April 21, 2013 - BillerudKorsnas—a manufacturer of primary fiber-based packaging material—says it has improved its pulp digester process efficiency and reduced maintenance costs at its paper mill in Gavle, Sweden, by installing a Rosemount 8800 Vortex flowmeter from Emerson Process Management.
Some factories and manufacturing locations choose to manage assets by manually recording each element and then transferring the information onto the computer, usually using an excel file. And though this seems like an easy option, since it costs little to no money, it often results insignificant error and miscalculation. Furthermore, recording the location of an asset or it’s given serial number does not take into account its maintenance schedule, who was using the equipment when, and whether it was moved. On average businesses lose up to $437,000 annually as a result of lost or misplaced assets.
Below are some things to consider when choosing the right asset management solution for you:
What do you need to track?
Keep in mind that it is important to know the maintenance schedule, equipment uptime and downtime and the user on each machine. By integrating an asset management system into the warehouse or factory’s daily routine companies can increase the availability of production equipment and reduce the overall costs through better services and maintenance programs.
Why is it necessary to track maintenance schedules and machinery downtime?
Machinery and equipment should be in good working order, and it’s crucial to know if those machines are running at maximum capacity with an uptime of 99.9 percent. If a business is collecting revenue, it must actively ensure machines are fixed and kept in good working order in terms of repair and warranties. This is especially true if a business is in the world of production or delivery. The more downtime equals lost revenue and time.
What are the benefits?
Forget the ease of operation of most asset management systems, the real return on investment occurs with time and money saved. Not only will proper tracking save a business money in regards to not over-stocking, understanding repair schedules and full knowledge of each asset’s location; it also saves significant time that manual tracking monopolizes, freeing up those employees to take care of other needs. Periodic reviewing and preventative maintenance of machinery in a factory of 500 employees or moresaves an average of five hours a week, equating to $1 million saved annually.
How hard will it be to implement?
This will vary according to which solution is chosen. But some asset management solution companies offer software that is compatible across multiple programming languages making it easy to link up to multiple computers. It is often the case that the software is user friendly, and if wireless solutions are chosen, can be used anywhere while transferring information to one central hub for all users to locate.
What are the types of solutions?
• Asset/Plant Maintenance: Using a rugged mobile computer connected to your computer-managed maintenance system (CMMS) can help reduce asset downtime and improve technician productivity. Manage work orders, access inventory for spares or parts in real-time as well as ensure the proper and timely scheduling and maintenance for your assets. Increase asset and labor utilization while capturing critical data for reporting requirements.
• Asset/Tool Tracking: Track assets and tools more efficiently leveraging bar code or RFID technology to reduce costs and increase productivity. Capture information about your assets and tools regardless of where they move and when they move. Check-in and check-out processes are automated when your workers are armed with a mobile computer, barcode scanner or an RFID reader and best of all—you have an accurate record of your inventory so you can ensure your tools and assets are available when and where you need them.
This is an edited article provided by Wasp Barcode Technologies. For more information, visit www.waspbarcode.com.
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Regardless of what’s going on in the Canadian manufacturing sector, our annual survey shows salaries are not suffering because of it. Things are looking up, as they were the previous three years since the economic turmoil that began in the fall of 2008. Maintenance professionals and other plant workers have reported relatively stagnant earnings since our 2009 results. This year, the overall average annual pay is $89,450 compared to last year's average of $87,229 — a jump of around three per cent from year to year.
The numbers are more than any of our previous years’ results. Last year was also our highest on record, so it’s safe to assume things are at the very least swinging in a positive direction. Much like spike in 2008 and 2011, we seem to have tapped bigger wage earners working in larger facilities and managing more people.
Sifting out the hourly-rated employees, we see this year's salaried respondents matched last year’s high water mark, reporting average earnings of $92,626. This is down less than one per cent from 2011’s $92,910 — and still well above salaried earnings that were reported in surveys from 2004 through 2007.
The question of raises again proved to be fascinating. In last year’s survey, respondents were optimistic about the prospect of future pay increases, significantly higher than any previous year’s expectations (12.1% in 2008 and 24.5% in 2009 and 43.4% in 2010). This year, the results were similar to 2011 (62.3%), with 63.9% per cent of maintenance professionals and other plant workers getting a raise this year. Those that did see an increase saw increases of more than four per cent (4.39%), the highest since we started keeping track. Looking to 2013, 57.9 per cent anticipate raises, increasing 11.6 per cent from those anticipating it a year before. With these positive trends, hopefully the trend continued to tick upward.
