Inaction – The Killer of Condition Monitoring Programs

Apr 8, 2019 10:00:13 AM

Have you done all the work to collect condition monitoring data from your assets, only to find the information to prevent a breakdown is stuck on a reliability engineer’s desk?


Condition monitoring is used extensively within the mining industry. It is a proven method of improving asset health and extending component life.  An effective condition monitoring program can easily generate millions of dollars’ worth of benefits through preventing failures and deferring spending.

However, a condition monitoring program is only as good as the actions raised to manage the identified defects. If actions don’t make it into the system, or the maintenance work execution quality is poor, the equipment ultimately suffers the same outcome as a run-to-failure strategy. Worse, you’ve now paid a lot of money to get the same outcome!

A recent Bluefield engagement took us to a site with a comprehensive condition monitoring program.  The site employed oil analysis, vibration analysis, gearing inspections, non-destructive testing (NDT), ultrasonic testing (UT) and more. Each of these techniques produced multiple reports at frequencies ranging from monthly to 6-monthly as required by the maintenance strategy in the CMMS. These reports were dutifully filed within the site’s electronic system for ease of reference and document management.

Despite the excellent quality of both the maintenance strategies and execution of the condition monitoring tasks, the machines at this operation were still experiencing unscheduled downtime.

Why were they having so many failures of components that were so closely monitored?

Upon further investigation, we found that although most condition monitoring reports identified defects, most of these didn’t make it into the CMMS as notifications/work orders.  Some reports flagged the same defect time and again for months on end, leaving plenty of time to intervene and prevent a failure.  In others, some measurement points were regularly marked as “incomplete” with no action to resolve the problem; the components in question ultimately failed without any warning signs because they weren’t inspected.

When we followed the condition monitoring workflow, we identified that the bottleneck was the reliability engineer.  The problem was the volume of work; for a site with a large fleet of equipment, the number of reports they had to read, evaluate, and raise subsequent defect notices for was too much to handle.  Add in the other expectations of a reliability engineer, and you can quickly see how they were drowning in work.  Something had to give, and in this case, it was entering defects into the system.

Bluefield has previously identified common mistakes companies make with their reliability engineers which ultimately reduce the time they have to focus on the equipment reliability.  Managing asset health is a critical responsibility of reliability engineers, and it’s not going to get any easier.  So what should businesses do to support reliability engineers?

As intermittent data collection techniques are being replaced by systems with continuous online monitoring ability, coupled with the industry’s move into the dawn of ‘Industry 4.0’, the ability to gather asset health information is becoming increasingly easier and more commonplace. Bluefield has seen best practice in the form of central Asset Health teams that monitor the equipment of each asset, raise notifications with an appropriate level of priority for action, and close the feedback loop once the task has been completed to update the component status/recommendation. The near future may even see notifications automatically generated when an alarm limit is reached.  We’ve written previously about this process (see here and here).

However, in the meantime, asset management leaders must prioritise resources to ensure the seemingly simple process of raising a defect notice with sufficient detail to enable maintainers to take action actually takes place.  Embed condition monitoring reviews in your work management planning process, and follow up on reports and subsequent notification to ensure defects are being raised.  Without this obvious link, the investment in CM is not seeing the return your operation deserves.


By Colin Sheldon