143. Idea – Motor Reliability 101 Transcript


Mike: 00:00 

So I think, reliability at its basis speaks to good business operations and being profitable. That’s really the core of a lot of the understanding and practices associated with reliability from supporting customers from that aspect. I think it’s always been an enhancement to be able to consult and do the due diligence to discover new ways to approach and enhance reliability and share that information with the people that it impacts on a day-to-day basis.

Chris: 00:33 

Welcome to EECO Asks Why a podcast that dives into industrial manufacturing topics, spotlights the heroes that keep America running. I’m your host, Chris Grainger. And on this podcast, we do not cover the latest features and benefits on products that come to market, instead, we focus on advice and insight from the top minds of industry because people and ideas will be how America remains number one in manufacturing in the world. 

Welcome to EECO Asks Why. Today we’re going to be digging into a fun topic, Motor Reliability 101. With us to go through this is the professor of reliability himself, Mr. Mike Rathbun, how you doing Mike? 

Mike: 01:17 

Thanks. I’m good, Chris, I’m glad to have a chance to speak with you on this exciting topic.

Chris: 01:24 

Well, Mike, I mean, for our listeners out there, I’ve seen Mike absolutely hanging on the rim, talking about motor reliability, connecting the dots is what you do such a great job of or why this is important. Years ago, reliability was, something kinda kept it in the back part of the plant and didn’t have the spotlight, but it’s getting a bigger and bigger spotlight in the more and more that plants get connected.

The more data is available, as efficiency goes up, we were trying to push more and more product out of our plants in America these days and reliability has a big part of it. We have a lot of great partners in reliability over the years. So Mike, really looking forward to what you’re going to go through with us today.

So maybe just to start us off, just talking about, Reliability 101 when it comes to motors and motor design application and load requirements, where would you begin here with us? 

Mike: 02:17 

So thanks, Chris. This has been a topic that has been near and dear to both of us who are going back, several years in our career.

I think a lot of the conversations that you and I have been in with customers that we’re trying to support has been around, condition-based analysis and monitoring. And do you have a vibration analysis program and are you testing and all these things that companies tend to do in the process of trying to determine what is the health of the asset? What are the conditions are going on? What kind of information can I collect to feed into my maintenance program? But I thought for this discussion I wanted to divert from that. There’s a lot of resources on all of those types of activities. And training environments and what they could do for you. 

I wanted to step back and in some of the processes and approaches that you and I developed going back to our motor shop days. That is focused more on not having to go out and buy a bunch of equipment and train somebody to do something, but having processes in place there that can be easily repeatable and ingrained in your operations, that will definitely impact motor reliability.

This is an area I think that gets missed in a lot of these conversations. So I think it really starts from understanding the applications when it comes to motors. Quite often, a motor burns up or a motor throws a bearing, whatever the case, it fails in operation and motors pulled out of the storeroom and is installed in its place.

And in that aspect or from a from a brand new application standpoint I think an end-user really needs to understand what the application and load requirements are. What type of a load are we pushing? Are we moving a compressor? Are we doing a typical pump? Operation is it a variable speed?

Having that kind of due diligence, basic information and instead of just having a voltage and a horsepower and maybe a frame designation as you’re updating, replacing motors and adding new motors, understanding the application and matching the application requirements to nameplate and design criteria of a motor is a much more definitive and a more reliable approach. 

Chris: 04:50 

Absolutely Mike, one thing, I think a lot of times it just happens in plants because we’re trying to fix something in an emergency. We pull that 30 horsepower, but we don’t match that nameplate up. We’re just trying to get things back up and running. And although it may get the motor, it may get the application back up, but it may have the wrong Nema design or what have, you could be different things on the nameplate that really shift how that motor operates. So you’re all over it with making sure that motor design meets the application and little requirements.

That’s a great point there, man. Great point. A couple of areas that I know you were really big on when you’re trying to help end-users with their motors assets, there’s making sure that they’re installed. So maybe could you walk us through some installation ideas that would enhance motor reliability?

Mike: 05:35 

Absolutely. And you’re right. This is an area that I used to harp on and still do to people that are in the field, end-users and owners is during the motor installation, that is your one and only chance to have the greatest impact on the life cycle and the reliability of that motor. Nothing else you’re going to do in terms of, any maintenance tasks or any monitoring are going to be able to have as big an impact as you potentially do if you follow very good defined installation practices. 