And similar to last year, the more money respondents make, it seems the more they anticipate a raise. For example, those respondents who said they expect a raise in 2013 reported average earnings of $91,536. Those respondents who don't expect a raise reported average earnings of $88,359. Respondents unsure about a raise this year reported average earnings of $85,898.
Last year was the first year we broke our results down by level of responsibility, by job title and by levels of training and education. Much like last year, the results this year show that the more people one has working for them, the more money they make.
Those responsible for multiple sites, such as a general manager, director or owner, hit above an average annual pay of more than $100,000. Department heads or site managers (like a superintendent or manager) hit around ninety thousand and team leaders (such as a supervisor, foreman or planner) get around $88,289. Those with little to no responsibility beyond their job, such as tradesperson or technician, were the lowest at $76,976. Digging deeper, we also examined the results by job title. See the detailed breakdown in the chart.
Level of education, understandably, has an effect on how much you’re paid, and the distinctions couldn’t be clearer. Those with a high school diploma as their highest level of education take in an average annual pay of $82,996. Those will a college degree get $89,842 while university graduates land around $94,671. Similarly, those with an engineering degree make more than $10,000 more than those without one ($99,961 versus $87,397), much like last year.
The further we get from the 2008 meltdown, the more optimistic workers are about staying in their current positions. Are respondents concerned about being laid off? A total of 9.5 per cent of respondents ($81,439) said they're concerned, down from 10.8 per cent in 2010 and 14.7 per cent in 2010. The richest group were those not concerned about layoffs ($91,019), make up a total of 74.7 per cent of respondents, on par with 2011 (74.0%). Those respondents ($87,961) who said they're unsure about their continued employment made up 15.8 percent of the total group.
The prospect of earning a promotion within companies remained steady this year. Those respondents who rated their prospects for promotion as “good” came in at 24.7 per cent. This compared with 19.0 per cent of respondents last year. Respondents who rated their prospects for promotion as “fair” stood at 35.5 per cent compared with 39.4 per cent in 2011. Lastly, respondents who rated their prospects for promotion as “poor” made up 39.8 per cent of the total group compared with 41.5 per cent last year.
The proportion of men to women who responded to this year's survey (90.7% men to 9.3% women) is up slightly when compared to last year's report (91.8% men to 8.2% women).
Once again, men were paid on average more than women: $92,378 versus $65,237. Women’s pay was up significantly from last year’s $52,375. Compared with the overall average pay ($89,450), men earned 3.3 per cent more and women made 27.1 per cent less.
All too often, packages are selected on the basis of which vendor has the most impressive sales pitch. As a result, vendors have invested heavily in perfecting their dog-and-pony shows. Although many large companies with significantly large maintenance budgets usually do conduct a more thorough evaluation process, they do not necessarily apply the same level rigor on other fronts. For example, the bulk of the process engineering work, which in my view should drive the definition of user specifications, is often left until implementation of the CMMS or later.
Another alarming trend is exhibited by senior management determined to implement the perfect, fully integrated, enterprise-wide system that does it all, from shop floor to the executive suite. A huge software package with so much functionality does not necessarily fit the needs of a given maintenance shop in a given industry. Perhaps it does, but without going through a process design, needs analysis and vendor selection process, how do you know you are getting a tool that fits your requirements? Even if it is the best solution for maintenance, processes need to be optimized to get the most out of the software. As well, without due process, buy-in from maintainers, planners and their supervisors may be weak or non-existent, which will make it difficult if not impossible to realize any benefits from the system.
Whether big or small, most companies can learn a few tricks from those organizations that have conducted an effective vendor evaluation process. To be successful, these companies have made the following changes to the typical evaluation process:
1. More detailed specifications based on process engineering:
Companies have taken a more proactive approach to evaluating CMMS options. Rather than jumping immediately to the exploration of software options, most of the energy is expended on first determining the specific needs of the users based on rigorous examination of process change requirements. Users will take the time to sort out what is important versus what is simply nice to have, providing vendors with weightings for each specification criteria.
For large companies, a very formal request for proposal (RFP) document is sent to an appropriate number of CMMS vendors, including enterprise resource planning (ERP) packages with a fully integrated CMMS module. The RFP contains such things as your objectives in implementing a new CMMS, critical success factors, background on your company including the technical and business environment, and procurement terms and conditions. In the appendix of the RFP, technical and user specifications are provided in the form of hundreds or even thousands of user criteria related to the vendor, its products and services.
