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Tackling unplanned downtime

31 October 2022

Sally Sillis explains why condition-based maintenance has become a highly effective way to ensure equipment uptime, while maintaining occupational health and safety and hygiene standards. 

Machine failure is one of the most common sources of lost production in food and beverage processing environments, but also one of the most preventable. The food and beverage production industry has many unique challenges. A typical processing plant comprises an array of complex and highly sensitive equipment in a production line that needs constant monitoring and attention, which is a particular challenge in environments that operate on a 24/7 basis.

Downtime can be highly detrimental and the consequences of interrupted production are enough to give even the most hardened company managers the cold sweats. With competition more intense than ever and margins under unprecedented pressure, disrupted commercial relationships and annoyed customers are to be avoided at all costs.

The costs associated with downtime vary widely depending upon industry and the scale of a business. According to The International Society of Automation (ISA) almost every plant loses at least 5% of its production due to downtime, with some losing up to 20%, and the cost to the global processing industry alone is estimated to be in the region of $20bn.

A study by ServiceMax surveyed 450 companies across the globe and in industries and of the 82% of companies that have experienced unplanned downtime over the past three years, those outages lasted an average of four hours and cost an average of $2m. Unplanned downtime results in loss of customer trust and productivity – 46% couldn’t deliver services to customers, 37% lost production time on a critical asset, and 29% were totally unable to service or support specific equipment or assets.

Downtime is, therefore, far beyond a minor delay for many food and beverage processing plants, which are losing a sizeable number of possible working hours that could otherwise be dedicated to producing goods.

As well as the obvious disruption during periods of downtime, manufacturers lose money through paying salaries to staff who are unable to do their jobs, machines that are sitting idle and product not going out the door and generating revenue. Put simply, for today’s manufacturers minimising downtime is as pivotal as maximising quality and output. 

Keep on running
Product changeovers are one of the main causes of downtime in food and beverage processing, where equipment is temporarily unavailable and a switch made from producing one product to another. They are, to a large extent, a necessary evil, and are usually factored into an overall production schedule. Conversely, unplanned downtime due to machine failure is potentially far more damaging, as stops can occur without notice, can last for an indeterminate length of time and, as a result, create massive back-ups across the production process.

Maintenance teams have a lot to deal with under such conditions, especially since one of their fundamental roles is to keep processes up and running without unplanned downtime. The longer it takes maintenance personnel to respond and repair equipment, the more damaging the interruption. What’s more, systems that are not at full speed create a knock-on effect that can result in missed deadlines.

Basic health and safety
Food and beverage processing machinery is highly susceptible to failure due to a deterioration in performance through wear and tear – when components such as pumps, motors or fans start to fail on a piece of equipment, unplanned ma-chine maintenance is the result. Manufacturers cannot afford to wait until a piece of machinery breaks down completely, leading to contamination, wastage and lost production time – they need to know the condition of their plant at all times.

To compound the issue, in all processing environments occupational health and safety is paramount and there are many access restrictions that can make remedial work difficult. Operating conditions vary considerably depending on what is being produced, ranging from wet, dry and humid to hot and cold and everything in between.

Furthermore, a processing space can become toxic if dirt or a cooling process is disrupted, and careful monitoring must take place to ensure that machine component wear particles and operating fluids do not contaminate any food and drink being produced. If this happens, the costs and impact on profit can be significant, as everything on a production line at that particular time will have to be thrown away.

Improving resilience can reduce downtime, protect quality and safeguard relationships and reputations. In order to improve operational continuity, the food and beverage production industry is currently exploring the advantages offered by the cloud, Industry 4.0 and the industrial internet of things (IIoT). There is growing awareness of how, by adopting IT based solutions, companies can experience greater levels of uptime through enhanced machine reliability.

By using sensors to monitor and assess the performance, quality, efficiency and status of machinery, the data subsequently collected can establish trends, predict failure, assess degradation and calculate remaining life. As a result, maintenance is only carried out when a consistent decrease in performance is identified, creating value through asset optimisation. This is in stark contrast to a planned preventive maintenance strategy, which involves replacing auxiliary equipment on a time-based schedule, rather than doing so when it is actually worn or working inefficiently.

Although this might all sound too good to be true, condition-based monitoring has been proven to save money and re-sources. Yet one barrier to its widespread use has been a perceived high cost of implementation, mainly due to the use of proprietary infrastructure or integration into an IT network infrastructure. That’s all beginning to change though, as cloud- based technology has opened up a new world of possibilities for developing next generation solutions that are both easy to implement and affordable, with quick returns on investment. 
Fitting sensors to motors, fans, pumps and gearboxes makes it possible to detect potential damage, vibration, imbalances, knocking and/or misalignments before they cause serious problems. Being able to see this information on a PC and/or smartphone means that on-site inspection of a machine in extreme and hazardous environments only needs to be done in the event of an alarm, ensuring that possible interruptions are minimised.

This level of granular information also benefits an on-going maintenance programme by factoring in personnel requirements and the procurement of replacement parts, without impeding production. During this process, as well as changing products, qualified personnel can assess the health of equipment, make necessary repairs and carry out routine clean-ing. This is especially important for food and beverage manufacturing, where hygiene is critical for minimising the risk of contamination.

Keep on moving
Lubrication related equipment failure is a problem that plagues industrial facilities, with water, acid and other agents that deteriorate lubricants resulting in corrosion. A survey by Machinery Lubrication revealed that 80 per cent of reliability engineers reported instances of equipment failures from lubrication starvation, so a proactive approach to maintenance is the most effective strategy. 

Condition based monitoring solutions can provide maintenance teams with key information on all networked lubricators, ensuring optimal lubrication of machine components and preventing the formation of wear particles. Effective lubrication can also help protect machines and their rolling bearings from the aggressive cleaning agents used in washdowns, which can lead to downtime. Specialist lubricants are not hazardous to human health, while solid lubricants are available that can’t be washed out of bearings, and products are also available that offer sealing protection for bearings.

Using sensors to measure the status of food and beverage processing equipment while in operation provides actionable and meaningful insight, and this is now recognised as fundamental to the reliable prevention of unplanned downtime. Forward thinking manufacturers can therefore maximise their operational effectiveness thanks to commercially viable condition- based monitoring solutions and innovations, which will help keep things up and running.

Sally Sillis is Technology Centre Manager at Schaeffler.

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