Fluid Power Journal

Preparing for Asset Management 4.0

By Mark Barnes, Senior Vice President, Global Business Development, Des-Case Corporation

In the aftermath of World War II, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill famously stated, “never let a good crisis go to waste” in reference to his belief that the war’s lessons and hardships could forge a new paradigm for economic cooperation and development. Fast forward 75 years, and the world is emerging from another crisis – a global pandemic that changed many facets of our lives.

Industrial manufacturing is seeing changes too. Already faced with the imminent retirement of the baby-boomer generation and the corporate amnesia that goes along with it, progressive companies are using the COVID-19 crisis to rethink how even the most basic tasks can be accomplished more effectively. This has resulted in the adoption of disruptive technologies that pave the way for a quantum shift in how asset-intensive industries run their businesses.

This trend is particularly true in the world of asset-condition management. Gone are the days when companies could afford to “fix it when it breaks.” Upper-quartile-performing companies are looking to technology to supplement and in many cases replace their strategies for condition management.

Historically, conditioning monitoring – a key enabler of asset-condition management – has focused on three technologies to gauge the health of hydraulics and lubricated assets: vibration analysis, oil analysis, and ultrasound. Combined, these three technologies are capable of detecting and isolating many of the root causes of poor reliability. 

Traditionally, asset-condition monitoring has been deployed using a labor- and skills-intensive route-based model. Each month, a technician walks a defined route, taking readings or extracting oil samples from each critical asset. After capturing this data, someone has to predict trends and make judgement calls on the condition of each asset. 

Done correctly, route-based condition monitoring can be effective at improving asset reliability. But it has limitations, not the least of which is the fact that the data is merely a snapshot of the moment it is captured. In some instances, this limitation can prevent the accurate diagnosis of transient issues.

In the past few years, remote condition monitoring has emerged as technology has improved and costs have come down. Real-time access to data yields a more accurate diagnosis of problem conditions, highlighting the impact of daily maintenance or operations on asset health. Already gaining broader appeal and acceptance, the global pandemic has kick-started this new industrial revolution into high gear. 

This change in condition monitoring is particularly apparent in the world of lubrication and hydraulic fluid-condition management. Traditional lab-based tests such as viscosity, acid number, water content, particle counting, and wear debris analysis have been augmented by low-cost, high-quality sensors that provide an accurate, real-time assessment of oil condition, contamination levels, and machine health. 

To best support this growing trend, Des-Case recently launched an IIoT-based connected platform called IsoLogic, which connects a series of sensors – oil quality, contamination, moisture, ferrous debris, and the world’s first connected desiccant breather – to a single IIoT platform. Combined with an intuitive dashboard, IsoLogic provides real-time insight on the health and cleanliness of the lubricant and the machine. Combined with decades of lubrication and fluid power subject matter expertise, IsoLogic allows our customers to pinpoint emergent issues quickly and evaluate every aspect of lubricant and fluid management throughout the plant.

Perhaps the most promising aspect of real-time fluid management is the ability to correlate changes in oil health or cleanliness with daily maintenance and operations activities. Issues such as incorrect oil additions, low oil level, or seal failure – problems that may have gone undetected without real-time 24/7 data – can be quickly and accurately diagnosed. 

In the world of asset management, as in life, change is inevitable. Fortunately, not all changes are bad. As we emerge into a post-COVID world, the way we manage and assess assets is forever changed. For companies that embrace change, the switch to real-time fluid management will show dividends for many years to come, long after the latest crisis is a distant memory.

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