The condition monitoring technologies, vibration analysis, in particular, are challenging to master. That is an understatement. Focusing on vibration analysis, it is a sad fact that “anyone” can set up a program, take readings, view spectra, and say that they are running a vibration monitoring program. Regardless of how the data is collected, if the machine condition changes dramatically then the vibration should change. And if the readings do not indicate that a fault exists, it is possible that the person collecting the readings (or an operator) will hear a change in the vibration and bring attention to the fault condition.
What is your program like?
That is a pessimistic way of looking at vibration analysis, however, it is really up to each analyst and team manager to determine how well their program is being operated. How confident are you that the vibration analyzer is being set up correctly, providing spectra and time waveforms capable of revealing all of the hidden messages in the machine vibration? How confident are you that the measurements are being taken from the optimal position on the machine, and that the accelerometer is being mounted correctly; ensuring that the readings are repeatable and provide all of the vibration information from the low frequencies to the high frequencies. How confident are you that the analyst is able to notice when the vibration has changed in significant ways, and recognize the symptoms that indicate the nature and severity of the fault condition. And how confident are you that the diagnosis made is able to be communicated in a meaningful way and that the recommended actions will actually be acted upon.
These are all ingredients of a successful vibration monitoring program. If you have weakness in any one of these areas then you must recognize that your program is not able to deliver the financial results possible.
What is the solution?
So, what can you do about these problems? There is only one answer – provide effective, meaningful training.
It is only fair that I declare my hand. I am the founder of Mobius Institute – we run training classes and offer accredited certification that follows ISO standards. Before you turn away on the assumption this will be a sales pitch, it may be worth hearing the story of what drove me to quit a well-paying development job to start Mobius.
For fifteen years I was involved with the development of vibration monitoring hardware and software; for five years in Australia and almost ten years with a US company. Over those fifteen years, and the twelve years since starting Mobius, the science and art of vibration analysis has continued to develop. (To be honest, there have not been many technological developments; most people are still analyzing spectra and time waveforms, with the addition of high-frequency techniques such as enveloping, shock pulse and PeakVue.)
The only constant over all of those years is that managers and technicians have put their blood, sweat and tears (not too much blood thankfully) into making those programs work – without sufficient knowledge to get the most out of the systems they have purchased.
So many programs have been started with enthusiasm and then ended sometime later either with the stroke of a pen by a budget-saving (but ill-informed) manager or more commonly after the program fizzled into distant memory when it was concluded that “vibration analysis does not work”. It is no wonder that programs fail; when the analysts are confused and the results are poor and undocumented, how can they be justified?
So, after seeing how much trouble people had running successful programs, and observing that the training being provided was not solving the problem, it seemed clear that I should switch my focus to providing effective training.
Is it all that bad?
It is important to say that there are a lot of good programs out there that do achieve great results. Likewise, there are lots of vibration analysts who have managed to gain experience and build a wealth of knowledge that enables them to achieve great results. Sadly, in my experience, they are in the minority.
In the majority are people who try very hard but just don’t have that knowledge or experience and therefore don’t necessarily know what they are doing wrong. They don’t know what could be achieved. Some may admit publically that they are confused about many aspects of vibration analysis. Their analyzer uses settings that they don’t understand. They take measurements in a way that they assume is correct. They analyze a lot of vibration data because their alarm limits are not set correctly and they don’t fully understand how the vibration should change when the machine begins to fail. They have a wall chart or pocketbook, but they find with great frustration that their spectra are far more complex in reality.
What type of training is required?
Vibration training is necessary to ensure that each and every vibration analyst knows how to make the right decisions; how to set up the analyzer, collect data, perform analysis, diagnose faults and report recommendations correctly.
There are three major issues related to vibration training: the topics covered, volume of training, and effectiveness.
Everyone has their own opinions about what should be covered during a training class. For many years vibration trainers had complete freedom to teach whatever they liked. Thankfully in 2003 the ISO standard 18436-2 was released. This standard specified which topics should be covered and the duration of training, both the course length and the time spent on individual topics. This has helped, however, unfortunately, it is not documented to the level of detail that ensures that individual training organizations cannot exercise some discretion.
For example, some training organizations favor training that is more theoretical, asking for numerous calculations to be made and formulas to be memorized – even though they will never be used in their jobs.
Some training companies will cover topics listed in the standard, but they will insert topics specific to their brand of analyzer. While it is very important to understand how to use the various unique features of the analyzer, it is also important that the training course does not turn into a sales presentation.
Other training organizations choose to report that they follow the standards yet a simple comparison between their training agenda and the topics listed in the standard will reveal substantial differences.
And that is where the question of accreditation first arises. The accreditation process involves an independent audit of the organization that generates the training to ensure that it meets certain requirements:
It is independent and unbiased.
It provides the knowledge that meets the needs of the “stakeholders”. There must be a way to determine the needs of the stakeholders. This is done in two ways:
There is an ISO committee (TC108/SC5) that brings together the view of the vibration community in the United States and all other member countries around the world.
There is a Technical Committee within the Mobius Institute Board of Certification made up of people who represent the “stakeholders” who determine if the training meets the requirements defined by the ISO standard.
