When a process system breaks down, what is the best way to overcome the problem? Andy Silver, technical director, Flow Control at ERIKS, highlights why it’s important to gain visibility of the wider process conditions before deciding on a solution


educing uncertainty is critical to the efficient and effective operation of

manufacturing systems, but flow control is one of the key areas where problems can quickly bring production to a halt. Under pressure to keep the production

line running, it can be tempting for plant engineers to opt for quick fixes when a more considered analysis of the system might be required. If a part is breaking down frequently, it’s

time to look at the mean time between failure (MTBF). A pump, for example, should last at least four or five years in normal conditions but if you are replacing it every 12 months, then there’s a problem that needs addressing. It may be that the unit or a component

has been specified incorrectly, or that changes to production have taken it out of its original specification envelope. Increases in speeds, loadings or capacities

If the part in question is experiencing

wear and tear rather than a complete failure, it can be repaired. When it comes to valves, one of the most common areas of wear which can be replaced are the internal seals and seats. Once repaired, it is then essential to test

the parts so that they meet the required standards of the specific application. ERIKS’ facility has low and high pressure equipment to ensure all parts are fit for purpose. Pumps can be stripped down and

inspected for problems to critical areas, with comparison made to the original OEM specifications. Parts such as seals, gaskets and bearings can be replaced with more complex repair methods determined on a case by case basis. Obsolescence is an ongoing challenge

for flow control, as pump and valve technology has advanced and many older

‘Depending on the situation, repair or replacement are both effective options, but in many cases a system redesign might be a better strategy’

on the production line intensifies the wear on critical components such as pumps or valves. In most circumstances, there will be visible signs that show if the system is overloaded. In a water or pressure system, there will be leaks or steam that will result in inefficiency. But an unexpected major breakdown is a warning sign that something in the production process has caused the system failure. If a part is breaking down too often, a

root cause analysis is recommended. This will look at the entire system and examine if anything has changed since the original equipment was specified. Tests including vibration analysis can identify if the mechanical parts of a pump, such as bearings, need replacing. Ultrasonic and pressure tests can also

reveal whether parts are under stress. In a steam system, a telling sign of a problem can be if steam is billowing in the air. This could mean that the steam traps and valves may not be opening and closing as they should and various mechanical parts will be working too hard. What’s more, it is also wasting money through heat/ energy loss.


Equipment can be stripped down and inspected for problems to critical areas, with comparison made to the original OEM specifications

parts are no longer available. For example, the typical size of motor or pump is smaller than 20 years ago, which means that they often don’t fit the footprint of the legacy equipment, more often flange dimensions will have changed too. In this case, part replacement is not a

possibility and engineers will have to fit a new pump into a space where the original dimensions are no longer compatible.

Once repaired, it is essential to test the parts of the valve to ensure they meet the required standards of the specific application

Re-engineering the system to fit new products can take time, and in reality, it may be easier to upgrade to a more modern system specifically designed to suit current production needs. In recent years, ERIKS has worked with a

company in the steel industry that has faced this very problem. The original pumps had been supplied in the 1950’s and would normally run in service for several years before requiring overhaul. However, the MTBF progressively shortened and as years became decades, it became impossible to procure OEM spares, which then necessitated ERIKS to reverse engineer components. It was only when main casing parts started to show service limitations, that the company decided to implement a project to overhaul and renew their pumps system. Although quick fixes might be tempting

to keep production lines flowing, it is clear that in most cases they are only a temporary solution. Depending on the situation, repair or

replacement are both effective options for faulty equipment in flow control systems. But in many cases, a system re-design might be a better strategy if there is a recurring issue that is causing problems. What’s more, if obsolescence is on the horizon for critical parts, companies need to plan ahead and get ready for what they will need to upgrade, replace or gradually phase out over the next few years. Whichever route you decide to go down,

it is important to bear in mind that operating conditions change over time. That’s why it’s crucial to monitor the condition and performance of your assets and ask yourself if they are delivering against your requirements. This will help optimise production efficiency, and minimise production losses from an unpredicted asset failure.



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