The vendors are expected to respond directly to the RFP by stating whether or not each specification can be met, how, and at what cost. When the vendor responses are received by the users, they are evaluated based on a number of pre-determined criteria. The scoring of vendor options is then used to determine a short-list of one to three candidates. A more detailed evaluation of the short-listed packages is conducted face to face with each vendor and their package in order to select a winner.
For smaller companies, a formal RFP may be overkill. Vendors may be reluctant to respond because the profit margin on a smaller installation is not enough to adequately cover the cost of responding properly to the RFP. In realizing how expensive it is to buy and implement the “wrong” package, some companies are quite willing to pay the vendors to respond. Regardless of whether or not a formal RFP is issued, the specifications document can still be used as a guide in judging any of the vendor options, including status quo or upgrading your existing CMMS.
2. More meaningful vendor demos:
CMMS vendors are seeing a trend to more meticulous testing of their software by prospective customers during the final selection stage. Increasingly, companies will send detailed test scripts to short-listed CMMS vendors ahead of a vendor demonstration, so that the software is evaluated based on real data and relevant procedures. For example, test data and procedures can be compiled for entering sample equipment, suppliers, parts and trades; simulating the creation and completion of corrective work requests and purchase requisitions; and reporting on equipment and supplier history. Test scripts can be prepared during the writing of the specifications.
3. Greater cross-company involvement:
Ten years ago, the selection of CMMS packages was considered the sole responsibility of the information systems and/or maintenance departments. Today, it’s a family affair. Operations for one, has seen the value in participating in the development of performance standards, as it relates directly to the service level agreements with the maintenance department. As well, the CMMS can be used to directly monitor the condition of assets, operating conditions or even production levels.
Accounting and finance departments have an interest in the writing of the CMMS specifications in order to ensure viable interfaces with modules such as accounts payable, activity-based costing, project tracking, fixed asset management, and so on. Purchasing and Stores need to be involved in integrating with the purchasing and materials management modules. Engineering is concerned about change control on engineering drawings, project tracking, reliability engineering, etc. The human resources department needs to understand the relevant features and functions related to payroll, resource scheduling, skills inventory, and others.
4. Improved reference checking:
In the past, companies have typically asked vendors for a list of references. However, these references were not pursued that aggressively, if at all. Over the years, companies have learned the ease and importance of phoning and visiting reference sites for benchmarking purposes. Much information can be gleaned at all levels in the reference company as to the strengths and weaknesses of the CMMS vendor and package. Critical success factors can be discussed regarding software and hardware implementation, managing the vendor relationship, ensuring proper process design to fit the package and many other areas.
5. Greater emphasis on vendor partnership:
After more than a decade of three-letter acronyms such as Total Productive Maintenance (TPM), Reliability-Centred Maintenance (RCM) and so on, forming supplier partnerships or strategic alliances has become a natural part of the vendor selection process. Companies have realized that they are not just buying the CMMS package that best meets technical specifications. They are entering a relationship with a supplier/partner that can add value over an extended period of time. This explains why companies are interested in such services as implementation, training, Internet and telephone support, consulting, and user groups.
Highly engineered specialty lubricants provide proven, effective performance for long-term lubrication of outdoor electrical equipment. The lubricant types include:
- Greases – These typically are made up of oil, thickeners and special-purpose additives. Greases with fluorosilicone base oils resist chemical attack and drying out in high temperatures; these and other specialty greases also withstand stiffening in extreme cold. Applications include trip-latch-and-close bearings, flange gaskets, and various seals and O-rings.
- Anti-Seize Pastes – These resemble greases but usually have close to equal amounts of oil and lubricating solids, some additives, and no thickeners. The oil serves as a carrier for the solid lubricants, which bond to surfaces and provide long-term wear and corrosion protection. Pastes are especially suitable for switchgear where parts are static for long periods, loads are high, speeds are slow and friction is sliding rather than rolling.
- Oils and Dispersions – Oils might have only a few percent additives, while dispersions may have some solid lubricants. Oils are typically used with equipment such as turbines in continuous motion under various speed and load conditions. Dispersions are usually used as penetrating oils or aerosol sprays, which can free up seized parts but not provide long-term lubrication.
