What is Vibration Analysis?
Vibration analysis is defined as the process of measuring and utilizing the vibrational waves produced by machinery in order to gauge the health of various parts of the machine and predict when it might need maintenance or replacement.
All machines vibrate. From the simpler appliances in your home like ceiling fans and washing machines to more complex machinery like a wind turbine, heavy equipment in a factory, or even turbine-driven water pumps at nuclear power plants.
The time between vibrations and the frequency with which they occur can tell us a great deal about the machine’s condition. Vibration analysis can find such faults as imbalance, bent shafts, faulty bearings, improper alignment, gear failures, or cavitation in pumps.
And since the measurements are taken while the machine is operating, there’s no need to open it up or conduct time-consuming internal inspections.
How Does Vibration Analysis Work?
Remember that high school math class you struggled to pass? You wondered why anyone in the real world would ever need a graphing calculator? Or how they might use the formulas and equations you were being asked to utilize to solve problems?
As vibration analysts, we use those equations and graphs every single day.
We use accelerometers, lasers, and other tools to monitor the vibrational wave patterns coming from engines, pumps, bearings, fan blades, shafts and other parts of heavy equipment. Then we use those patterns to make predictions on when the machine might break down.
While the math and calculations are fairly complex, the process is pretty simple. We connect our monitoring equipment to various locations on a given machine and monitor its vibrations over time. The data we collect is then fed into software that performs the calculations we use to provide detailed reports on the current condition of the machinery.
Think of a fairly simple machine like a ceiling fan. When you first install it, is spins beautifully and it’s whisper quiet. But over time, it begins to develop a noise. It clicks once every time it rotates. There are no visible signs anything is wrong, just a slight, repeating click.
As more time passes the click gets louder and you begin to notice a slight wobble. Now the click is accompanied by a thumping sound of the fan moving as it wobbles.
A few weeks later, the screws holding on a fan blade that were never quite tightened all the way down when the fan was constructed come completely loose. The fan blade falls to the floor, and the fans other blades dig groves into the ceiling as the fan continues to rotate.
You’re left with plenty of repair work to do to fix the fan and the damage its failure caused.
Now, remember, sound is a wave. Each of those clicks and thumping sounds the fan made can be monitored and analyzed. And even before you noticed sounds that were loud enough to get your attention, the loose screws in the fan blade made noise and created waves as they moved and loosened.
If you had paid attention to those sounds, those waves, those vibrations, you would have fixed the fan long before the blade detached. And long before the fan’s failure caused significant damage to your home and the fan itself.
Why do you need to Analyze Vibrations?
Just as you could’ve predicted the failure of the ceiling fan by paying attention to the vibrations it produced, you can predict the failure of heavier industrial machinery by paying attention to the vibrations those machines produce.
But why is that important? Can’t you just do routine maintenance to make sure your machines all last as long as possible? Or wait for the machines to fail and then take the time to fix them?
Routine maintenance is important. You can’t run a car without oil and oil breaks down over time. So we change the oil every 3,000 miles to make sure we’re not potentially jeopardizing the health of the car’s engine.
But if you knew the exact state of the oil in your engine, exactly how well it was doing its job, from one minute to the next, you could wait to perform that routine maintenance until you’d gotten every possible mile out of your oil. More miles per oil change means money saved.
Plus, what if you’re at 2,900 miles and you’re about to take a 600 mile roundtrip to grandma’s house? Do you change the oil early? Or risk potential engine trouble while you’re on the road? A breakdown will cost you time and extra money getting emergency repairs done in the middle of your very important trip to visit family.
Or you can just keep running the car until the oil completely fails and the engine seizes. Sure, you’ll save on the time and cost of getting regular oil changes but the cost of a new engine far outweighs the savings.
From Cars to Industrial Equipment
The same concept applies to heavy industrial machinery. Knowing the exact state of well-being of the machine allows factory owners to schedule maintenance as often as it’s truly needed and not on a schedule based on an abundance of caution.
And maintenance can be scheduled for when it’s most convenient for the factory’s bottom line. Instead of having to conduct it early in order to ensure a critical project is completed on time or risking failure by putting it off.
Vibration analysts like those here at Vibration Analysts Inc. save operators time and money by providing information on the health of machines. From wind turbines, to Ferris Wheels, to nuclear power plants, the variety of types of machines vibration analysis can help is endless.