Many production people think a maintenance department exists purely to repair faults as they occur (the common image being a team sitting in the workshop waiting for the phone to ring). The most important part of a maintenance department’s responsibility, however, is performing routine planned maintenance. This provides regular servicing of equipment, checks for correct operation and identifies potential faults – which can be corrected before they interrupt production. A personal analogy is the 6000 mile service for motor cars. As an often overlooked side benefit, planned maintenance trains the maintenance craftsmen in the operation and layout of the plant for which they are responsible.
A planned maintenance schedule can be done on a calendar basis (work done daily, weekly, monthly and so on) or on an operation-based schedule (work done after so many hours operation, or so many cycles) with time run or number of cycles recorded by control equipment. Different parts of the system may have differing maintenance schedules. Identifying what work needs to be done and the basis of the schedule for each item is the art of planned maintenance. It depends heavily on the nature of the plant; air filters in a dust-filled steel works, say, require checking more often than in a clean food factory.
With the advent of the desktop personal computer many excellent computer-based maintenance planning programs are available. These produce fully detailed work schedules on a shift-by-shift basis, and flag urgent work. The user still, however, has to specify the work to be done and the basis of schedules.
In hydraulic systems it is generally thought that oil problems (level in the tank, contamination by dirt, air or water) are responsible for around three-quarters of faults. Regular checks on oil condition and level are therefore of utmost importance. Any sudden change in level should be investigated.
Oil temperature should also be checked regularly. High temperatures arise from heat produced by flow discharging with a high pressure drop. Apart from the obvious possible fault with a heat exchanger (no water flow, for example) other possible causes are incorrect operation of relief or unloading valves (i.e. the pump on load continuously), internal leakage or too high a fluid viscosity.
System pressure should be recorded and checked against design values. De- viations can indicate maladjustment or potential faults. Too high a pressure set- ting wastes energy and shortens operational life. Too low a pressure setting may cause relief valves to operate at pressures below that needed by actuators, lead- ing to no movement. Pressure deviation can also indicate developing faults out- side the system. The fouling of a component moved by an actuator, for example, may cause a rise of pressure which can be observed before a failure occurs.
Motor currents drawn by pumps and compressors should also be checked both in working and unloading states (ideally, indication of motor currents should be available on a panel local to the motor). Changes in current can indicate a motor is working harder (or less) than normal.
Filters are of prime importance in both hydraulic and pneumatic systems. The state of most hydraulic filters is shown by a differential pressure indicator connected across the filter element. Obviously filters should be changed before they become blocked. Inlet air filters on pneumatic systems also need regular cleaning (but not with flammable fluids such as petrol or paraffin). A record should be kept of filter changes.
Many checks are simple and require no special tools or instruments. Visual checks should be made for leaks in hydraulic systems (air leaks in pneumatic systems generally can be detected from the noise they make!). Pipe runs and hosing should be visually checked for impact damage and to ensure all supports are intact and secure. Connections subject to vibration should be examined for tightness and strain. It is not unknown for devices such as pumps and compressors to ‘walk’ across the floor dragging their piping with them.
Where the device examined follows a sequence, the operation should be checked to ensure all ancillary devices, such as limit switches, are operating. The time to perform sequences may be worth recording as a lengthening of sequence times may indicate a possible developing fault due to, say, leakage in a cylinder.
Actuators have their own maintenance requirements given in manufacturers’ manuals. Seals and bushing in cylinders, for example, require regular checking and replacement if damaged. Cylinder rods should be examined for score marks which can indicate dust ingress. Actuators which move infrequently under normal duty can be operated to check they still work (and also to help lubricate the seals).
Treat leaks from around the rods of cylinders with urgency. If oil is leaking out round the neck seal on the extend stroke, dirt is being drawn into the system on the return stroke and a minor leak can soon turn into a major system failure.
Pneumatic preventive maintenance is very similar to hydraulic maintenance (although obviously there is no hydraulic oil to check). Other points such as piping, filters, fittings, sequences and so on need checking in the same way.
Compressors have their own maintenance requirements. Many are belt- driven, and require belt condition and tension to be checked at regular intervals. Crankcase oil level and the air breather should also be checked.
The compressor is normally sized for the original capacity plus some reserve for future additions. A compressor will thus start life on a low-duty cycle, which increases as further loads are added. When compressor capacity is reached, the compressor will be on a 100% duty cycle. Any additional load results in a fall of system pressure in the receiver. Leaks also cause a rise in compressor duty cycle, as will any loss of compressor efficiency. Duty cycle of the compressor thus gives a good indication of the health and reserve capabilities of the systems.
Compressor efficiency is determined largely by the condition of valves, piston rings and similar components subject to friction wear. These should be examined at intervals given in manufacturers’ instruction manuals.
Other common pneumatic maintenance checks are validation of safety valve operation on the receiver, replenishment of oil in the air lubrication and drainage of water from air dryers.