- Anti-Friction Coatings (AFCs) – AFCs have a solvent carrier, resin binder and solid lubricants plus other additives. These paintlike materials dry to a bonded lubricating film that is unaffected by dust, dirt or moisture. Normally applied to equipment parts during assembly, AFCs work best on machine components with slow speeds and high loads, providing long-term lubrication.
- Silicone Compounds – Greaselike silicone compounds contain silicone fluids and inert silica fibers. They can be used for light-load lubricating and moisture sealing applications. Typical uses include sealing connections, lubricating switches, coating insulators to retard flashovers, and sealing/preserving rubber equipment gaskets.
Choosing the best lubricant for the job is critical for performance and reliability – not to mention total cost of ownership for your equipment. Identify key objectives such as extended lubrication intervals, elimination of corrosion, reduced seizures or quicker trip times. “L.E.T.S.” can guide selection:
- Load – Heavy, moderate or low? Shock, vibration and frequent stop-start cycles indicate extreme operating conditions.
- Environment – Temperature extremes, contamination such as fly ash or salt spray, and humidity are important considerations.
- Temperature – Heat and cold affect lubricant viscosity, and synthetic lubricants can meet exact application requirements.
- Speed – Slow speeds can require higher-viscosity oils or solid-lubricant pastes or coatings; high speeds need greases or oils; and static loads must have lubricating solids.
Two common causes of electrical equipment failure are component seizure and degraded lubricant.
- Component Seizure – Pastes and coatings with solid lubricant can help prevent rust and galvanic corrosion from causing seizure on equipment exposed to the elements and static operating conditions for long periods. These lubricate without drying out or washing out.
- Lubricant Degradation – Mineral-oil greases are more prone to evaporation than synthetic greases, and they tend to separate from thickeners over time. Specialty greases and pastes are formulated to resist drying out, solvent washout and loss of lubricating ability.
Choosing the right application-matched specialty lubricant can help design, operating and maintenance engineers enhance the performance and reliability of electrical equipment while extending relubrication intervals and protecting against service outages and costly unplanned maintenance.
This is an edited article provided by Dow Corning Corp. For more information, visit www.dowcorning.com.
What Are Your Needs?
Although this is a very basic question — and one that any qualified portable generator salesperson should work with a customer to refine and clarify — it is often also the most difficult to answer as there are many things to consider. To get the most out of a purchase, consider the following factors:
Usage: Is the application considered prime or standby power? Generators are rated based on continuous use (prime power) or occasional use (standby power). Consider whether the plan is to use a generator 24 hours a day, 7 days a week or only in emergency situations (such as at a hospital or airport). This component of an application is very important to consider as it can drastically affect the quality and ultimately the cost of the generator. Appreciate that all generator manufacturers design, build and test their machines in relation to their target market and the applications foreseen. A generator designed for limited use is not created, built and tested in the same way for durability and efficiency as that of a unit designed for on-site prime power applications.
Load: Often taken into consideration when sizing the generator, it is important to understand what is going to be powered by your generator. There are many types of loads and factors that affect how the load behaves. Some things to think about:
• Power Factor: Three-phase generator sets are rated for 0.8 loads and single-phase units are rated for 1.0 loads. Lower power factor loads require larger alternators or generators.
• Peak Loads: These are generally caused by equipment that frequently cycle on and off, such as cranes, heating systems and or water pumps.
• Motor Loads: Consider the size, type, starting method and operating current draws.
Maximum allowable voltage and frequency drops: These are often taken into consideration when the equipment being powered is sensitive to significant variations in voltage and frequency.
Altitude and temperature: Although they are not living beings, diesel engines do “breathe.” Air is either more or less dense depending on altitude and ambient temperature; therefore, engine performance can be affected by either of these two factors. Consider where this machine will operate now and into the future.
Voltage: Consider the ranges required at site both in single and three phase operation.
Daily power-consumption curve: It is always a good idea to map out the daily power requirements hour by hour over a 24-hour period. One finding could be that instead of one big generator, two or three smaller generators in parallel may offer a reduced cost of operation as well as greater reliability and flexibility at a site.
Consultation and education: Regardless of one’s level of knowledge when it comes to generators, it is always a good idea to consult with a local sales representative to see what is new in the market. Manufacturers constantly challenge each other to innovate or to find better ways of getting the job done. Some focus on general areas, such as reduced cost of operation, ease of use and improved safety, whereas others excel at specific application based offerings. Don’t miss out on discovering a new way of meeting an application’s specific needs.
