During the middle ages, or the 1980's to tech savvy Gen Y's, I had a working relationship with what can only be described as an archetypal British engineering machine shop.
Employing around 15 staff, its main function in the industrial heartland of the UK was to produce rudimentary dies and moulds for the then thriving pottery industry in Stoke on Trent.
The shop was run by Mr. H., the General Manager who's working life had taken him through the hard war years, days of austerity in the 50's, the 3 day week in the 70's and had consequently honed his approach to man management to be somewhat akin to Genghis Khan with a toothache immediately after his horse had stood on his little toe.
"Worst thing about this job, staff", a not infrequent comment from Mr. H. when I was within the confines of his inner sanctum surrounded by piles of original blue prints for the Kitty Hawk, the Bridge of the Titanic and old rusting tools that looked like they had been used in the Spanish Inquisition.
"Third time this month he's been in here asking for new tool tips"......."Never trust that lot out there, thin end of the wedge if they see you trusting them". You get the general thread and the unlikely commitment to the "our people are our best asset" creed.
To say I learnt more about how not to develop a human resources policy is somewhat of an understatement, but to be fair to Mr. H. it was a different age.
It was also a different age in relation to what we now call condition monitoring, or in simple terms, working out from the lubricant DNA of a machine what is going wrong before it actually goes wrong.
In the days when Boy George was still boyish and Madonna first announced she was materialistic, Mr. H's approach to "condition monitoring" was to wait until the Bridgeport miller sounded like a bag of spanners in a washing machine, then, to avoid any downtime, he would direct the operator to fill the gear box with his secret axle grease formula, the special ingredient (fine sawdust) being particularly effective at sound attenuation, even if it lacked something in the long term lubrication stakes.
Fast forward to 2010 and a recent discussion I had at Pittcon 2010 with the guys from Spectro Inc. and it's apparent that the capabilities available through modern day condition monitoring is light years away from the typical machine shop approach of the 80's.
Starting with the analysis of oil, there is the availability of particle detection via their Laser Net Fines device which not only detects particulates in oil but can also indicate the origin of the wear particles from their morphology, be they sliding wear, fatigue wear or third party impurity particles such as sand based silicates.
The condition of oil can be monitored in the field by the Fluidscan Handheld Lubricant Condition Monitor. Using infrared spectroscopy, field workers are now able to quickly assess the degree of degradation or contamination of lubricants, leading to timely preventative maintenance and the avoidance of expensive downtime in industry sectors such as mining.
Building on the above two technologies a further link in the condition monitoring chain is provided by the availability of Rotating Disc Electrode (RDE) Atomic Emission Spectroscopy. A technique which determines the presence of at least 22 common wear related elements such as Aluminium, Iron, Copper, Zinc etc.
The use of the Spectroil Q100 in combination with the above oil condition and particle analysis means that it is now much easier to determine the exact source and nature of a machine related wear problem as a high degree of Aluminium based sliding wear particles is highly likely to lead to a very different location within the system than high counts of iron based fatigue particles.
For the Mr. H's out there, keep buying the axle grease, but for the more enlightened, prevention is probably more cost effective than the cure!