Some of those would include, going back to our first topic there, is ensuring if we’re replacing an existing motor, number one, maybe we take a few minutes to understand why did the original motor fail in the first place. That may be telling us something, something may have changed in the process. Something could have changed in the electrical distribution system. Something could have changed to the foundation. A little bit of due diligence to have a basic understanding of why motors fail and prior to just putting another one in, it was a great place to start. 

Beyond that the actual installation itself. It starts with a good alignment. I always profess to any installation we’re doing is that we have a standardized specification for motor alignment and it would be based upon different speed ratings, different applications. And there’s some really straightforward standards that are available, on the internet to give us that guidance.

Whether you bring that capability into your own internal team or you bring in an outside contractor that initial alignment and setup of a motor is probably one of the most critical pieces you can do to ensure that the motor’s going to start off on a healthy path. 

Chris: 07:40 

Absolutely. I mean, also with installation, Mike, what about your terminations themselves? The motor leads from ensuring reliability. Can you, anything you could speak to there? 

Mike: 07:50 

There, there is. And we’ve seen a number of things. There’s been a number of products that have come on the market to try and it’s never simple or fun to determine a 500 horsepower motor that’s been bolted and insulated. There’s no fast way. There’s no shortcut to do that. So I’d be wary of products that sidestep that process. I’m a believer that a properly bolted, connection that is properly insulated with the appropriate materials is the most reliable connection that you can use on a motor.

And it is straightforward. It is a little bit more time-consuming, but in the long run, I’d rather spend the time when the equipment is down, than have to change out a motor due to a poor connection a year and a half down the road. 

Chris: 08:44 

Absolutely. Absolutely. And Mike, I meant to bring back when you mentioned earlier about doing that learning from what failed. So many people skip that step and root cause failure analysis will really give you so much insight to what’s going on with your plant, with your asset, you know, the equipment that it’s driving. And it’s just often that it’s the piece that is skipped the most often, but it can give you so much insight so I’m glad you went there, man. That was really great. 

Mike: 09:14 

Yeah, absolutely. And I want to jump in there, and it doesn’t have to be over complicated. I think when you start throwing around terms like root cause analysis, people start thinking of the expertise that may be needed and the bandwidth and the people that would be needed to go through an in-depth root cause analysis.

And that could be the case. Obviously, the more diligence that you can take in that area, the greater the payoff would be, but even, from a simple maintenance perspective in capability. Just looking at some basics, was this an electrical failure? Was that a bearing failure? Was there something that happened in the operation of that motor? Keeping it simple just to keep those factors in place and in consideration when you’re making a change. 

Now I do want to jump to what I think is as probably overlooked as that maybe, even more, is I go back to my statement. This is the one and only chance you have to have the greatest impact on the health and life cycle of the motor. And that is once you’ve got an and done a good mechanical insulation. And you’re ready basically to put that motor in operation. This is a chance to collect, to go back to your CBM fundamentals and do a good baseline collection of data, whether that’s electrical signature analysis, basic voltage readings, vibration data capture.

That’s the point where you get your best reference? Not only of how good of an installation did my team do, but five years, three years, whatever down the road, we’ve got a point to go back to say here’s when we’re good, here’s what things look like, and how do they compare to now? I think that is in my experience in the field was overlooked probably more than anything else.

Chris: 11:11 

Or even updating your databases, for instance, we used to do a lot of online captures, offline captures, and even vibration analysis, but just making that note in your trend data that, “Hey, at this point, Motor X has been changed out with motor Y,” so you’re no longer trending motor X.

So you, this is the new, to your point, this is the new start of that lifecycle for the motor Y for that case. I’m glad you brought that up as well, man. That’s good insight there. 

Mike: 11:44 

Absolutely. The power is in the data that you collect and that you can come back to for your understanding the conditions as they move forward.

Chris: 11:51 

So Mike let’s say we’ve done all that, and we’re going to assume that if you’re listening to this you’re practicing, the best practices and industry out there, but one area I know you and I have both experienced this in the past from a motor reliability standpoint that gets overlooked.

And sometimes it’s surprising the minimum amount of detail that’s put into this is how motors are stored. Mike, I remember walking around with you at at a plant and the DC motors were stored outside and there was maybe a little lean-to over top of them and, when you open them up and you look at the commentators and the armatures and what’s going on inside the motor, it’s just like, wow.

And these are spare motors, critical motors that are, process critical. They’re going to go in if one that’s in the process fails. It’s being stored in a condition like that. So could you speak to us and to our listeners about motor storage, why it’s important? And maybe some reliability-type ideas or concepts that they could consider because not everything has to be, you have to spend this big bucket of capital to create this climate-controlled, operating room to keep your motors in. There’s some basic stuff you could do with your storeroom right now, most likely to improve motor reliability. So could you walk through some of those things for us here, Mike? 