Legislation and Regulations
Regulations that control the safe operation of generators can exist at all levels of government as well as within public and private companies. As a result, it is recommended to consult with local authorities to ensure that a particular product meets the basic requirements. Here are a few questions to ask of a supplier and to review with local regulatory agencies.
Does the unit and all of its associated components meet CSA requirements? (Does the machine bear the CSA label?) This is especially important to consider when importing used generators or machines produced outside of Canada.
Are there any local (provincial or city) power authority regulations that need to be met based on the application? For example, special safety equipment is required for public events.
Is the machine mounted on a trailer? If so, consider if it requires a license plate, an annual inspection or even electric or hydraulic brakes. There are also environmental considerations to be made. Although these may or may not be required by various government entities, many public and or private companies mandate these criteria.
Full fluid containment: In some cases, portable diesel powered equipment when brought to site must have 110-per-cent fluid containment. This means that the frame or “tub” of the machine is capable of containing 110 per cent of the fluids on board. Fluids include fuel, oil, antifreeze and any other liquid that is considered harmful to the environment if it were to get outside of the machine.
Noise: Whether in a residential neighborhood or at a concert, noise regulations may be in place to protect the public. Consider the venue and consult the appropriate authorities to see if any regulations exist in the specific area of operation.
Off-road diesel engine emissions: This is a federally regulated requirement that was released Jan. 16, 2012, by Environment Canada. The regulation specifies that all diesel engines used in off-road applications that fall within a certain horsepower range that are imported into Canada be at the Interim Tier 4 (iT4) levels for particulate matter and nitrous oxides. Although the regulation states that iT4 is the desired emissions level, it also outlined the guidelines for the importation of transition engines (similar to the U.S. EPA rules on the sale of flex engines). Transition engines are engines that only meet Tier 1 through Tier 3 levels and can only be used should specific conditions be met. Consider the following at it relates to your purchase:
• Are you the importer on record?
If so, as a company you are required to file a report annually with Environment Canada stating the number of engines imported and at what emissions level.
• Is the machine new or used?
This can be tricky as there are sometime several dates in play, such as the date the engine was produced, the date the machine was produced and the date the machine was imported into Canada, and it’s critical to know whether or not the regulation applies.
• Does your company actively pursue the most environmentally friendly technologies?
Consider your own companies policies on environmental care and protection.
Consider costs: Although iT4 technology costs more at time of initial purchase, fuel consumption overall is usually better. Will the long-term operational costs outweigh the initial difference in purchase price? Also consider that some iT4 engines require low sulfur fuel, low ash oil as well as additional servicing of a diesel particulate filter (DPF) if so equipped. These are all elements that may be difficult to source or service if the machine is exported to another location where these items are not readily available.
There are many factors to consider when buying a portable generator, and customers are not alone to make the decision. Reputable manufacturers consider all of these elements and can help direct you to the right machine for your application and region. p
But how can a maintenance professional tell the difference between acceptable vibration and the kind that requires immediate attention to service or replace troubled equipment?
Vibration is not always a problem. In some tasks, vibration is essential. Machines like oscillating sanders and vibratory tumblers use vibration to remove materials and finish surfaces. Vibratory feeders use vibration to move materials. In construction, vibrators are used to help concrete settle into forms and compact fill materials. Vibratory rollers help compress asphalt used in highway paving.
In other cases, vibration is inherent in machine design. For instance, some vibration is almost unavoidable in the operation of reciprocating pumps and compressors, and internal combustion engines. In a well-engineered, well-maintained machine, such vibration should be no cause for concern.
When vibration is a problem
Most industrial devices are engineered to operate smoothly and avoid vibration, not produce it. In these machines, vibration can indicate problems or deterioration in the equipment. When the underlying causes are not corrected, the unwanted vibration itself can cause additional damage. This article focuses on machines that are supposed to vibrate as part of normal operation, but on those that should not vibrate: electric motors, rotary pumps and compressors, and fans and blowers. In these devices, smoother operation is generally better, and a machine running with zero vibration is the ideal.
Vibration can result from a number of conditions, acting alone or in combination. Keep in mind that vibration problems may be caused by auxiliary equipment, not just the primary equipment. These are some of the major causes of vibration.
