Five Common Breaking Points of Industrial-grade Machinery and How to Combat Them
Broken industrial machinery can cause unexpected downtime, production loss, and even injury. Let's look at some of the most common issues and how to properly address them.
In an increasingly competitive global economy, manufacturers must streamline their operations and reduce costs to stay competitive. Industrial-grade machinery is a crucial part of this effort. Unfortunately, failures can take place at any time, often leading to catastrophic results. If left unchecked, industrial-grade machines can stop working effectively, which causes significant issues for manufacturers and their customers, including downtime, decreased productivity, defective products, and even safety issues.
Figure 1. Industrial plumbing. Image used courtesy of Unsplash
Manufacturers should be aware of the most common breaking points to either prevent such failures or have a plan in place if they occur. In this article, learn about the five focus areas to help combat manufacturing challenges.
Bearings are part of nearly every machine that moves — they allow smooth rotation by reducing friction between moving parts. In huge industrial-grade machinery, bearings can be a major source of problems. If not properly maintained, they will wear out and break over time. Bearings come with different ratings for load capacity and speed limits (also known as revolutions per minute). Without this information, it's nearly impossible to select the right type of bearing for a machine.
Industrial-grade machinery bearings are designed with high load ratings and low-speed limits to maintain optimal performance in a wide range of applications in manufacturing processes, construction, power production, mining, oil and gas refineries, and other industries that require heavy-duty equipment without breaking down. These parts tend to be more expensive than standard average duty bearings, but this additional cost ensures better quality control over their lifetime.
Some of the common problems with bearings include:
- Noises when machines are operating
- Bearing jams
- Surface damage on the shaft
- Normal wear and tear over time
These problems will often lead to reduced efficiency and eventual failure if not addressed. To identify and fix bearing problems in heavy machinery, perform regular inspections, maintenance, and ensure bearings are well-lubricated. It's best to leave this to professionals who have the training and knowledge to identify bearing problems, fix them promptly, and avoid downtime.
Some engineers consider motors to be the backbone of any machine. They take in electrical energy and turn it into rotational or linear motion depending on the motor used. Most motors are designed to last a long time under normal conditions.
Figure 2. Some stepping motors commonly used in industrial applications.
However, things can go wrong if they become faulty due to wear and tear over time. When a motor fails, the whole system is in danger because it will lose power or have enough to function properly. Several factors can cause this:
- Overheating - If a motor overheats, its life expectancy decreases and could break easily. It usually happens when the system is overloaded with work. The motor’s temperature increases too much to continue working efficiently, and it will likely fail in a very short time.
- Poor lubrication - Another cause of early breakdown or failure can be the lack of lubricant inside the engine. Many motors use oil as their main source to reduce friction between the components and allow smooth operation. If the system lacks lubricant, it can lead to permanent damage or failure of some components.
- Improper installation - The right way to install a motor is inside a dust-proof housing with all connections in place correctly. That prevents dirt from interfering with its functionality and also reduces vibration that could cause wear and tear.
- Improper ventilation - Ventilation is another important factor to consider when installing a motor. Dust, dirt, and debris are an enemy of the system’s operation if they get inside because dust can cause overheating or short circuits that will lead to failure quickly. It should be isolated from airflow as much as possible without affecting its efficiency.
- Lack of maintenance - A neglected motor can be the cause of early failure. If not lubricated, cleaned correctly, or replaced in time, it will lose productivity and lifespan. Maintaining a system means checking for any possible problems that could arise during normal operations to avoid breakdowns when they are more serious.
Hydraulic systems are used for the actuation, lifting, moving, and positioning of industrial equipment. They are powerful, but they must be kept clean and clear of debris or build-up to function properly. For a hydraulic system to function correctly, certain components must be present: power source (usually an electric motor), pump unit, or another fluid supply method on industrial-grade machinery.
Some of the common industrial-grade hydraulic systems include hydraulic jacks, cylinders, and presses. When these systems fail, the consequences can be very serious. Injuries from flying or broken parts and equipment damage that results in costly repairs are just some of the possible outcomes. Hydraulic system failure is often caused by:
- Leaks (usually caused by failing or worn components)
- Blockages that restrict the flow of fluids or gases
- Improper pressure maintenance after repair or maintenance, causing overloading and rupture of the system.
- Breakage at very high pressures and flows
When an industrial hydraulic machine fails to function properly due to any one of these reasons, it's essential for operators to immediately stop using the machine and restore it to working order. Industrial-grade hydraulic systems should always be treated with care and caution to ensure peak performance and avoid dangerous situations where failure could lead to injury. Regular inspection and maintenance should be part of the standard operation procedure for operators of industrial-grade machinery.
Gears and Belts
Gears and belts are some of the best ways to transmit power from one place to another. They can be found in all sorts of industrial machinery. However, when these components break, it usually means that the device is rendered useless until fixed (or replaced), leading to unwanted downtime.
In most cases, gears and belts fail in machines used for industrial purposes due to various reasons:
- Overheating causes the gears to expand, making them lose their grip on the belt
- Inferior material that is not up to par with rigorous conditions in an industrial environment
- Failure of a single component (causing it all to fail) can be attributed to either regular wear and tear or faulty manufacturing.
- Vibrations that can cause teeth on the gears to lock up
- Inadequate maintenance leads to premature wear and tear or corrosion of moving parts. It can also lead to faulty lubrication
- The mechanical shock from a sudden jerk causes components in the machine to move out of position, causing them not to fit together correctly (and eventually fail)
- Material fatigue (this is usually due to the hours of operation)
- Poor installation (the belts, for instance, were not installed properly by an expert)
To avoid problems with gears and belts on your mobile heavy machinery or industrial machinery, follow the recommended maintenance and repair schedule to ensure the life of your gears and belts. As an alternative to using a belt or gear system in machinery, fluid power systems provide another option by delivering pneumatic power to different components in a machine. These are known as hydraulic drive systems, and they serve the same purpose but use compressed air instead of mechanical parts to transmit power.
Seals and Gaskets
Seals and gaskets are other problematic areas on heavy machinery. They are designed to keep the moving parts contained within an area, but they must also handle extreme heat and pressure at times. When seals fail, it's usually because of a crack or hole that has developed over time from wear-and-tear or damage incurred during normal use. Gaskets can develop cracks or tears, but they are more likely to fail when exposed to extreme heat.
Figure 3. Industrial seals and gaskets. Image used courtesy of Unsplash
Seal and gasket failure is often hard to detect because the seal may continue working even with a crack or hole in it. Many times these types of failures are detected by accident while performing another maintenance function. If you suspect that your machine's seals or gaskets are failing, one good way to check is by spraying some liquid soap on the seal or around its mating surface. If there's a leak in the system, you should see bubbles forming where they meet up with each other.
Machine manufacturers typically recommend the replacement of seals and gaskets every two years under normal use conditions. This timeline is a good rule of thumb for most machines, but you should consult your owner's manual or machine manufacturer to determine the best practice for your model. If it appears that seals and gaskets are failing on your equipment, make sure to have them replaced as soon as possible. Not only will this prevent costly downtime from occurring in the future, but it will also help extend the life of your heavy equipment.
Preventative Maintenance is Vital
Regular preventative maintenance is vital to avoid these common problems with industrial-grade machinery. Machines that are not in regular use should be checked at least once a month, while machines used daily or weekly need to be kept up-to-date with appropriate inspections and lubrication. Preventative measures can help avoid wear on parts before it happens, but if there are already signs of damage, the only way to ensure a machine's safety is by having it repaired.
Inspecting your machinery and completing the necessary maintenance work ensures smooth, safe, and dependable use for years to come.