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On the surface, fluid leakage is a nuisance because the machines that leak need constant monitoring and top-ups to maintain the ideal level of lubricant to operate properly. Unfortunately, as we investigate leakage further, we realize that leakage can be a significant problem on many levels.
Safety is a major concern when oil leakage is a factor. Slips and falls due to oil leakage, which are preventable, take place and there is also a significant danger of fire or explosion.
Oil consumption is a major motivator for reducing external oil leakage. Lubricant purchases can usually be tracked, and when these purchases are referenced against the cost of the oil leaking from the machine and the cost to dispose of the wasted oil as well as items used to collect this oil, the value on paper can be staggering.
Cleanliness and reliability go hand-in-hand. The cleaner and better kept a machine, the easier it is to detect oil leaks (among other conditions) as they occur. The longer a leak goes without repair, the more difficult it is to locate the original source.
So what can be done about leakage that is costing all of this capital? The key is to repair whatever is leaking and replace old mechanical connectors with new, more efficient fittings. The problem is often locating the source of the leaks. At any given moment, leakage could be developing from seals, fittings and covers. And as mentioned before, the longer a leak has to develop and persist, the harder it is to locate and repair.
Therefore, it is should be assumed that there will always be some amount of leakage at any given point in time, and that steps need to be followed to identify and correct the problem.
Identify the Source
The first priority is to identify the leaks. This involves discovering which systems are leaking and precisely where the leaks are coming from. A formal investigation and interview of the maintenance teams in each area is the best way to identify the obvious and most serious leaks. A system for identifying and recording the location of each leak must be made available to maintenance and operations personnel. Leak detection tags should be provided so that leaks can be marked and cataloged as they are identified in the plant. This strategy will cover a large portion of the obvious or noticeable leaks.
Inspect and Quantify
As leaks are identified and recorded in a database, those responsible for managing leak detection are required to inspect the leak to gain further information as to why the leak exists. The leak should be evaluated for causes and possible redesign for prevention.
It is important to use the information gathered about leakage in the plant as a benchmarking metric. The easiest way to understand the surface cost of leaks is to quantify the amount of oil at each leak. For both small and large leaks, use a graduated flask, jar or bottle and capture the leak for a timed interval and record the amount. Use this information to extrapolate the volume of leakage over the course of a day, week, month and year. Compare this to the cost of the lubricant per gallon and determine a dollar value for each system. Compare this data to the fluid consumption costs on a daily, weekly, monthly and annualized basis.
A copy of each tag that is placed on plant equipment must be returned to the planning group. The tag's information should include the volume of the leak on a per-minute basis, machine name, the component and the location. The perceived cause of the leak is also essential for continuous improvement. This information must get entered into a database for planning, tracking, benchmarking and metrics.
Based on selected criteria, each recorded leak should be prioritized for repair based on the volume of the leak, ease or difficulty of repair, system criticality and environmental considerations. At this stage it is also important to consider alternative designs that can be incorporated into the repair of the leak to prevent it from recurring.
A planned and consistent approach to leakage repair is necessary to ensure leaks are identified, quantified, recorded, planned and ultimately repaired. Repairs should include appropriate advancements to help reduce the possibility of a recurring leak.
When the process has gone from identification of the leak to repair, it should begin again. It is a beneficial strategy to maintain the process of leak identification and continue to record and repair leaks throughout the process.
For leaks that may not have an obvious source, a leak detection dye must be used and performed on a system-by-system basis. When leaks are detected, use a tag to identify the precise location. Ensure the tag has the location information, volume per minute and suspected repairs required.
Vibration, shock loading and water hammer in pipes all contribute to failed seals, seams and fittings. During the process, it is important to identify situations where advanced methods for sealing and connecting can replace those locations prone to leakage.
Ensuring that the process is repeated will highlight those systems and components that are prone to leakage. The leakage volume can also be used as a metric for success. Keeping track of the leakage will allow the total volume of leakage to be compared over a given time after each round of detection and repair.
Again, the goal is to manage the machine, not the leakage. Once an estimate of the leakage is established, the machine can be a point of focus.