Flying by the seat of your pants?

If you want to fly without using appropriate instrumentation, I’ll walk, thank you. The same goes for your process.


There was a time in the history of aviation when “flying by the seat of your pants” had real meaning given the relative lack of gages in an early airplane’s cockpit. Yet, in many ways we still operate our plants this way. We instrument what we consider to be critical measurements based on historical operation, but we don’t necessarily perform a detailed analysis of the process to determine if there are other things that might be just as important to the operation in terms of throughput or quality or, possibly even more importantly, to uptime and equipment longevity. Even those organizations that don’t have a “run it till it breaks” mentality don’t necessarily make the best use of the instrumentation they have, while more thoughtful companies install things that could be beneficial in improving uptime and operation of the facility.

While there’s something to be said for the ability of the human body to detect small changes in things, like vibration or the sound of a piece of equipment, there’s no substitute for good measurement to detect it before it becomes bad enough for a human to detect. Heuristic capabilities built into some instruments have extended this human capability for sensing problems so they can be detected well before an operator can. One manufacturer, for example, has built a plugged sensing line detection capability into their transmitters that uses the noise signature of the process. When it decreases by a threshold amount, it generates an alarm. Sensing these changes in process noise can also be used to detect other problems like pump impeller wear, which can also create pressure fluctuations that then cause a valve to cycle excessively leading to an early failure. Digital valve positioners can analyze the motions of the valve that would go unnoticed by an operator to alert maintenance to the need for service before the valve fails. This use of heuristics can be applied to any number of other situations to prevent failures before they happen.

So why aren’t more plants taking advantage of these kinds of diagnostic capabilities? The problem is that organizations are in many ways constrained either externally or internally from deploying these technologies. One key constraint is financial. Some of what’s required to perform the analysis falls into the realm of capital expenditures, which in most cases requires a payback. If the system does its job so you keep from having the outage and down time that would have cost you the money you justified buying it on, then without the down time you can’t show that you actually saved any money, making the successful system a failure. Talk about a “Catch-22.” Another constraint is cultural. One engineer for a major U.S. corporation has said that his company won’t buy some of these technologies because to use them effectively would require rewriting their maintenance procedures, which they won’t do. A competitor of theirs has stated that having the plugged line sensing technology would have prevented an explosion that occurred at one of their refineries. That means the first company is unwilling to install something that would prevent an explosion because they would have to change a procedure that is meant to prevent explosions. Really? What Catch-22s have you run into that have prevented you from implementing something that logically should have been implemented?

This post was written by Bruce Brandt. Bruce is a technology leader at MAVERICK Technologies, a leading system integrator providing industrial automation, operational support, and control systems engineering services in the manufacturing and process industries. MAVERICK delivers expertise and consulting in a wide variety of areas including industrial automation controls, distributed control systems, manufacturing execution systems, operational strategy, and business process optimization. The company provides a full range of automation and controls services – ranging from PID controller tuning and HMI programming to serving as a main automation contractor. Additionally MAVERICK offers industrial and technical staffing services, placing on-site automation, instrumentation and controls engineers.

The Top Plant program honors outstanding manufacturing facilities in North America. View the 2015 Top Plant.
The Product of the Year program recognizes products newly released in the manufacturing industries.
Each year, a panel of Control Engineering and Plant Engineering editors and industry expert judges select the System Integrator of the Year Award winners in three categories.
Pipe fabrication and IIoT; 2017 Product of the Year finalists
The future of electrical safety; Four keys to RPM success; Picking the right weld fume option
A new approach to the Skills Gap; Community colleges may hold the key for manufacturing; 2017 Engineering Leaders Under 40
Control room technology innovation; Practical approaches to corrosion protection; Pipeline regulator revises quality programs
The cloud, mobility, and remote operations; SCADA and contextual mobility; Custom UPS empowering a secure pipeline
Infrastructure for natural gas expansion; Artificial lift methods; Disruptive technology and fugitive gas emissions
Power system design for high-performance buildings; mitigating arc flash hazards
VFDs improving motion control applications; Powering automation and IIoT wirelessly; Connecting the dots
Natural gas engines; New applications for fuel cells; Large engines become more efficient; Extending boiler life

Annual Salary Survey

Before the calendar turned, 2016 already had the makings of a pivotal year for manufacturing, and for the world.

There were the big events for the year, including the United States as Partner Country at Hannover Messe in April and the 2016 International Manufacturing Technology Show in Chicago in September. There's also the matter of the U.S. presidential elections in November, which promise to shape policy in manufacturing for years to come.

But the year started with global economic turmoil, as a slowdown in Chinese manufacturing triggered a worldwide stock hiccup that sent values plummeting. The continued plunge in world oil prices has resulted in a slowdown in exploration and, by extension, the manufacture of exploration equipment.

Read more: 2015 Salary Survey

Maintenance and reliability tips and best practices from the maintenance and reliability coaches at Allied Reliability Group.
The One Voice for Manufacturing blog reports on federal public policy issues impacting the manufacturing sector. One Voice is a joint effort by the National Tooling and Machining...
The Society for Maintenance and Reliability Professionals an organization devoted...
Join this ongoing discussion of machine guarding topics, including solutions assessments, regulatory compliance, gap analysis...
IMS Research, recently acquired by IHS Inc., is a leading independent supplier of market research and consultancy to the global electronics industry.
Maintenance is not optional in manufacturing. It’s a profit center, driving productivity and uptime while reducing overall repair costs.
The Lachance on CMMS blog is about current maintenance topics. Blogger Paul Lachance is president and chief technology officer for Smartware Group.
The maintenance journey has been a long, slow trek for most manufacturers and has gone from preventive maintenance to predictive maintenance.
This digital report explains how plant engineers and subject matter experts (SME) need support for time series data and its many challenges.
This digital report will explore several aspects of how IIoT will transform manufacturing in the coming years.
Maintenance Manager; California Oils Corp.
Associate, Electrical Engineering; Wood Harbinger
Control Systems Engineer; Robert Bosch Corp.
This course focuses on climate analysis, appropriateness of cooling system selection, and combining cooling systems.
This course will help identify and reveal electrical hazards and identify the solutions to implementing and maintaining a safe work environment.
This course explains how maintaining power and communication systems through emergency power-generation systems is critical.
click me