Mike: 13:11 

This is a great piece, Chris. Let’s walk through some of those ideas, but keep in mind one thing that I think gets forgotten, sometimes I think from the purchasing side or the storeroom management side, a motor is really looked upon as no different than a nut and bolt that may sit in a storage bin, but the reality is a spare motor could sit in a storeroom for 3, 5, 10 years and there’s absolute considerations or impacts that are going to occur to that motor over time. Unless some certain basic measures are being taken. 

Obviously, the cleanliness of the environment is a clear piece of that. If you can keep that area free from dust and other contamination so isolated, not necessarily sitting out on the sidewall in the production area is greatly going to help that condition. You touched upon climate control and actually climate control. There may be some cost involved, but the impact of preventing moisture buildup inside of a motor is really priceless.

If you got $35,000 wrapped up in a new 200 or 250 horsepower motor, and that sits there for three years and when it’s needed, it turns out it’s full of rust and the insulation is in poor shape. That $35,000 just went out the door. And you’re still stuck with an application that’s not running.

But some other things you can do in the consider in that storeroom, something as simple as obviously keeping track, having that database of what motors are in the storeroom, what motor should you have in your storeroom based upon, the particulars, what are the complications in your operation?

Where are the predominant failures at? Where do you have multiple same size, same frame motors throughout your operation, which are the motors that are really tough to get in and out? Those considerations need to go into that planning of what’s in the storeroom.

Then track those motors and some basic steps from a maintenance perspective we could do, number one is set, a maintenance task of rotating the shaft. In long-term storage, that can be one of the biggest aggregation factors of a motor, the impact on bearings and what really moves that piece is if you have a motor that’s sitting on the concrete floor and you have a lot of heavy processes where there’s a lot of vibration, keep in mind that vibration is being transmitted right through the base of that motor through the shaft, into the bearing.

And probably something that people don’t realize a bearing’s really not designed to sit in a single state, but bearing is designed to be rotating for it to sit and absorb vibration, even low levels of vibration over a long extended period of time is going to result in fatigue and failure in a bearing.

So simple shaft rotation maintenance plan is a nice piece that could extend the reliability. Another piece to consider would be if nothing else, trying to maintain some heat within the motors or the, in the motor area to minimize the impact of moisture ingression, especially in the south down here. It’s humid everywhere, and it is for most of the year. So as much as you can mitigate that moisture interaction or ingress into motors that are in storage will have a great impact on your condition. 

You may want to consider having a testing plan. Potentially on an annual basis would come through and check the moisture and the installation condition of the motor. There’s nothing worse than getting a call on Friday night that a system is down and you have to go in and change out a 350 horsepower motor. You go through all the work to get the old one out, get a new one in there, go through all that due diligence. And when you hit the start button, it goes, poof, you’ve got to start all over. That is the worst feeling. 

Chris: 17:12 

Absolutely. Now, Mike, you mentioned a couple of great things there, first of all, just understanding the assets that you have in the field versus what you have and your storeroom, just doing that gap analysis. That’s a great place to start. If you don’t have the backup, you are running in a compromised state if that motor fails. Shaft rotations, keeping the area clean. I think just having an organized system to your storeroom, into where, how the motors physically located, helps a lot. And we’ve seen some best practices out there in the field before where you know where that storeroom is managed right. They know where that motor is at and the history of it, as well as it was last repaired here. This was the failure, things like that. So just some really great points. And you mentioned testing to make sure that the motors are ready to go out and to perform at the highest reliability when they go out there.

So from a maintenance standpoint, is there a threshold that you recommend when it comes to, from a horsepower standpoint or maybe just a general size standpoint that end user should consider before they start a shaft rotation or a testing program? Because obviously you probably don’t need to worry about rotating the shaft on a 30 horsepower. Are there any general rules of thumb for our listeners that may help them to decide where to attack? Cause these storerooms can be pretty big, you know? 

Mike: 18:34 

Right. I think one of the things that plays into that consideration is it’s pretty easy to provide some storage with some dampening for small motors. You can get them up on a rack. You could potentially have wooden racks that isolate small motors, but when you get to your larger motors that are not stored or don’t have the options for storing off of the ground, that may be a hundred horsepower motor and above where due to limitations in the storeroom, they have to sit on the ground.

There may not be an option. Obviously, the size plays into that think about in those cases rubber mats is an easy way around that for your larger motors. Any type of dampening material that you place between the concrete floor and the base of that motor will have a great effect.