A ‘heavy spot’ in a rotating component will cause vibration when the unbalanced weight rotates around the machine’s axis, creating a centrifugal force. Imbalance could be caused by manufacturing defects (i.e. machining errors, casting flaws) or maintenance issues (i.e. deformed or dirty fan blades, missing balance weights). As machine speed increases, the effects of imbalance become greater. Imbalance can severely reduce bearing life as well as cause undue machine vibration.
Vibration can result when machine shafts are out of line. Angular misalignment occurs when, for example, the axes of a motor and pump are not parallel. When the axes are parallel but not exactly aligned, the condition is known as parallel misalignment. Misalignment may be caused during assembly or develop over time due to thermal expansion, components shifting or improper reassembly after maintenance. The resulting vibration may be radial or axial (in line with the axis of the machine) or both.
As components such as ball or roller bearings, drive belts or gears become worn, they may cause vibration. When a roller bearing race becomes pitted, for instance, the bearing rollers will cause a vibration each time they travel over the damaged area. A gear tooth that is heavily chipped or worn, or a drive belt that is breaking down, can also produce vibration.
Vibration that might otherwise go unnoticed may become obvious and destructive when the component that is vibrating has loose bearings or is loosely attached to its mounts. Such looseness may or may not be caused by the underlying vibration.
Whatever its cause, looseness can allow any vibration present to cause damage, such as further bearing wear, wear and fatigue in equipment mounts and other components.
The effects of vibration can be severe. Unchecked machine vibration can accelerate rates of wear (i.e. reduce bearing life) and damage equipment. Vibrating machinery can create noise, cause safety problems and lead to degradation in plant working conditions. Vibration can cause machinery to consume excessive power and may damage product quality.
In the worst cases, vibration can damage equipment so severely as to knock it out of service and halt plant production.
Yet there is a positive aspect to machine vibration. Measured and analyzed correctly, vibration can be used in a preventive maintenance program as an indicator of machine condition, and help guide the plant maintenance professional to take remedial action before disaster strikes.
Characteristics of vibration
To understand how vibration manifests itself, consider a simple rotating machine like an electric motor. The motor and shaft rotate around the axis of the shaft, which is supported by a bearing at each end.
One key consideration when analyzing vibration is the direction of the vibrating force. In our electric motor, vibration can occur as a force applied in a radial direction (outward from the shaft) or in an axial direction (parallel to the shaft). An imbalance in the motor, for instance, would most likely cause a radial vibration, as the heavy spot in the motor rotates creating a centrifugal force that tugs the motor outward as the shaft rotates through 360 degrees.
A shaft misalignment could cause vibration in an axial direction (back and forth along the shaft axis) due to misalignment in a shaft coupling device. Another key factor in vibration is amplitude, or how much force or severity the vibration has. The farther out of balance our motor is, the greater its amplitude of vibration. Other factors, such as speed of rotation, can also affect vibration amplitude. As rotation rate goes up, the imbalance force increases significantly.
Frequency refers to the oscillation rate of vibration, or how rapidly the machine tends to move back and forth under the force of the condition or conditions causing the vibration. Frequency is commonly expressed in cycles per minute or Hertz (cpm or Hz). One Hz equals one cycle per second or 60 cycles per minute.
Though we called our example motor “simple”, even this machine can exhibit a complex vibration signature. As it operates, it could be vibrating in multiple directions (radially and axially), with several rates of amplitude and frequency. Imbalance vibration, axial vibration, vibration from deteriorating roller bearings and more could all combine to create a complex vibration spectrum.
Vibration is a characteristic of virtually all industrial machines. When vibration increases beyond normal levels, it may indicate only normal wear, or it may signal the need for further assessment of the underlying causes, or for immediate maintenance action. Understanding why vibration occurs and how it manifests itself is a key first step toward preventing vibration from causing trouble in the production environment.
This article is based on the Fluke white paper “Introduction to vibration.” For more information, visit www.flukecanada.ca.
At its essence, poor fuel quality is about what ends up in fuel that doesn’t burn well, and the complete story will surprise even veteran operations managers. Diesel fuel contaminants are grouped as water; microbial growths; inorganic particulate matter; and naturally forming fuel breakdown by-products. The origins of them all can be traced to either a site-specific problem or in a fuel delivery from upstream in the supply chain.
Water is a widely acknowledged concern, but it need not be a problem as long as some manner of routine fuel maintenance is performed. If a tank is well designed and is in good condition, with no means of water leaking in at the site, then only small amounts of water should be present. Water appears quite normally in most tanks through condensation.
