Such an asset

Next month the NEC plays host to Maintec, which will showcase established and new technologies for the Maintenance and Asset Management Industry. Samuel Tulip reports.

For the 33rd year Maintec, the only UK exhibition for the Maintenance and Asset Management Industry, will once again showcase both established and new technologies to help meet the multiple challenges of reducing downtime, retaining quality and, increasingly, meeting environmental and social challenges.

Over 150 exhibitors will be at the NEC from 11-13 March, and as well as the stands, there is a full educational programme.

This includes ‘learnShop’ seminars, delivered by leading industry specialists. Topics on the agenda cover the whole spectrum, from cost-effective maintenance principles to energy efficiency (an increasingly important issue) and more arcane subjects such as predictive maintenance of robotic systems, and the potential for infrared thermography in diagnosis and prediction.

Also on offer is a briefing lunch, on 11 March, presented by the Process Industries Centre for Manufacturing Excellence and backed by the DTI which focuses on reducing manufacturing waste (in its widest sense) and increasing efficiency in the shortest possible time.

On the exhibitor front, as always there is a combination of old stalwarts and new entrants. Novelty is not itself the key as there are many companies exhibiting products and services that are well-established, but are only now, in changed times, finding the wider market they need.

Among the novelties, however, there are a few that are of particular interest.

IceTech, for example, will be introducing two digital dry ice blasting machines. The idea is to use three different properties of dry ice (CO2) pellets, created within the machines — impurities are shrunk and loosened thermally, shotblasted, and reduced as the CO2 converts directly from solid to gas. There are sophisticated programmable controls, and the equipment is designed to be portable so it can be carried into the narrowest of spaces.

Atlas Copco will be demonstrating its AirConnct system, which can be applied to an entire compressed air installation and offers live online data, reports and email alerts.

In similar vein, t-mac Technologies is showcasing its remote and wireless monitoring range, which uses internet technology to upload data both to the machine’s own controller and to centrally managed servers.

This, said director Lisa Wilkinson, is not just about preventative maintenance but about the bottom line and — especially these days — energy management.

One company hopes to demonstrate that energy isn’t just the problem, but can be the solution.

Whitelegg Machines is showing the Baker range of motor reliability testers, which use analysis of the power supply to differentiate likely mechanical and electrical root causes of problems. This is especially useful for equipment where routine inspection is difficult or impossible.

Artesis is offering motor condition monitoring, easily fitted in the control cabinet and originally developed by NASA, that will give email alerts of any abnormal operating conditions.

Energy is also a safety issue. Too many people are killed or injured in maintenance and repair operations for this to be treated as a ‘cost of business.’

To this end, Scafftag is offering a range of solutions that don’t just monitor or record the status of the equipment; they can be used electronically to interact with the workforce, helping to ensure that equipment is being used both safely and efficiently.

Thermal imaging is of growing interest, and is a perfect example of military technology being adapted for other purposes. Testo, for example, is launching a hand-held thermal imager, with freeze-frame and USB download, and fully protected for a robust industrial environment. Another company in this field is Irisys. Both its and Testo’s products can store up to 1,000 images.

Processing power has allowed many innovations in monitoring. C-Cubed, for example, has a range of ‘pocket PCs’ including products for rugged, condition-based monitoring, data acquisition, and rotating machine balancing.

Meanwhile, Diagnostic Solutions has a web-based monitoring solution combining USB-based accelerometers, hand-held devices and low-cost wireless technology. The price is keen, and it looks more classy than many mobile phones.

Getting data from all this instrumentation is one thing — doing something is quite another.

So Aucotec is presenting its engineering-base software, which has the advantage of being based around familiar Microsoft products, which is said to make documenting engineering or maintenance changes extremely simple without the training usually required for a CAD system. Worksheets can automatically be generated and exported to Excel.

Another software company, Ramsoft, is offering its RCM++4 that will be a boon for anyone deeply into maintenance analysis who has ever been frustrated by results getting spread across hundreds of spreadsheets. The system has a structured approach to garnering and using historic and live data, and director Dave Thompson said: ‘Typically in maintenance, we have bad data, worse data, or no data and then bias can creep in.’ so it is worth asking yourself if your preventative maintenance schedule is the solution or part of the problem.

Even with the best maintenance regimes ‘stuff happens’ — mistakes occur and data gets lost — and Maintec also features firms that can help you recover.

CNES, part of the Corus steel group, offers not only plant condition monitoring services, but also training programmes aimed at enabling companies to bring the necessary expertise back in-house. If training is your big issue, it’s worth checking out IPS International, which offers a significant range of electrical and mechanical training programmes. It is also a Centre of Vocational Excellence in advanced maintenance engineering, and an approved provider of apprenticeship training.

Sometimes things are beyond maintenance and just break.

To give you hope, visit the Metalock Engineering stand. This Coventry company performs what in medical circles would be described as ‘heroic surgery’. It metal stitches pressure-carrying vessels such as cylinders on historic steam engines and brings piles of scrap back to certifiable condition, and many other specialised services.