Industrial Machinery Failure Types and Implications for Maintenance Approaches

Industrial machinery can fail in many different ways and for many different reasons. For critical and/or expensive equipment, it is a major challenge to find a way to detect potential failures before they happen and to take action to prevent or minimize the effects. Closely tied to this is the tradeoff between the cost of detection and the cost of failure. We discussed some of these tradeoffs in the blog “Condition Monitoring & Predictive Maintenance: Cost-Benefit Tradeoffs.”

When assessing how equipment might fail, several industry studies* have identified six primary failure types which may be considered:

    • Type A: Lower probability of failure in early- and mid-life of the asset, with a dramatic increase in probability of failure in late-life. This is typical for mechanical devices, such as engines, fans, compressors, and machines.
    • Type B: Higher initial probability of failure when the asset is new, with a much lower/steady failure probability over the rest of the asset’s life. This is often the profile for electronic devices such as computers, PLCs, etc.
    • Type C: Lower initial probability of failure when the asset is new, with an increase to a steady failure probability in mid- and late-life. These are often devices with high stress work conditions, such as pressure relief valves.
    • Type D: Consistent probability of failure throughout the asset life, similar failure probability in early-, mid- and late-life. This can cover many types of industrial machines, often with stable, proven design and components.
    • Type E: Higher probability of failure in early- and late-life, a lower and constant probability of failure in mid-life (often called a “bathtub curve”). This can be devices that “settle in” after a wear-in period and then experience higher failures at the end of life, such as bearings.
    • Type F: Lower probability of failure when new, with a gradual increase over time and without the steep increase in failure probability at the end of life of Type A. This is often typical where age-based wear is steady and gradual in equipment such as turbine engines and structural components (pressure vessels, beams, etc.).

Age-related and non-age-related failures

These six failure types fall into two categories: age-related and non-age-related failures. The studies show that 15-30% of failures are age-related (Types A, E & F) and 70-85% of failures are non-age-related (Types B, C & D). The age-related failures have a clear correlation between the age of the asset and the likelihood of failure. In these cases, preventative maintenance at regular time-based intervals may be appropriate and cost-effective. The non-age-based failures are more “random,” due to improper design/installation, operator error, quality issues, machine overuse, etc. In these cases, preventative maintenance will likely not prevent failure and may waste time and money on unnecessary maintenance.

Table is based on data from studies conducted by United Airlines (1978), Broberg (1973), U.S. Navy (1993 MSDP) and U.S. Navy (2001 SUBMEPP) and ARC Consulting

The fact that approximately 80% of failures are non-age-related has major implications for manufacturers trying to decide on a maintenance approach. The traditional preventative-maintenance approach is not likely to address these failures and may even cause failures when improperly done. It is therefore important to consider a more proactive approach, such as condition-based monitoring or predictive maintenance, especially for assets that are critical to the process and/or expensive.

Preventative maintenance and regular inspection may be a good approach for assets more likely to experience age-based failures in Types A, E, and F. These include fans, bearings, and structural components – and in many cases, the cost of condition monitoring or predictive maintenance may not be worth the cost. But for critical components or equipment, such as bearings on an expensive milling machine or transfer line, it may be worthwhile to apply condition monitoring or predictive maintenance.

And when the assets are more likely to experience non-age-related failures (Types B, C, and D), the proactive approaches are better. Many industrial machines and industrial control/motion components fall into this category, and condition monitoring or predictive maintenance can significantly reduce preventative maintenance costs and unplanned failures while improving machine uptime and Overall Equipment Effectiveness.

You can use this information to improve your maintenance operations. Start by considering your maintenance approach(es), especially for your most critical assets:

    • Are they more likely to experience age-related failures or non-age-related failures?
    • Should you change your maintenance approach to be more proactive?
    • What components and indicators should you measure?

We’ll discuss ideas on how to assess your equipment for condition monitoring/predictive maintenance and what you might measure in separate blogs.

* Studies conducted by United Airlines (1978), Broberg (1973), U.S. Navy (1993 MSDP) and U.S. Navy (2001 SUBMEPP)

Tom Knauer has more than 25 years of experience in the industrial automation industry, with equipment/solution suppliers including GE Fanuc, Parker Hannifin, Omron STI and Balluff. His roles have included product management, sales, marketing, finance and business strategy; his product experience covers PLCs, CNCs, motion control and safety. Tom's current focus is on developing and growing the Balluff manufacturing & plant engineering and safety businesses in the Americas, working closely with customers, sales, product management and product development. His recent activities include work on current and future safety sensing to support collaborative robots and mobile robots, and device level safety networks combining standard and safety sensors.

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