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Companies should take a second look at how they implement condition-monitoring procedures, according to Phil Burge, communication manager at SKF.

Condition monitoring, for predictive and preventative maintenance strategies, is widely used throughout industry, with the long-term reliability of manufacturing and process systems depending on devices designed to allow plant operators to react to impending failure within the system being monitored.

In many instances, however, failure is not a result of normal wear but of the incorrect installation and maintenance of equipment and components.

It is, for example, common for shafts to be misaligned, for rotating parts to be incorrectly balanced and for lubrication systems to be under-specified for the task in hand; it is estimated that 16 per cent of all bearing failures are owing to incorrect installation.

These problems can be overcome by the correct procedures and use of the appropriate equipment, such as alignment tools and automatic lubricators, during plant construction and routine maintenance.

As a result, there are a number of key factors that plant engineers should consider when planning, building and maintaining process and manufacturing plants.

For example, accurate shaft alignment is a vital element in ensuring optimised equipment performance, according to Burge.

The correct alignment of shafts, in both horizontal and vertical configurations, helps to extend bearing and shaft service life in many applications, including coupled shafts, pumps, motors, mixers, gearboxes and compressors.

This provides a greater return on investments, while reducing energy consumption, vibration, noise and the stress placed on couplings and seals.

To help engineers to achieve pinpoint accuracy and to cut machinery breakdowns by up to 50 per cent, manufacturers such as SKF have introduced shaft alignment tools that harness the power of lasers.

The latest devices allow technicians to align shafts quickly and easily using real-time configuration values, allowing the results of alignment corrections to be seen as they are being performed.

Equally important, added Burge, is effective and accurate lubrication in order to minimise maintenance and operating costs.

To meet the changing needs of industry, lubrication systems are constantly developing and there is now a range of products available to meet the requirements of a variety of applications.

For instance, there are manual grease, circulating oil and centralised grease lubrication systems, as well as automated systems that ensure bearings are correctly lubricated at all times, without the need for manual checking and application procedures.

It is also important to select the correct type of lubricant for each application, taking into account factors that may affect the long-term chemical and physical characteristics of the oil or grease, such as operating temperatures, high speeds, heavy bearing loads and the use of cleaning systems.

Going back to the basics and ensuring that these are correct provides a stable foundation onto which to build an accurate approach to condition monitoring, which, ultimately, allows users to achieve an effective predictive or preventative maintenance strategy.

This approach is claimed to help plant and equipment to operate efficiently and at optimum performance over long and reliable service lives.

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