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Maintain plant during tough times

Neil Britz, sales and marketing director at AESPUMP. Neil Britz, sales and marketing director at AESPUMP.

When money is tight, vehicle owners still usually continue with scheduled services, knowing that to skip them and drive a car until it breaks down will cost more in repair bills than they would have spent on the services.

The same logic should apply to process plant, yet there are plant managers who skimp on maintenance, waiting for more favourable economic conditions and hoping that the machine will keep going until then.

Neil Britz, sales and marketing director at specialist pump company AESPUMP, believes that more should be done to persuade management to treat process plant as they would their own motor vehicles.

 “It’s important for plant owners to realise that if they don’t invest in machine maintenance and condition monitoring, then they should prepare for expensive machine failures and even more expensive plant downtime,” says Britz.

Even before the economic downturn began, AESPUMP had begun to phase in a programme of working closely with its customers to help minimise maintenance costs on the Sundyne pumps and compressors that this company supplies. The programme has been accelerated in recent months.

With each customer, the first part of the process is to check that the machine is being operated correctly: how it is being started and stopped and how valves are being opened and closed. Next, an assessment is made of the operators’ knowledge of machine capabilities, limitations, operating parameters, best efficiency points, design flows and design discharge pressures.

“This is because the probability of a machine failure obviously increases if the pump is being operated outside its parameters,” Britz explained.

Simple changes such as raising the level of liquid in a suction tank to ensure positive pressure into the pump will often eliminate cavitation that the operator knew was present, but did not know how to prevent. Cavitation is a major cause of bearing and sealing failures in pumps, because of the vibration that it causes.

“We find that we can achieve a longer MTBF (Mean Time Between Failures) by ensuring the correct operation of installed equipment, saving the customer hundreds of thousands of rands,” said Britz.

AESPUMP also has a focus on preventative maintenance.

“We ask how long the machine will be allowed to operate before switching over to a standby unit, if there is one, and we check on things such as whether gearbox oil changes are being made regularly,” Britz continued.

He said that one preventative maintenance measure widely carried out without prompting is that of vibration monitoring, indicating that most plant operators are well aware that excessive vibration in a machine running at high speed can damage it within two days, necessitating repairs and causing expensive downtime.

Of course, the counter argument to AESPUMP’s presentation is that to run the pump until it fails, and then replace it, will cost less than would maintenance and condition monitoring because of the very high potential costs of loss production in cases where there is no standby machine to permit maintenance.

Not so, says Britz, because in such cases condition monitoring becomes more than important – it becomes essential – and continuous, real time condition monitoring should replace periodic checks, with the necessary instrumentation installed and connected to the control room to ensure maximum machine uptime.

“AESPUMP offers all the necessary instrumentation, either fitted to the machine at the time of its manufacture in the factory in France, or as a retrofit here in South Africa,” noted Britz.

Although most of AESPUMP’s customers have condition monitoring teams as part of their reliability departments, many of them admit to grey areas. For example, monitoring the level in a suction tank does not guarantee that liquid is actually entering the pump, because liquid flow may be impeded by strainers, pipe bends or blocked valves.

“In one installation that we examined, we found that even when a brand new pump was installed together with an even deeper suction tank, the flow medium was still not able to reach the pump in the correct volumes. The cause was a blocked pipe.”

Britz says that by helping customers to focus on keeping existing equipment running, AESPUMP aims to build relationships that will stand the company in good stead into the future.

The company is also using this interface time with customers to explain the dangers of using pirate parts on Sundyne equipment.

“While we understand that customers are being forced to look at alternative, cheaper spare parts, the use of non-OEM parts can complicate repair work when it becomes necessary.

“And that usually happens when the customer stops using pirate parts because of premature failure, and makes the decision to revert to Sundyne spares designed for these very high quality, very high speed turbine machines.

“The result is that he spends more money on spares than he would have done had he remained with Sundyne parts in the first place,” Britz concluded. 

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