Staying Flexible in Condition Monitoring

Ultrasound technology is often described as versatile, with some even terming it the ‘Swiss Army Knife’ of condition monitoring. Depending on an individual’s perception of Swiss army knives, that could be both flattering and condemning.

Staying Flexible in Condition Monitoring

Image Credit: SDT Ultrasound Solutions

The knife itself is iconic for its Swiss quality, while the phrase ‘Swiss Army Knife,’ over time, morphed into an adjective to describe people with diverse skill sets who can complete any given task. The phrase Jack of All Trades was coined much earlier on. Before specialists were required to run technology, handymen were the people who were called upon to fix practically anything.

For some ultrasound brands, the swiss army knife analogy to durability and quality is appropriate. However, these people and products claiming to fix anything and everything must be approached cautiously. Though a “Jack of all Trades” may seem ideal at times, it is essential to remember that technology claiming to be a one-stop-shop for multiple uses may be, as the saying goes, good at many things but master of nothing.

In today’s high-tech world, it can be considered more dangerous to rely on an unskilled tradesman who consistently demonstrates his willingness to help.

For instance, a skilled carpenter has probably dealt with electrical wiring at some point in his career, but unless he is trained and certified to a national electrical code, it is probably not the best idea to allow him to wire up a home. Similarly, for renovating a bathroom, a licensed plumber is more than likely the better choice than a Do-It-Yourself (DIY) handyman.

However, this is not the case for ultrasound testing, as so many different applications exist. With this technology, more hidden defects are found than any other condition monitoring technique, and inspectors with little to no experience in the field are, more often than not, the ones who identify these issues.

This is often considered the most attractive aspect of ultrasound technology; it is a technology for the people.

Staying Flexible in Condition Monitoring

Image Credit: SDT Ultrasound Solutions

Operator-Driven Reliability

Many of the tasks that are viable using ultrasound technology tend to be rather straightforward to carry out. Some only require under an hour of training in the hands of a conscientious inspector before the user can run the technology on their own.

Evaluating shaft couplings, testing steam traps, and scanning for leaks are just three examples of the simple checks that an operator may have to perform at the beginning or end of a shift to ensure assets were found and left in good working order. There are also many more tasks that should not be considered the responsibility of the Condition Monitoring team but rather the asset operators.

Staying Flexible in Condition Monitoring

Image Credit: SDT Ultrasound Solutions

This strategy allows operators to leverage the knowledge they have acquired from working concurrently with the same assets daily. Operator inspections can reduce energy waste and lead to a reduced number of unexpected emergency maintenance interventions.

This helps to reduce the workload of the condition monitoring and maintenance teams, who will thus have more time to focus on assets with higher criticality ratings.

Ultrasound also has its limits. If a plant-wide leak survey needs to be carried out on a compressed air network, then ultrasound technology can be considered the ideal tool. However, detecting a minuscule Freon leak in an air conditioning system is beyond the capabilities of ultrasound technology, and other technologies are better at this.

There is a real risk of deploying this trusted technology for tasks where it is not well-suited. Therefore, understanding when and where ultrasound is used is just as important as the skills and techniques of the inspector.

The Eight Pillars of Ultrasound

When applying ultrasound to asset reliability, SDT identifies eight domains. Known as “The Eight Pillars of Ultrasound,” these domains address the following elements:

Staying Flexible in Condition Monitoring

Image Credit: SDT Ultrasound Solutions

Stay FIT

In a world of unreliable assets, the eight pillars support reliability, but it is clear how the technology could be misused. Thus, SDT devised a simple, three-letter acronym to guide novice inspectors: FIT.

In the presence of three phenomena - Friction, Impacting, and Turbulence - all assets will produce ultrasound. Together they spell FIT. Ultrasound is a FIT for FMEA (Failure Mode and Effects Analysis) if the failure mode being searched for produces one, two, or all three of these conditions.

Staying Flexible in Condition Monitoring

Image Credit: SDT Ultrasound Solutions

Reliability leaders who admire the versatility of ultrasound are cautioned not to exaggerate its abilities. Despite being a proven method to defend against so many potential failure modes, operators need to withstand the temptation to use ultrasound for every task at hand.

The expression, “you are only as good as your last win,” cuts deep. The excitement of identifying one game-changing production-halting defect can be quickly overcome by the depressing apathy of one failed diagnosis. The trust foundation established by ten wins can crumble due to one missed call.

A Swiss Army Knife signifies a rite of passage into adulthood in certain families. The tradition serves as a reminder of one’s heritage and a simpler, DIY era. Regardless of whether the gadget is used to remove a screw, cut a length of string, trim a stubborn fingernail, or whittle a piece of wood, the versatile tool gives the user convenience and a sense of self-sufficiency.

The parallel to ultrasound instruments highlights that a specialist is not needed to carry out every condition monitoring inspection. While good training is still essential, simple techniques with easy-to-use technologies can yield significant rewards for reliability.

This information has been sourced, reviewed, and adapted from materials provided by SDT Ultrasound Solutions.

For more information on this source, please visit SDT Ultrasound Solutions.


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