Tracking asset status: How to improve inspection data

By Steve Gahbauer   

Industry MRO Manufacturing assets machinery manufacturing

More efficient machinery reduces maintenance costs.

Trend analysis predicts future failure.

Finding efficiencies is difficult but the benefits are great. It can transform maintenance from a cost centre to a bottom line contributor.

One area that offers cost savings though efficiencies is equipment inspection. As the importance of smart equipment management grows, so grows the inspection function. Yet the cost and payback from inspections – and the efficient use of relative data – is frequently not addressed.

Ben Stevens, a CMMS-EAM expert and the principal of DataTrak Systems Inc. in Godfrey, Ont., wrote about improving the quality of inspection data – and making good use of the information collected – in an Asset Management Solutions Newsletter 9 ( published by consultant Leonard Middleton.

Stevens argues that the purpose of inspections is to verify the “okay” status of equipment and to record it for future use. True enough, however, that’s often the end of the story. When the inspection work order is closed and maintenance moves on to the next job, important opportunities are lost.


One of the opportunities is to test the actual condition of a machine or system against potential failure with the data used as part of a simple trend analysis to predict future degradation and remaining useful life, as well as for failure or reliability analysis.

Stevens says in these cases the data must include equipment condition readings, such as temperature, pressure, vibration and wear. They’re at the core of condition-based maintenance inspections. Beyond “as-found” and “as-left” condition data before and after an install, a repair or replacement is best integrated into the standard work order format. In this way it’s possible to track the equipment condition at the end of an operating cycle and the end of the maintenance cycle. Such trending information is key to understanding the long-term degradation of an asset and clearly shows where the degradation is occurring.

Work left to do

The next step is to record the work remaining to be done on the equipment at the end of a job. This may come from:

• impending potential failures that have been noted during the work (such as partially worn belt);

• work left undone because of a lack of time or materials; or

• other anomalies not part of the normal condition or operation of the equipment that need attention.

This is an important contribution to smart planning and should be an automatic feedback via the work order to the planner for inclusion in future work for the asset.

An inspector should let maintenance know whether there are specific issues with the data collection, such as:

• awkwardness of the data collection procedure (the more difficult it is, the more likely the collection process will be skipped or done incorrectly);

• unreliable measuring equipment and inconsistent condition output readings;

• problems with the inspection work order’s pre-prepared data for normal operating range, potential failure and functional failure levels; or

• inadequate time allocated, incorrect procedure and missing tools.

To improve the quality of inspection data, collection needs to be consistent, timely and accurate. Stevens suggests a series of steps.

Only collect data that will actually be used. Automate the data collection wherever technically and financially reasonable. If not, make the data collection process as easy as possible.

If automatic data collection is not feasible, specify the data collection (and the data analysis) tasks on the work order. That way, time and resources will be allocated. So will a priority. That means it will be part of the backlog management process.

Document the data collection process and train inspectors and technicians. They need to understand why, what the collection process is, what will be done with the results, the effect of errors, and the availability of retraining if needed. By adding trend analysis, failure prediction and decision-making to the inspection task, the inspector will feel he/she is an integral and important part of the team.

Set the responsibility and accountability for accuracy and completeness with the inspectors and technicians. Their supervisor’s job is to provide the means to prompt them to do a first-class job. Catch and correct errors fast and do not accept suspect data.

Finally, publish the results and show what action has been taken as a result of the data collection. If no action was taken, ask why the data is being collected.

Increasingly, maintenance managers are being required to justify budgets and expenditures based on need and returns to the organization. This is not possible without reliable data collection. Remember, the main inspection functions are to: check asset status or equipment condition; examine a failed or problem asset to decide what maintenance activity is required; ensure equipment is fit for purpose on return to operation; and collect data to meet government regulations.

The most important issue is the quality of work. Poor inspections mean poor work, leading to more costly work.

Steve Gahbauer is an engineer, a Toronto-based business writer and a regular contributing editor. E-mail

This article originally appeared in the October 2018 print issue of PLANT Magazine.


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