The Responsibility of your Machine’s inspections

“Machine reliability is everyone’s responsibility” is a common saying and is very true for all issues, big and small. It is important to inculcate a proactive maintenance culture in your organization. Most of inspection is about a purposeful and relentless sensory observation that can be done by any responsible and competent person near the machine. 

The criticality of having proper maintenance plans can be explained using a simple example. Machine parts, for instance, are frequently placed in warehouses or on pallets and shelves, usually in an active work area. These parts will sooner or later become parts of integral machines or machine trains. This means that the part that was kept in an impaired state and poor condition will be transferred to an operating machine. Regardless of the size of the component, its poor condition is a serious hazard to your operating processes and any damage to operating processes can have catastrophic repercussions to your business. Thus, inspection is considered a cradle-to-grave process.

The consequences of failure are huge and hence, inspections require accountability and responsibility. Create plans that outline the roles and skills of an inspector. These tasks will be broad and often difficult. Each path in the inspection plan requires particular skills corresponding to that task. Make sure to match skills to the tasks specifically and not generally. Each inspector should possess the skills required for the tasks he/she is performing. If there are gaps in their skills, they should be closed by training or by a change in staffing.

Inspection by Operator

The machine operator works around the machines for 8 to 12 hours every day and thus can point out any subtle differences in its working.  Hence, in some organization, he is the ideal choice for being the machine inspector. This term for such inspection practice is operator-driven inspection (ODI). Organizations that seriously follow Total Productive Maintenance (TPM) take this approach to their regular inspections. The responsibility of the operator for each element of the inspection plan ensures the effectiveness of ODI. Issues like machine readiness and the availability of needed inspection tools or aids are also at play here and asking operators to inspect machines they are not trained for can be tedious, unpleasant and often thankless.

To reinforce such Maintenance practices you have to inculcate an inspection-intensive organizational culture. Whenever the operators identify issues, they need to make the case for maintenance to troubleshoot, perform adjustments or repair and realign the machine to a healthy condition. 

Much like how a car owner also works as a driver/operator. The person who drives also looks for oil in the driveway; checks tire pressure, oil level, strange sound and smells. He or she may check the service manual and sometimes look under the hood. The car owner may not always be good at these inspections but accepts these tasks eagerly.

Inspector Generalists

Ensuring the required level of reliability in large and expensive industrial assets requires skilled full-time inspectors. These inspectors are specialists that work on one particular aspect or a set of disciplines in conditional monitoring. The advantage of having an inspector, who only does inspection roles, is that he has more rigorous training and higher ability level due to continuous practice. An expert inspector is very valuable as he combines his deep inspection knowledge with the understanding of all other condition monitoring techniques like vibration, thermography and oil analysis.

An inspector’s expertise can be vertically and horizontally integrated. A cross-disciplinary inspection requires an inspector to be horizontally integrated. This means he should have the knowledge of many technical disciplines relating to lubrication, oil analysis, tribology, electrical and mechanical machine design, instrumentation, operational inspections and safety. The Inspector Generalist should be a jack-of-all-trades.

Most of the times, it doesn’t make sense to conduct a survey for lubrication and then conduct a similar inspection for the same machine’s electrical systems. If you have different maintenance planners for separate maintenance functions like electrical, mechanical and production etc; you can easily divide inspection tasks.

Inspection Technicians and Inspection Analysts

Inspection technicians and Inspection analysts have expertise that is vertically integrated, which means they have deeper rather than broader expertise in the field of inspection. These jobs are difficult to achieve due to the number of inspection disciplines possible across the various types of machines used in large industrial points. There are extensive education curriculums that correspond to certification for performing Vibration analysis, acoustic analysis, oil analysis and infrared thermography. These professional career paths are recognized by ISO 18436 based on three levels of competency (Category I, II and III).

Unfortunately, as of today, such curriculum and competency testing are not yet available for inspection technicians and inspection analysts. This will change soon as the next generation inspection practices enter the world of condition monitoring.

Inspection technicians are specialists that have category I or II credentials for performing inspections. They skillfully perform numerous inspection tasks on various machine types. Additionally, they have above-average competency on the subject matter of ancillary inspection tasks and methods. They perform regular inspection routes and possess extensive knowledge in their field.    

Inspection analysts are resident experts who possess deep subject matter knowledge and have experience across many disciplines like mechanical, instrumentation, electrical, safety and so on. Inspection analysts do not perform the functions of operators, electricians, and mechanics or lube techs; their function is to examine the machine closely using their extensive experience. They have access to a high degree of inspection knowledge as they are trained and certified to do inspections. They develop the ability to see things that others overlook. They are equipped with a good toolbox of inspection aids and encyclopedic knowledge on various inspection subjects.
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