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Hospital becomes a proving ground for RCM
For decades, reliability-centered maintenance (RCM) has been a mainstay of industry. But few institutional maintenance efforts — beset by smaller budgets than their industrial peers — have moved past run-to-fail or predictive maintenance mindsets. Perhaps it’s time for a paradigm shift.
Ron Bass, facilities services manager for Kaiser Permanente’s Vallejo (Calif.) Medical Center, says he is fortunate to have the backing of superiors who have let him and his technicians implement RCM. During the last half-dozen years, they’ve used tribology, vibration analysis and infrared thermography — all hallmarks of RCM — in their facilities.
Where other hospitals might annually change generator oil as a preventive measure, even if the engine has not operated enough during the year to merit maintenance, Bass takes a different tack.
“Annual oil changes are usually overkill,” he says. Instead, Bass takes oil samples from a diesel generator or chiller lube oil to a tribologist. Tribologists use spectroscopy, ranging from atomic emission to Fourier-Transform infrared technology, to examine oil and lubricants for wear metals, foreign additives and abnormal degradation. They also use ferrography tests to check for coarse wear debris and particle source and shape. Debris shape analysis is often the smoking gun in tribology, indicating the source and cause of wear and, by extension, which parts require maintenance.
“During a coolant diagnostic, we found a heat exchanger’s oil in the cooling loop,” Bass says. Without the ability to conduct fluid and lubricant diagnostics, Bass might not have found the leaking weld that was shortening the life of his equipment.
Vibration analysis also is paying dividends for the organization. Using piezoelectric accelerometers and data-collection devices, vibration analysis specialists test equipment components and assess rotation frequency spectra, comparing that data against manufacturer specifications.
Vibration analysis is more critical for industry, where pump cavitation can ruin a product batch, for example. But when institutional facilities experience regular failures of large rotating machinery such as chillers, vibration analysis is a potential solution.
Delving further into RCM methods, Bass also uses infrared technology. Two years ago, his team persuaded hospital management to buy an infrared scanner.
“Thermal scanning pays big dividends,” he says. “We value it because it’s a non-invasive technique, which is important when dealing with environments like operating rooms.”
Bass’ team uses the scanner primarily to check for hot spots in wiring and panels throughout the 3.3 million square feet of the hospital’s service area. Scanners also can detect thermal loss in building envelopes and moisture in roofing materials. Bass says the simple payback for the purchase was one year.
“To use RCM methods effectively, you’ve got to balance what’s appropriate with what’s applicable,” Bass says. “Sometimes, we run to failure, but ultimately, we have to assess the criticality of all items, and make decisions from there. Preventive maintenance is, well, kind of stuck in the ‘40s.”