My wife often asks me why I still do consulting work. She wonders why I happily leave the comfort of my office to crawl all over hot, dirty, smelly hydraulic equipment.
For starters, I actually enjoy it. Secondly, it keeps me sharp. But perhaps most importantly, it keeps me in touch with the issues that hydraulic equipment users must grapple with.
One of the lessons I've learned over the years is that in the early stages of a consulting assignment, it is better to ask good questions rather than dispense good advice.
A recent client had a series of catastrophic pump failures. These pumps were achieving less than half their expected service life. So naturally, the company wanted some answers. At our first meeting, the client opened proceedings with a brief history of the machine and an account of the events leading up to the failures. He then pushed a stack of oil analysis reports across the table.
Table 1. System Readings
Ask the Basic Questions
After taking notes on what I'd just been told, I fired off my first question: "What is the system's normal operating temperature?" The response was stunned silence. Client shrugs his shoulders.
"OK, what is the system's usual operating pressure range?" Blank look from client. "I don't know; we don't monitor either of those things."
At the end of this meeting, we walked through the control room. Both the operating pressure and temperature were displayed on the default PLC screen - albeit along with a lot of seemingly more important production information. Say no more.
But could you answer these two basic questions about the vital signs of your hydraulic equipment? If not, I strongly recommend you make the effort to get to know your hydraulic equipment better.
This information is easy to collect. It can give valuable insight to the health of your equipment and is essential data if failure analysis is required. Here is how I recommend you accomplish this task:
In terms of compiling this data, it's a good idea to take readings on the hottest and coldest days of the year, and on a couple of average-temperature days in between. This provides a baseline of information. Beyond that, taking readings at regular intervals - each day or shift, for example - can provide early warning of impending problems. And if the system starts to give trouble, taking a set of readings will reveal if the machine is operating outside its normal parameters.