Reliability Advancements over a Generation

The editors of Maintenance Technology magazine asked me to write a column on technology advancements to improve reliability for process manufacturers and producers. I was excited to be asked and given the opportunity to share some thoughts!

The article, Viewpoint: Reliability Advancements Over a Generation, highlights some of these advancements. I’ll quote a few thoughts here and invite you to read the full article.

On the measurement of vibration:

Triaxial accelerometers can now measure vibration in the x, y and z axes from a single-mount location. Installation has become much easier with the wireless vibration transmitters now available. (That capability alone would have opened up many more pieces of rotating equipment to continuous monitoring had we been able to leverage it “back in the day.”)

On the diagnostics to interpret this vibration input:

Some specialized diagnostics are available to spot pitting in bearings to provide early warning of failures. Advanced notification means maintenance activities can be planned instead of reacted to… Other advanced diagnostics help spot resonant frequencies, misalignments, machinery impacts and lubrication issues, to name a few.

On the people component of reliability management programs:

Remote communications access is important to bridge the time and distance between plants and experts. These experts may work for the process manufacturer, the reliability technologies and services provider or be independent contractors. Condition-monitoring equipment and portable analyzers, though, have become so sophisticated that they can provide information from remote points to experts wherever they are located. Many companies are developing integrated strategies to connect experts to all of their plant sites, thus providing continuous expertise around the clock. Through early detection, analysis, recommendations and action, unscheduled downtime can be greatly reduced.

On managing the cybersecurity aspects of remote access:

The same set of best practices around control and instrumentation system security need to be applied to reliability-based systems. Much like a safety program, the process starts with having a security program in place. Also needed are a champion and high-level support to get the organization engaged in the importance of following secure practices and continuously finding ways to mitigate security risks.

My conclusion:

Changes in technology over a generation have been far-reaching in the areas of reliability and safe operations. They’ve also highlighted the need for specialization and the ability to connect experts to plant personnel in the quest to reduce unplanned downtime and increase the overall efficiency of manufacturing processes. Looking forward, I see continued expertise being added into the technologies to provide a clearer, more actionable recommendation set for operations staff to improve the performance of their facilities.

I hope you’ll give the article a read and share your thoughts on what’s changed and changes to come in the comments below. You can also connect and interact with other reliability professionals in the Reliability & Maintenance group in the Emerson Exchange 365 community.

Posted Thursday, November 6th, 2014 under Asset Optimization, Reliability.


  1. Jonas Berge says:

    I dislike those page flip magazine skeumorphism plug-ins. I read more on the web than hard copy so the mouse wheel is easier and more intuitive to me. For those likeminded, here’s the HTML version of the article:

    Anyway, your title “over a Generation” made me think the of the car analogy which is often made with respect to reliability, ease of maintenance, energy efficiency, the environment, and safety. My parent’s car had four sensors in it: speed, temperature, fuel, and oil pressure indicator. A modern car has maybe 60-100 sensors in it depending on which model you have. These sensors are networked throughout the car (CAN bus) and wireless (for tire pressure sensors). The additional sensors are there to keep the car more reliable, make it more fuel efficient, environmentally friendly, and safer. This is exactly what we also want to do with Pervasive Sensing™. By deploying thousands of additional sensors we want to make plants more reliable, more energy efficient, environmentally friendly, and a safer place to work. Let me take the analogy one step further; the sensors bring only basic information to the driver (the operator) required for safe driving, no needless detail. However, the on-board diagnostics (OBD-II) computer interface provides detail diagnostics for the mechanic (maintenance). So it is really two interface systems: for driver and mechanic (operations and maintenance).

    So, by deploying a plant-wide WirelessHART infrastructure throughout every plant unit, plants can deploy thousands of sensors to monitor the health of pumps, blowers, air cooled heat exchangers, any compressor not yet monitored, cooling towers, and valves, as well as to monitor pipe & vessel corrosion. Field inspection with vibration, temperature, and acoustic tester can be eliminated. This information goes not go to (does not interrupt) the operators but to the reliability and maintenance engineers.

    The same wireless infrastructure is also shared by sensors watching for steam trap failure, heat exchanger fouling, relief valve seat leakage, for unit-wise energy consumption metering: water, air (compressed), gas/fuel, electricity, and steam [W.A.G.E.S], as well as for cooling tower fan optimization. This information also does not go to the operators, but to those responsible for energy efficiency and loss prevention.

    Yet other sensors on the same wireless infrastructure monitors safety shower and eyewash station activation, provides manual and bypass valve position feedback, relief valve and rupture disk release, as well as shutdown valve position confirmation. Some of which actually goes to the operators.

    Lastly, there are sensors on the wireless network that primarily benefits the operators. This includes elimination of field operator rounds to read gauges, sight glasses, and VA meters etc. as well as for monitoring of all aspects on tank farm storage tanks

    Indeed users have experimented with thousands of ad-hoc applications over the past several years, but now, as they are familiar with the wireless technology, plants are deploying more structured plant-wide WirelessHART networks that benefits all departments in the plant, not just some.

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