It is worth mentioning that the SMRP and Mobius Institute have both been accredited to the standard ISO/IEC 17024 “Conformity assessment – General requirements for bodies operating certification of persons”. This standard is not specific to reliability or vibration analysis; it is all about how the certification process is defined, managed and conducted. And if training is required in order to be certified (as it is in condition monitoring), then it ensures that the training is unbiased but meets the needs of the certification scheme.
Volume of training
It was mentioned in the previous section that the ISO standards specify how long a training course needs to be. However training is required above and beyond a single four day course that an analyst may attend once every one or two years (or longer).
Regardless of how good the course may be there is a great deal to learn and it is easy to forget key facts. Unless you are in a plant that sees every type of fault occur once every couple of months, when a less common fault occurs it is easy to be stumped. There is a solution:
1. Have a reference of some kind that enables you to quickly find answers to tough and/or unique situations. The reference can be in the form of a “knowledgebase” or computer-based training that can be accessed at any time.
2. Attend training that helps you practice dealing with tough and/or unique situations. Think about pilots for a moment. What would happen if they suddenly came across a wind shear situation that they had never experienced before? If they were to simply rely on what they were taught in a class years ago they may easily make a poor decision… Pilots are able to use flight simulators that build the experience and confidence so that if it ever happens in reality they will be prepared. Vibration analysts need to take a similar approach.
This, in the author’s opinion, is the most important factor. If you are involved in vibration analysis then you will know that in many cases it is possible to come away from a training course more confused and less confident than when you went it. There is so much to learn, but if the instructor does not have the proper training aids, or insists on being very theoretical, or insists on demonstrating how smart he is rather than coming “down” to your level and teaching what you need to know (in a manner that you understand) then the course is a waste of time and money – it is a lost opportunity.
You don’t have to look very far to see how multimedia can be utilized to make information exchange more effective. Every news program and documentary utilizes animations and “simulations” to make the knowledge transfer more effective and more engaging. You can now learn in moments what would have taken hours once upon a time. Animations and simulations can help you understand what is going on rather than being forced to remember a series of facts.
You only have to think back to the pilot example. Commercial pilots have been learning with sophisticated animations and simulations for many years. And you can be sure that pilots don’t rely on a few days of training. They will prepare days before a course so that what they hear during the course simply adds to what they have already learned, and they are given the resources to continue learning after the official training.
I am sure doctors are the same. They use effective training techniques, they gain experience as part of their training, and they never stop learning.
You may think that vibration analysis is not like flying a 747 or performing brain surgery, but if you consider the importance of making the correct diagnosis, and the complexity of spectra and time waveforms, and the variety of machine failure modes then it makes sense to utilize the very best in training techniques.
While we are discussing the training or pilots and surgeons it is worth discussing the need for certification.
Unless an analyst has many years of experience and an employer or consulting customers that fully appreciate his or her capabilities, certification is very important in the vibration community. The ISO standards ISO 18436-1 and ISO 18436-2 define how much training and experience an analyst should have in order to be certified at one of four levels (called Category I, II, III and IV). The same standards define how the analyst should be examined.
In a perfect world we would ask the analyst to move through a plant with a steam turbine, multi-stage gearboxes, large induction motors, reciprocating compressors and many other machine types, all with a variety of fault conditions, and ask the analyst to diagnose them all. Sadly, that is not feasible. But it is possible to follow the recommendations of the international ISO committee and develop exams that are filled with practical questions that test an analyst’s knowledge and experience.
Don’t forget reliability improvement
No discussion of this type can be considered complete unless it discusses reliability improvement. Vibration analysis can be utilized to avoid unexpected failures and to minimize the financial and safety-related impact of fault development. But as a condition monitoring technician, the analyst does not prevent the fault condition from developing in the first place – he or she simply reacts to the situation and helps the organization respond in the most cost effective way. But the vibration analyst should also be involved in reliability improvement, to reduce the likelihood of the fault developing in the first place. These activities can include acceptance testing, root cause failure analysis and much more – but that is the topic for a separate article.
The ideal analyst
The ideal analyst has the knowledge to understand the entire process – from deciding which machines need to be tested (and how they should be tested), to setting analyzer parameters, to diagnosing faults (utilizing all of the data types), performing additional tests to verify the diagnosis, and making recommendations that are clear, concise, and understood by those who need the information. The right training, and on-going training, can provide that knowledge.
The ideal analyst will also have the experience to recognize and deal with situations that are not mainstream. They should be able to utilize past experience and have the skills and knowledge to deal with unfamiliar situations. Like pilots, however, we cannot effort to wait until the analyst gains that experience in the field, potentially making many mistakes along the way. Everyone learns from their mistakes, but if a person can gain experience without the dire consequences, then we should take advantage of those opportunities.
Vibration analysis can deliver substantial financial rewards, but the analyst needs to be supported with effective training and meaningful certification.
About the Author
Jason TranterFounder & CEO, Mobius Institute
Jason Tranter is the founder and CEO of Mobius Institute. Jason is the author of the majority of the Mobius Institute training courses and e-learning products covering reliability improvement, condition monitoring, and precision maintenance topics. Over 43,000 people (as of 2021) have been formally trained in these courses, and many thousands more have been educated via the elearning courses. Plus, thousands have read articles, attended conference presentations, and watched videos and webinars on many sites, including cbmconnect.com, reliabilityconnect.com, Mobiusconnect.com and YouTube (over 1.3 million views).