As the UK begins to step out of pandemic-induced lockdowns, many manufacturers are contending with dwindling budgets, and the need to find areas in which economies can be made. Maintenance schedules may be seen as one such place, but COVID’s disruption means key equipment for some manufacturers may have only been sporadically maintained, placing it at risk of breakdown. Taking this into account, Ben Green, Food & Water divisional manager UK & Ireland at Alfa Laval, explains why cutting back on preventative maintenance and adopting a ‘run-to-fail’ strategy could lead to negative long-term effects.


t would not be an understatement to say that the vast majority of businesses are under extreme pressure most of the time. Indeed,

the need to do more with less is a common state of affairs in 21st century industry, which has become increasingly globalised. With competitors at home and abroad, the words of Vincent Champain, board director at GE France spring to mind – the market is much less forgiving, and “errors of strategy or execution cost much more than previously”. Such a competitive climate can easily spill

over into a ‘race to the bottom’ for many companies, with reactive maintenance strategies representing a key aspect of this. Though strategies like these are ineffectual in the long term, they do offer some clear benefits, including lower short-term costs and less need for extensive forward planning. Yet it must be noted that this state of affairs hinges on a huge caveat – specifically, that everything will remain functional now, and into the future. But such an approach does make sense in

circumstances where the consequences of failure are low and components are easy to replace. Lighting is a good example of an asset where reactive maintenance works well, as it is sensible to simply replace a product that burns out, rather than extending its working life.

SpeCIALISeD eqUIpMenT However, this strategy does not work for more specialised, precision-engineered equipment found in factories, and can instead be wasteful and inefficient. Not maintaining key components such as plate heat exchangers, for example, can result in minor leakages and fouling, which in turn leads to reduced efficiency, lower production yields and the increased possibility of unplanned downtime. Considering the invaluable position of this

equipment, which is used to facilitate heat transfer between two fluids in multiple applications including heating and cooling, chemical reactions and food drink processing, disruption can have quick and impactful knock-on effects. When we take into account this unique time, during which budgets have been squeezed due to commercial difficulties posed by COVID-19, even minor disruption could have a major effect. This is doubly the case as businesses look

to get back on their feet post-pandemic, and a strong second half of the year is badly needed to boost recovery. In this extremely competitive business landscape, uncertainty engendered by reactive maintenance strategies should be deemed unacceptable.

Greener OperATIOnS Yet beyond this pandemic-impacted and ever- thinning line between failure and success, reactive maintenance can also impair progress in another defining challenge of our age – decarbonisation. For business owners, the passage into law of net zero carbon emissions legislation two years ago has transformed sustainable operations from a preference into a priority. Consequently, it is not only financial concerns

that factory owners and operators need to be aware of. Practices need to be put in place to bring emissions down and improve energy consumption of existing plant equipment. Identifying efficiencies of this nature is a quick and effective way to hit sustainability targets.

But returning to the example of the plate heat

exchanger, keeping them in optimal condition is a sure-fire way of making a business greener. By contrast, letting this equipment run to fail can result in greater energy usage, driving down efficiency, and, by association, a site’s overall sustainability. This can be seen through fouling – the build-up of unwanted deposits of settled particulates, biological matter, decomposition and crystallisation on a heat exchanger’s transfer surface. The level and speed of build-up is dictated by

the plate heat exchanger’s design, the process fluid used and chemical reactions in the process. However, without an adequate maintenance strategy, the end result remains the same – the creation of an insulating layer that lowers heat transfer between two fluids. The problem gets worse as build-up continues, enabled by poor upkeep practices to the point where ever- increasing amounts of energy are required to adequately process a medium. Additionally, a clogged plate will require more

energy and processing time for a factory to reach desired production yields, raising the plant’s overall carbon emissions. In an environment where emissions legislation is continually tightening and sustainability gains must be made, such a drain is worrying at best, and intolerable at worst.

KnOCK-On eFFeCTS Alongside this, additional knock-on effects may occur, threatening other connected assets. For example, flow is impeded due to the greater resistance created by fouling, so greater force is needed to drive the fluid medium through a unit, placing strain on pumps, packings and joints. It may also result in localised plate corrosion, which can cause both internal and external leakages. An internal leakage can cause different mediums to cross-contaminate, resulting in products that may be of insufficient quality or even unusable. External leaks pose an even


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