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Vibration is all around us. We can feel it and we can hear it. Some vibrations we find pleasant, such as music that we like to listen to, and some vibrations we find unpleasant such as scratching fingernails across the chalkboard. Humans also can predict when something is about to fail or determine when something needs our attention based on the vibrations we can feel or hear in our surroundings. An example almost anyone can relate to is when you are driving or riding in a car and the tires are out of balance or are damaged. In addition to the audible noise, you can feel the vibration through the steering wheel and the chassis of the car. Frequency and amplitude of the vibration typically increase as you speed up, and often amplify your worry as well. This can push you to find the cause of the vibration and fix it.

This same principle can be used in a manufacturing plant environment, which is what makes monitoring vibration so important. Without it, machines break down and stop, costing you time, and money. We all know that one maintenance guru that has a special gift of being able to determine what is happening with a machine based on its vibration feedback, the one who can place his hand on a machine, or hear the machine speak to him, and determine what is wrong with it.

However, using this institutional knowledge isn’t full-proof and it can introduce additional variables in the mix; sometimes resulting in wasted parts, labor, unplanned machine downtime, loss of production, etc. And as tenured staff retires and is replaced with less experienced staff, it has become even more important to remove the human element from the equation and properly capture the data to determine the root cause of mechanical issues. But how? By equipping machines with a monitoring system, the machine can then continuously monitor itself. And when the variables exceed the preset acceptable thresholds, the machine can act based on predetermined actions set by the OEM manufacturer or the maintenance team.

There are many monitoring systems on the market today that vary in complexity and cost. More complex systems include sensors, cables, data acquisition cards, computers, analysis software, data base, cloud subscription, and paid service contracts to pinpoint exact condition of the equipment or asset that is being monitored. This type of system or service is very costly, and in most cases, it is cost prohibitive to be used on non-critical equipment or assets. However, there are lower cost solutions that may not be able to pinpoint what has failed but can tell you when something wrong with the machine that needs to be examined by the maintenance technician. Such devices can be easily integrated into an existing controls architecture and can provide continuous condition monitoring of the machine or asset. Practice of continuous condition monitoring of machines can save the company valuable time and money by reducing unscheduled machine downtime, eliminating wasted parts and time for unnecessary scheduled maintenance, improving total OEE (Overall Equipment Effectiveness) of the machine, and increasing production. This all leads to increased profits.

Because there are more and more solutions available in the market today, there are few things you need to consider when choosing the right solution for your application:

  • Overall cost of implementation – hardware, software, and any installation costs?
  • Is the solution proprietary? Hardware, software, or communications?
  • Is there an annual service contract(s)? Subscriptions?
  • Does the machine/asset require periodic or continuous monitoring?
  • Quality of data? Do you need to know the exact failure point or is knowing that the machine is operating outside of its specified parameters good enough?
  • Can the system be easily expanded for the future state?
  • Are there any additional features that can aid in analyzing the condition of the machine such as pressure, temperature, humidity?

Knowing what you need and want ahead of time will help you better choose the correct solution for your application without wasting money and time on unnecessary features and functions.