Playing the Long Game With Condition Monitoring

Paul Farless, Noria Corporation
Tags: oil analysis

Often in Machinery Lubrication magazine, there are informative articles about condition monitoring, lubricant analysis, and troubleshooting. However, there has yet to be an article that actually trains the reader. My goal is to provide a brief training guide to condition monitoring inspections for mechanics, lubricators and even some operators. This will serve as more of a reference, or a “how-to,” regarding condition monitoring hardware inspections.

Condition Monitoring and Associated Cost

Condition Monitoring is the process of monitoring a parameter of condition in machinery (lubrication, vibration, temperature, etc.) in order to identify a significant change that is indicative of a developing fault. Condition monitoring is a proactive approach to maintenance and lubrication, and we want to stay vigilant with our machinery in order to keep it and our plant operating as smoothly as possible. Granted, a large part of how well or poorly a plant performs in this area could be due to the nature of what is being manufactured. For example, a cement plant has literal tons of excess dust covering the machinery. It is nearly impossible to keep clean, much less monitor the condition of the lubricant.

Knowing this, I feel as if I need to write a disclaimer: I understand that in these “severely dirty” types of manufacturing, some condition monitoring practices and tasks just can’t be completed, simply due to the amount of contaminants and even the product itself nearly burying the machine. It sounds unlikely, but we do see it quite often. What facilities like this should focus on is the machinery that can be saved. If the pump is filled with product, such as asphalt, sealant, corn dust, cement, and sometimes even process fluids, and that material/contaminant is covering sight glasses, vent plugs, or breathers, that pump is just too far gone. I would consider that unsavable, meaning it will cost more personnel hours and money to recover it rather than just replace it and start with a clean slate. When managing a condition monitoring program, the facility needs to spend money to save money, having faith that it will save even more money in the long run. Remember, we’re playing the long game; you will not see too many instant large sum savings right out of the gate.

Condition Monitoring Hardware

On the front lines of condition monitoring are the personnel. Humans come with a set of condition monitoring tools: our eyes, nose, ears, and hands. Spending every single day in the plant, you become very in tune with the performance of the machinery via your senses. You know what it normally smells like, the temperature in the area, and the way the machines sound because you hear them every day. When something is out of whack, it should be fairly noticeable. As far as condition monitoring hardware goes, the facility needs to consider a few different factors when setting up hardware modifications

We can start by asking ourselves: Is sampling being done currently, or is it going to start being sampled in the future? Not sampling and don’t plan to? A 3D bullseye would work fine and is cheaper than a CMP and hub. Why wouldn’t we invest in hardware that brings us closer to our ultimate reliability goal?

Is the equipment considered a “throw and go” or run-to-failure piece of equipment? Most facilities have these small gearboxes; they are lubricated, and they have ports for hardware, but they are just going to be replaced. We aren’t necessarily trying to extend the life of this gearbox through condition monitoring practices; it simply isn’t worth the trouble and cost of installing hardware.


Condition monitoring stripped to its core is trending data of in-depth inspections on the machinery and lubrication. Yes, there is vibration and thermography, among other things, but this is Machinery Lubrication magazine, so we are going to stick with the lubrication side of condition monitoring. As mentioned before, we need to first utilize our senses, so we approach the equipment and methodically inspect the entire train. Remember to take notes, pictures and always record the findings of the inspection. A large part of why we inspect is to trend data over time to track the performance of our machine. With this trending data, we can often predict machine failure before it happens, and we may even be able to prevent it from happening. This is also an excellent way to track the progress of the lubrication program as a whole. A key performance indicator on how well the plant is operating is often found in proactive condition monitoring practices like frequent, thorough inspections.

What to look out for

Just like an emergency situation, as you approach the scene, pay attention to ambient conditions to ensure safety and absolute awareness.

Next, let’s take a look at the foundation and mounting hardware for the train.

Finally, we will inspect the condition of the lubricant and the condition monitoring hardware already on the equipment. I like to inspect from the bottom up, utilizing a good flashlight.

I want to reiterate how important it is to take pictures and notes and then report and record findings. Remember, we are trending this data in order to stay on top of machinery performance. Inspections should be taken very seriously, and they should be performed often. Inspections are easy enough to perform that you can almost inspect equipment while walking through the plant. Including condition monitoring tasks such as inspections in your routes is a great way to get ahead of the curve on your facility’s way to a world-class lubrication program.