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Pointing the Way for Practical Vibration Monitoring at Paper Mills Today and Tomorrow

President of J.M. Robichaud Professional Services in New Brunswick, Canada, Mike Robichaud is a Strategic Adviser to Acuren, where he has been General Manager of Reliability Engineering since 2010.  Previously he was founder, president, and principal engineer of Bretech Engineering Ltd. for more than 21 years, certified as both a vibration analysis and as a maintenance and reliability professional.

It was during this long period of professional development that he wrote "Practical On-Line Vibration Monitoring for Papermachines"--a 12-page paper accompanied by an 82-slide PowerPoint presentation.  It was first presented at PaperCon 2009, organized by TAPPI, a non-profit, international organization of 14,000 member engineers, scientists, managers, academics, and others involved in pulp and paper, founded back in 1915 as the Technical Association of the Pulp and Paper Industry.

"Vibration analysis is one of the most powerful condition-based maintenance technologies," Robichaud begins, "the cornerstone of many predictive maintenance programs.  It is also widely utilized for troubleshooting and fault diagnosis for machinery and structures.  In recent years, much emphasis has been given to on-line or permanently installed vibration monitoring for machinery that is inaccessible, critical to process, and/or very expensive.  This article will provide a practical overview of system components, installation considerations, and benefits of on-line monitoring."

After briefly reviewing the increasing recent use of both hardwired monitors for condition-based maintenance in the pulp and paper industry, Robichaud opines on what lies ahead: "The next logical progression is a paradigm shift from focus on maintenance practices to focus on asset management....Clearly, augmenting the process information with relevant equipment condition data, in an easily understood format, can lead to substantial improvements in productivity and profitability."

He then turns to "several obvious system features, which determine the overall success of the system."  He gives examples of user interfaces in which "data...[are] presented in an easily understood format," using a simple "equipment schematic...with 'traffic light' alarm indicators."  These should be supplemented with displays of "discrete frequency alarm bands" and "trends of vibration amplitude" to give maintenance specialists "an indication of fault condition and progression."

A catastrophic paper machine failure.
Other "advanced diagnostic features" that are championed by Robichaud include Fast Fourier Transform (FFT) and time waveform plots, enabling informed, prognostic maintenance decisions in a timely manner.  The worst-case alternativeto informed decision-making can be the sort of "catastrophic failure" seen nearby, which took place in the gear drives of a dryer section at an old newsprint facility in central New Foundland that has since been shuttered--one of several pulp and paper facilities with machinery that was examined in depth in this report.

"The shift towards asset management strategies creates a requirement for a 'central repository'...of all relevant data," says Robichaud.  "Open systems are widely seen as the most significant challenge/opportunity facing industry--and are critical to the wide acceptance and success of on-line vibration monitoring systems."

The author then reviews the technical requirements of "highly configurable on-line vibration monitoring systems" which have "the best opportunity for plant-wide acceptance....Another important property is configurable data acquisition based on time, process condition, and alarm condition.  Signal processing, including band alarms and advanced diagnostics, may be programmed using configurable analysis 'blocks.'"

Robichaud sums up before proceeding to detailed examples of how vibration monitoring worked at two Canadian mills: "The success of any on-line vibration monitoring system depends entirely on the engineering.  Engineering includes all aspects of selection, installation, and configuration of hardware and software....As monitoring systems become more flexible, open, and configurable, the importance of engineering increases."

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