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“What are the most effective strategies for preventing sudden-death bearing failures?”
If bearing failures at your site are triggering unplanned downtime and limiting equipment reliability, several proven strategies can be implemented to resolve this issue. When evaluating these types of failures, you first must determine how they happened. Did the failure occur through a rate of change that transpired over time or did a step change cause a sudden-death incident within a component? It also is important to consider three key time frames in the asset’s life cycle: pre-service, in service and post-service.
The installation process is often overlooked as a possible cause of failure, along with the rebuilding/overhauling and routine maintenance of the asset. Equipment infant mortality is a term used to describe a failure that occurs soon after placing an asset into service. This accounts for a large portion of failures at most plants. Proper documentation of work instructions, good communication between departments and shifts, detailed preparation training, and acceptance testing before releasing an asset to production are effective steps that can limit failures related to equipment infant mortality.
Sudden-death bearing failures can also take place while the asset is in service. Although there may be multiple reasons for why these failures are occurring during the asset’s operational phase, in most cases the site should focus on a few critical concerns to address the majority of low-hanging fruit. For example, ensure the proper lubricant is being used, optimize contaminant ingression and removal practices, correctly load equipment, and assess the environmental conditions such as the ambient temperature. All of these factors must be taken into account during this portion of the asset’s life.
Even if best practices have been implemented to address bearing failures, there is still a chance for one to occur. While reliability leaders hate to see a failure happen, the post-mortem stage can be used to shed light on the problem. Root cause analysis and defect elimination techniques will be essential to prevent these issues from recurring. By learning how and why the bearing failed, the plant can address and limit these concerns in the future.
While the strategies outlined above can help minimize sudden-death bearing failures, you must ensure this is a cradle-to-grave process and that your approach encompasses the key time frames in the bearing’s life cycle. By putting these practices into place, you not only can limit unplanned downtime but also improve your site’s reliability and morale.