This water can be removed easily through the use of a wide range of solutions that include absorptive eliminators and filters, coalescers, centrifuges and the like. All mobile tank-cleaning systems used by tank cleaning services and permanently installed conditioning and filtration systems utilize one or more of these approaches and are effective at removal of normal levels of water content. A quality multi-spectrum additive often includes an emulsifier, which can also pass small quantities through the system.
Microbial contamination (bacterial and fungal growth) is the most frequently mistaken problem. It only exists where there is water to grow in, so users diligent in carrying out a fuel maintenance program should never see the problem. Where it does exist in a long-ignored tank, microbes feed on the fuel, multiply and excrete waste products, all of which will end up clotting in your filters. These by-products are highly corrosive and pose a threat to many tanks.
The problem is that clogged filters are widely misinterpreted as containing microbial products, when they actually most often are deteriorated fuel by-products (sludge). This leads to endless streams of toxic biocides being needlessly dumped into tanks, which, when mistakenly used, make the problem worse. Often the result is diesel fuel now so spoiled that it needs to be disposed of and replaced, a costly and unnecessary consequence with serious environmental impacts. Not to mention that it may have sidelined the generator for several days. Again, take care of the water, and you’ll never need a biocide.
Inorganic Particulate Matter
Other particulate pollutants in diesel fuel are mostly dirt, rust and other metallic particles that find their way into the fuel either during the many tank transfers that occur in the supply chain or from a corroding tank somewhere along the line. It is infrequent that the level of particulate matter is very high and is generally well treated through conventional filtration that accompanies a standard tank cleaning system or onboard permanent tank-side solutions.
Fuel Breakdown By-Products
Least understood is the natural process whereby organic fuels break down. Diesel and other fuels are naturally unstable, and actually less stable today due to modern refining techniques (catalytic cracking) designed to produce more fuel per barrel. Most major oil companies have documented on their web sites that six to 12 months is the useful shelf life for their products, but the deterioration process starts as soon as the products leave the refinery.
This fuel breakdown is a process where agglomerating hydrocarbon chains bond together to create larger clusters. These larger compounds, present even in what visibly appears as clear and bright fuel, do not burn as efficiently. This incomplete combustion robs fuel economy, leaves carbon deposits on injectors and raises emissions, often with visible smoke and soot.
As the process continues, with even larger compounds being formed, the fuel begins to appear “dirty.” Eventually it progresses to forming sludge that falls to the bottom of the tank. This clotting fuel is the material that is commonly clogging fuel filters and shutting down generators. Often it may happen when a tank gets low and new fuel is poured in, agitating the sludge and dispersing throughout the fuel, releasing the threat that had been lying dormant. Or maybe the new fuel delivery came from such an agitated tank upstream in the supply line.
There are solutions. Some multi-spectrum additives on the market do have agents that can dissolve some of the sludge and others that will retard further deterioration for some number of months. Magnetic fuel conditioning runs the fuel across a magnetic field and its inductive properties reverse the process, separating carbon chains in what effectively returns deteriorated products back to fuel again.
Bottom of the Barrel
Water and tank sludge, of course, drop to the bottom of the tank, and a too-often overlooked but critical concern is that any tank cleaning be done properly by getting to the bottom of the tank. Access is frequently a limiting factor, but an inspection port can be installed to alleviate this problem. Similarly, when installing a re-circulating conditioning and filtration system, the pickup tube into the tank is optimized when near the bottom (not using the fuel system’s draw, which is several inches higher to avoid the very substances you wish to collect).
Take the Test
Any generator that is in a critical application ought to be a candidate for a routine fuel testing service, probably on a quarterly basis. All the talk about fuel quality means little if you don’t have a benchmark to measure from. Be sure to get your samples from both a midpoint and the bottom of the tank.
Too often, fuel condition is overlooked, mostly out of ignorance of the issue. When that happens, the extreme of fuel removal, replacement, and possibly extensive tank cleaning or even tank replacement, is the cost. That is, if you’re lucky and didn’t have a generator failure in a real emergency situation. Only the business in question can determine the cost in the case of a total failure. But, generally, they wouldn’t have a generator if total power loss were an acceptable outcome. It is crucial that disaster-planning professionals become aware of the need for a fuel maintenance routine to assure the survival of critical systems in the event of an emergency.
This is an edited article provided by Algae-X International. For more information, visit www.axifuelconditioning.com.