The unbearable lightness of maintenance

The unbearable lightness of maintenance

15. September 2017

One coffee, please.

Anyone who owns a fully automatic coffee maker is inevitably confronted at some stage with the question of maintenance. The same goes for all owners of process instrumentation. My coffee maker prompted me to reflect on maintenance concepts for both of them one morning recently.

Maintenance is a must.

No-one would dispute that. It makes no difference whether you’re an owner of a fully automatic coffee maker or process analyzers. Nobody expects a measuring instrument to keep on working for an eternity without a single problem, delivering accurate results without you having to lift a finger. The more complex the analysis system, the truer that is.

There are four questions that particularly concern us in day-to-day practice, especially if we’re faced with an investment decision – after all, any investment (cost) decision is also a decision about operational costs.

  • When does it need to be serviced?
  • How often is servicing necessary? How long does servicing take?
  • What needs to be done and how complicated is it?

When does it need to be serviced?

One option here might be a regular maintenance schedule. This is generally easy to arrange but it doesn’t always tally with actual servicing needs:

  • Too late – the consequences could be fatal
  • Too soon – wasted effort, but at least you’re on the safe side

My coffee maker only ever starts complaining when I’m desperate for a cup of coffee, in other words when I need it. At precisely the wrong moment. Before I can quench my thirst, I have to top up the water, empty the dregs and clean the steam nozzle manually. The machine never objects at a time that would suit me (that’s because it’s switched off then).

Ignore it? No good – the next thing I know it will be telling me I’m risking the warranty. There must be a lesson in that for measuring instrument manufacturers. It’s a pity it doesn’t say “Only ten more cups of cappuccino to go” and then start counting down on a display with big numbers. Predictive maintenance, like you get with our  SENCOM system, would be just wonderful.

How often? And how long does it take?

To simply answer “as little as possible” and “as short as possible” would be rather unwise. A few quick manual steps every now and then are perfectly OK:

  • Top up the water
  • Empty the dregs
  • Wipe away the grime

It would be even better if some of that could be automated. Ask us – we’re the automation specialists 🙂  Anything that takes any longer should only be necessary at the longest possible intervals (which reminds me of the steam nozzle again). And talking of “long servicing intervals”, our SENCOM FU25F digital sensor is a good case in point.

What needs to be done and how complicated is it?

Question number four, finally, relates to the duration and complexity of the work. With modern devices, knowing “what” is not actually the problem any more. We have easy access to

  • Instructions,
  • Menu systems,
  • Manuals that can be downloaded onto a tablet in the field directly from the manufacturer’s website,
  • etc.

Industry 4.0 sends its regards.

It’s the “how” – all the fiddling around – that makes the difference. When I forgot to screw the steam nozzle on again properly recently after “manual cleaning”, I didn’t get any cappuccino out of the machine for a week. Just imagine, for instance,  nopolypropylene produced  in your plant for a whole week. Sometimes, it really is only the “fiddling” itself that is a nuisance.

The “how” with zirconia sensors

Zirconia sensors are reliable, low maintenance instruments for measuring oxygen, for example in boilers of power stations. The cell wears out eventually – somewhen; this depends on the manufacturer. The cell replacement procedure is a good illustration of how “easy” or “difficult” servicing and maintenance can be.

By the way, my coffee maker makes excellent coffee – and that’s what matters most to me! And our zirconia sensors measure very reliably. I wouldn’t give up my coffee maker for the world, but I’m willing to negotiate on the zirconia sensors. Maybe over a coffee from my fully automatic coffee maker?!

Are you looking for answers to these four questions? Are there any other questions you’d like to ask? Feel free to write a comment.


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