Therefore, a number of companies and engineering societies have been offering short courses on machinery operation, maintenance and troubleshooting, and associated technologies. My company, for example, has offerings in vibration analysis, rotordynamics, condition monitoring, predictive maintenance and turbomachinery O&M. The American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) offers an excellent course in predictive maintenance.
Other key engineering societies focus on vibration, oil monitoring and thermography, or cover selection and O&M of components such as bearings or seals, or of equipment such as pumps and turbines.
Sometimes the courses offered by companies have a secondary motive of selling the particular company's instrumentation, for example, or its particular brand of pump or compressor. This motive does not mean the course is not valuable, just that its presentation is likely to be slanted toward the goals of the company presenting the course.
Such courses have the benefit of being very specifically oriented toward that company's product; if that product permeates your plant, or if your management has decided to standardize on that product or "partner" with that company, such a highly focused course could be exactly what is needed.
Typically, however, this is not the case. The plant instead wants and needs an unbiased view of a broad range of products, as well as instructions about how to operate and maintain them.
In these cases, the short course is best provided by either a consulting company that regularly works with the equipment it is speaking about, or by an engineering society. In the latter case, the courses typically are staffed by lecturers who individually "have an axe to grind," but balance is achieved through the use of several lecturers from competing and complementary organizations.
The engineering societies also try to ensure the material offered under their auspices is sanitized from commercialism and that all major viewpoints are presented. Sometimes they succeed in this, and sometimes they do not. Sometimes courses are sanitized to the point where they lose a lot of their relevance. Specific trade names might be forbidden, and highly specific discussions on the particular products likely to be used in the plants might be disallowed.
Various engineering societies recently have instituted certification programs ," in essence "mini-diplomas" to provide public evidence that the person receiving the certification is highly qualified to practice in a given field or to use a certain type of equipment or analysis procedure. In the context of rotating machinery, good examples of this are the Vibration Institute and the Society of Tribologists and Lubrication Engineers (STLE). STLE's Seals Technical Committee (STC) recently introduced its Seals Certificate test, likely to be approved as a full certification program within the next year.
These organizations offer short courses that are meant to provide supplemental background in addition to experience or other education the engineer or crafts person has had. These societies, as well as others offering certification, generally encourage those about to take the certification test to attend courses outside of their offerings as well.
In support of its Seals Certificate test, STC has published educational aids in the form of a series of "STLE STC Guidelines," which give clear advice and guidance, backed by STLE's name. This is true in regard to seal selection and application in several tough applications such as valves, pumps and compressors. In spite of the best efforts of some outstanding companies and their engineering staffs over the last century, seals in these three applications are still a "work-in-progress" in the sense that they compete with bearings for being the primary maintenance issue in plant fluid systems. Related issues result in the loss of billions of dollars a year in production time and repair costs.
In my own experience, most of these issues are not the result of some inherent design deficiency in the seal or inadequate workmanship by the seal manufacturer. Instead, unexpected or chronic failures occur because the seal was not installed properly, or more likely is being accidentally misapplied, often in a subtle manner. The misapplication often involves such issues as temperature transients, unusually high vibration at certain machine operating conditions, abrasive substances in the sealed fluid or ," the greatest of mortal sins ," allowing a sealed liquid to occasionally "flash" (boil) because of inadequate control of the sealed machine's operation or the temperature and pressure of the seal injection fluid.
Because of the importance of sealing valves, pumps and compressors, a general guideline was prepared by STLE STC combining key information from all three applications. This guideline is nearly complete and will be known as the "Process Safety Management" guideline. The information in this guideline will help today's overworked and understaffed O&M groups to better meet OSHA CFR 1910 safety and EPA emission requirements. It will do this by laying out the basics and caveats of seal application and care, in a brief and understandable way. However, when trying to write succinctly about a topic as complex as mechanical seals and packing, the authors likely are to leave more "between the lines" than they actually write in the lines themselves. Short courses allow the presentation and discussion of case histories, as well as the give and take of question-and-answer periods during lectures and presentations.
The availability of short courses to satisfy your plant or personal professional needs is advertised by fliers in the mail or in engineering magazines, many of which provide an "upcoming course calendar" page. However, with the widespread use of the Internet by course offerors, a topic search with the word "course" in it will provide a wide variety of excellent up-to-date selections.
The sidebar lists some Web sites that list relevant engineering society and association courses. In addition, many pump and other rotating equipment providers detail their own offerings on their individual Web sites.
For today's successful machinery professional, the educational process should never end. Fortunately, the process does not mean endless term papers and homework. Instead, you can keep abreast of the rapid and never-ending progress in relevant technical fields by pursuing continuing education in the form of targeted short courses. These courses can be at an engineering society meeting, at the course-giver's home location or on-site at your plant.
These courses offer very advanced and detailed material. The material typically is not thrown at you, forcing you to "sink or swim." If course-givers took such an approach, they would quickly go out of business. Casting such material in a practical and fun-to-learn form does not mean the meat of the subject has to be sacrificed. Quite to the contrary. The meat is there in a form that is easily digested and ," if the course-giver is competent ," is pretty tasty in the process.
Marscher is technical director of the rotating machinery analysis, test and troubleshooting company Mechanical Solutions Inc. (MSI), Parsippany, N.J. He also is chair of the ASME Predictive Maintenance Committee and of the STLE Seals Technical Committee. Contact him at wdm@MechSol.com.