line safeguards

The machines that automate production lines and shipping are absolutely vital to keeping store shelves stocked and products reaching the end consumer. If the equipment & machines aren’t operating, the supply chain will feel it almost immediately.

Yet, all too often, phrases like “unexpected downtime” and “emergency breakdown” are heard in the manufacturing industry, which is why maintenance professionals are constantly under pressure to reduce unexpected machine downtime.

The most efficient and cost-effective way to prevent breakdowns is to implement methods for catching early machine deterioration signs and staying a step ahead of costly failures.

Here are 4 methods you can apply to notice those signs before it's too late.

1) Implement Condition Monitoring Technology

Condition monitoring technology comes in the form of:

  • condition monitoring sensors you install directly on your machines (like vibration and acceleration sensors)

  • a wide variety of condition monitoring techniques that include things like lubricant and oil analysis

  • handheld condition monitoring equipment that can be used to measure things like electrical resistance and temperature.

They are in place to detect things like roller bearing wear, gearbox wear, shaft misalignments, and other conditions that will hasten the breakdown of equipment. The condition monitoring sensors record the information, then send it to the cloud, or to a local database, so the information can be analyzed and used to catch early machine deterioration signs and schedule preventive maintenance before equipment starts to malfunction.

Different condition monitoring techniques will help you notice deterioration signs earlier than others, as presented in the image below.

That being said, it is important to note that not all of them can be used on all machines and some are more expensive to implement than others. Here’s a complete list of condition monitoring techniques for those who want to learn more.

2) Implement Autonomous Maintenance

Autonomous maintenance is the first step in the process of implementing total productive maintenance. To put it simply, the machine operators assume the responsibility for basic machine maintenance tasks. These tasks may include safety checks, cleaning the machine, lubing the machine, or other daily routine maintenance of the machine. This frees up maintenance personnel to focus on more challenging maintenance tasks.

While implementing autonomous maintenance, you can train machine operators to check for and report typical deterioration signs (see below). As a matter of fact, this will usually be a part of their machine inspection efforts and is unlikely to require a lot of additional training.  

3) Monitor Asset Speed and Performance

When a production machine is no longer performing to the manufacturer's spec, there will be several warning signs presented and often early on in the breakdown. A product that is off spec can be a sign that the machine is no longer inside the manufacturer's specifications. In addition, the rate of production will begin to be affected, and the output per production run will reflect the machine performance.

Without any other machine monitoring taking place, it can many times be a clue to the health of the machine if the output is drastically decreased. Also, if a production run could be completed in 8 hours last month, yet it takes a full 12-hour shift today, this is a major sign that the machine has some underlying problems that need to be addressed.

4) Watch Out for Typical Signs During Preventative Maintenance

When a machine is starting to fail, it will usually follow a typical end of life pattern. It will often run through the lube very quickly. O rings and other disposable components will need to be swapped out much more frequently than they were before.

In addition, it often seems as though the minor transitions that come along with line and product swaps can take twice as long to fine-tune, and start-up time can be doubled because of all of the manual adjustments that have to be made to the machine. These are the typical signs that let you know the preventative maintenance on the machine is only going to hold off failure for a certain period of time, and then a complete rebuild or replacement is going to be mandated. 

While performing preventative maintenance tasks, approaching machine failure can often be indicated by conditions such as gearboxes that are empty of oil, pumps that are operating at a much lower rate than they were designed and installed to do, and electric motors being burned out at a much higher rate.

Blown seals and worn bearings, pumps, and motors are all considered to be replaceable components of the machine. It is an element of preventative maintenance to test and replace these parts regularly. However, when the machine starts to burn through these components at two or three times the normal rate, these are all signs that the machine is nearing the end of its lifecycle. This is the time to gather your rebuild parts and schedule the man-hours to completely overhaul the machine.

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