Basic Condition Monitoring Techniques for Machines and Infrastructure

By Paul Grady on Apr 01 in Technology.

When it comes to managing equipment in factories and plants, taking a proactive approach to maintenance is much better than just waiting for things to break down, right? The traditional “run to failure” method means unplanned downtime that can halt operations and cost a fortune to fix.

That’s where condition monitoring techniques can help you. But how? you may ask. By regularly collecting data on how machines operate, such as vibrations, temperatures, and oil quality. This data equips condition monitoring to detect minor problems before they become big problems.

What Condition Monitoring Brings to the Table?

These techniques help spot abnormal wear and changes in how things performed when they were new. Once we have this operational data, we will gain insight into which systems might need repairs sooner rather than later.

That way, the most important gear doesn’t end up derailing the whole production line because you can fix it during a scheduled shutdown instead of an unexpected one.

Many different technologies allow us to “listen” and gather information without even cracking open a piece of equipment. Each method tracks different markers, giving a well-rounded view of overall equipment health. In short, you maximize uptime at the best value by picking the right combination of condition-monitoring techniques for your specific factory or plant needs.

Most Commonly Used Condition Monitoring Techniques

Let’s review some of the most commonly used techniques to help choose a monitoring method tailored to your budget and situation.

Most Commonly Used Condition Monitoring Techniques

Technique # 1: Thermography

Thermal cameras capture the infrared energy that everything around us gives off. Even though we can’t see it, every object radiates heat, and these cameras can map out those temperature differences.

For example:

Have you ever thought a bearing was starting to go bad but couldn’t see any problems yet? A thermal camera might spot it overheating while it’s still performing okay.

It is the same with electrical connections that are getting loose or insulation breaking down – the temperature gives it away even if it looks fine.

Step 1: Maintenance teams will take baseline thermal images of all their equipment when it’s first installed so they know what the “healthy” temperature patterns look like.

Step 2: When they do regular scans, any spots heating up more than before jump out.

Because thermography is non-invasive, you can inspect whole systems without disassembling anything. That makes it perfect for quick checks during shutdowns. Any hot or cold spots that weren’t there before warrant a closer look to catch problems before they cause unplanned downtime. All in all, using infrared vision is an innovative way to get valuable inside information without cracking open the hood.

Technique # 2: Vibration Analysis

Vibration sensors track how much a part is shaking, the speed of the vibrations, and which direction everything is moving in. Over time, equipment develops its own unique “vibration signature.”

When technicians analyze the data, changes from that baseline help pinpoint problems like:

  • Rotors getting out of balance,
  • Mounts loosening up,
  • Or gears and bearings starting to wear out.

All these issues make their presence known through vibrations long before you can see any visible signs of damage.

Some machines have permanent monitors installed so operators get real-time alerts on their screens if something doesn’t sound right. But maintenance teams also go around regularly with handheld data collectors, getting the latest readings to check for changes since the last “vibration checkup.”

  • By keeping track of these fingerprints over time, they can spot deterioration early before it causes breakdowns.
  • Vibrations give clues to the issue so techs know where to focus their troubleshooting.
  • The readings also correlate to how much useful life is left, so priorities for repair are set based on which machines need TLC the most to maximize uptime.

Technique # 3: Ultrasound Inspection

Ultrasound inspection is perfect for spotting tiny cracks, layers separating inside materials, or joints loosening up from pressure over time – things visual inspections may miss. The ultrasound “sees” through solid surfaces like aluminum to find flaws.

  • Technicians take handheld sound wave emitters and listen for any echoes indicating problems developing below the surface.
  • Anything that bends the sound waves like defects creates little distortions in the echoes. So, technicians scan key parts methodically and then analyze the returning sounds for hints of trouble forming under the hood.

Technique # 4: Lubricant Analysis

Routine oil samples from machines and gearboxes provide oil condition monitoring insights into internal wear invisible through other techniques.

Laboratory tests measure breakdown byproducts like water content, magnetic particles, and chemical additives shed as microscopic metallic and non-metallic debris in suspension.

The analysis then monitors trends, identifying contamination ingress, corrosion, thermal breakdown, and bearing/seal wear problems that develop underground unseen but are critical to machine functioning.

The oil condition monitoring technique validates issues found via vibration or process parameter monitoring and sometimes reveals root causes missed through other modalities alone.

Technique # 5: Condition Monitoring Analysis

All the data the sensors collect needs experts to understand correctly. That’s where these diagnostician technicians come in – they have special software tools with algorithms to analyze signals and pull-out meaningful patterns, such as:

  • Processing vibration fingerprints,
  • Tracking specific components in the readings over time,
  • And detect if measurements fall outside normal ranges.

Much of the software also focuses on spotting trends compared to past performance. So, they can see the subtle changes signaling issues developing down the road. This helps maintenance teams plan repairs strategically by focusing on equipment that needs attention sooner rather than later, as the data suggests.

Nowadays, some hi-tech places even involve machine learning models, which can pick insights like humans, finding patterns we might miss.

Using innovative diagnostics personnel and evolving AI, we can unlock a deeper understanding of the equipment’s health from the collected data.


When thoughtfully executed, predictive condition monitoring techniques deliver clear benefits for production uptime and return on maintenance investment. Various established techniques evaluate unique material qualities invisible to the naked eye but indicative of internal equipment condition changes.

Using multiple complementary methods within carefully designed monitoring programs, operations proactively address even the most minor issues before they escalate into costlier downtime events. With new technological enhancements continually emerging, the future of asset management looks brighter through data-driven insights that optimize reliability.

Paul Grady

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