Vendors Should See the Light

April 15, 2008
Maintenance staffs would welcome warning LEDs on equipment

Every weekend, weather permitting, I do a routine check on my car. It’s nothing too detailed or time-consuming, just basically a look at fluid levels and tire pressures with appropriate topping up when necessary. Maybe once each month might suffice, but few people seem to do such routine monitoring even that often. Automakers at least build-in an alarm to protect the engine. If that idiot light on the dashboard that says “check engine” or the like goes on, people know that they have a potential problem that deserves attention.

Tires remain below the line of sight for many people, though. But under-inflation can impact handling, cut tire life and gas mileage, and increase the likelihood of blowouts. Yet, while automakers have been adding all sorts of expensive gadgets to cars, a tire-pressure monitoring and alarm system was considered too costly.

So, the federal government stepped in. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) mandated that automakers install on all 2008 model vehicles (with gross weights under 10,000 lbs.) a system that monitors all four tires and warns when a tire’s pressure falls 25% or more below its recommended level. Motorists see a light when a problem arises.

Plants also can benefit from such idiot lights. After all, many maintenance staffs suffer from reduced staffing and expertise, making it tough to consistently and comprehensively check the health of the multitude of equipment on site. Predictive maintenance systems provide one powerful tool to address this problem, but too often the data aren’t being used as effectively as they might be (see Go beyond condition monitoring). And sometimes useful data, for instance on the condition of units like motors and pumps, are lacking. Advances in wireless technology, such as the new wireless HART protocol, promise to ease access to information now stranded at the device.

However, physical inspection certainly remains an important tool for checking equipment health. Regular walk-arounds by operators or maintenance staff can identify potential problems early. For instance, noise and heat often can provide crucial clues.

Unfortunately, the volume of equipment that should be checked, coupled in some instances with difficult access, make it all too easy to miss what’s happening with some units. Built-in warning lights really could help to pinpoint equipment that needs checking.

For the ubiquitous ANSI centrifugal pump, such help is at hand. IT Goulds has just introduced pumps with LEDs that provide on-board condition monitoring — at no increase in cost, to boot (see Equipment & Services: March). Easy-to-see flashing red LEDs indicate a potential problem with temperature or vibration. Other vendors should see the light — putting idiot lights on equipment is a smart move.

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