Chris: 19:25 

Absolutely. I know you were going to go there. I just, I thought that was a great point because we’ve seen best practice out there. If you can’t get the motor up off the ground have something for that dampening. I think it goes a long way to ensuring reliability. Mike, you mentioned a couple of times, learning from the motor failures, partnering with the right vendors to understand what’s happening.

Can maybe as one of our last points here in this Reliability 101 discussion, talk about just your motor repair in general and the specifications about, these service providers can do to enhance motor reliability, or to at least give you more information. What should they be demanding from these service providers to get them, the information that they need to run longer? 

Mike: 20:10 

So we could probably do a whole podcast just on that aspect of managing a large motor program, but I think to touch on some basics, there is if you’re a large motor end-user and you’re going to have a large variety of motors in your facility you have relationships with some motor repair providers that are doing repairs and rewinds on those motors as you need.

I think what gets lost by a lot of maintenance organizations within companies is there’s no one way to repair or rewind or remanufacture a motor. There’s everything from your mom and pop shops that have a place to your very advanced, large motor repair organizations build a lot of quality in their process.

So I like to say, start with a motor repair specifications. If you’re sending motors out to a motor repair facility you should have an expectation of the processes and the quality processes within that the motor repair vendor should provide as part of any motor repair. Building out that specification can start very simply and grow in complexity.

I would say this is a place to partner with a good OEM or talk to a couple of motor repair vendors. We might even have some literature on this topic that we could share of what needs to go into specification so that at the end of the day, when you’re sending that motor out and you’re getting it back, you can have confidence in the level of repair and the reliability that motor represents to you.

One thing that I always utilize in conjunction with that is you really need to find a vendor you can partner with, you can openly partner with, and you can sit down and have that discussion about specifications and even allow you to audit. I would expect if a sizeable portion of your maintenance budget is wrapped up and repairing motors. And this could apply to pumps survives as well. Is that I would want to be able to audit my vendor in process to on occasion, ensure that the quality and expectations specifications are being adhered to.

That’s always a red flag for me, if a vendor’s not openly willing and inviting for you to come in at any point in time and see how the process works and dig under the hood a little bit, you might be leery of that vendor. I think being open and sharing in the process is a way to get there. 

Some specifics within that repair that kind of stands out. That would differentiate between maybe a lower quality compared to a higher quality. Is there an actual QA process built in to their repair process? Are there procedures in place? Written procedures and documentation that walks through the different processes that are involved mechanically and electrically in repairing motor things such as proof testing once a motor is repaired. What are the different types of electrical tests that are being provided on that motor?

Is the shop having with the capability to operate that motor at full voltage, potentially under-load, take in and understand vibration analysis associated with that motor. And you use that as part of their qualifying process. Those are just a few that are in there that I think are important to ensure the reliability of that process.

Chris: 23:45 

Absolutely. Mike, thank you so much, you brought so much knowledge and insight to this topic here, you know, why. We always talk about EECO Asks Why, why is reliability so important just to you? I think I’d like to ask that question. 

Mike: 23:59

I guess it takes on somewhat different perspectives depending on where you’re sitting. If I’m the maintenance manager or the engineer in a facility the reliability of motors and of equipment in general, you know, speaks to your bottom line and speaks to your budget on a year in year out basis. I know if you manufacture beer cans, for instance, that’s what you do. You manufacture beer cans. You’re not in business to fix and replace broken equipment. Any of those activities takes away from the bottom line of pushing beer cans out the back door. 

So I think, reliability at its basis speaks to good business operations and being profitable. That’s really the core of a lot of the understanding and practices associated with reliability from supporting customers from that aspect. I think it’s always been an enhancement to be able to consult and do the due diligence to discover new ways to approach and enhance reliability and share that information with the people that it impacts on a day-to-day basis.

Chris: 25:09 

Absolutely. Mike, you’re very passionate about this topic. You bring so much knowledge to our listeners. It’s always fun to walk through, these topics with you, but motor reliability is special. And, you know, we didn’t really touch on the different technologies that are associated with motor liability and condition-based maintenance and things like that. I think maybe that’s for another episode, we could probably have some fun with that one. 

Mike: 25:34 

We absolutely could. Yeah, that would be a good topic. 

Chris: 25:37 

Deal. Mike, thank you again so much for your time and again, for all the valuable knowledge that you brought today. 

Mike: 25:44 

You’re welcome. Thanks, Chris.

Chris: 25:49 

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