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What is condition-based monitoring and how do I start?

Updated: Jan 13, 2021

Hint: it involves our favorite topic… data!

Have you ever had a crappy day and a coworker asks, “Everything OK? You look tired.” You feel irritated at the question but when you look in the mirror, you see puffy eyes and dark circles. Work has been stressful lately and you do feel kind of burned out… Yep – all signs point to you being tired!

At a super-duper basic level, your colleague performed condition-based monitoring (CBM) on you – meaning, they assessed you visually and noted signs that indicate a failure mode (in this case, exhaustion.) CBM takes the same basic premise – observing indicators over time to anticipate failure – and applies it to equipment. In industrial settings, rather than looking for puffy eyes, a technician inspects a piece of equipment by performing visual checks, maintenance tests such as oil sampling or IR scans, and other service tasks. The aim is to identify and track warnings signs in order to prevent failures beforehand rather than react to them after the fact. This saves companies a whole lot in terms of maintenance dollars and can also have a significant impact on improving reliability and safety.

Like most things, software has made all this easier.

In reality, CBM is nothing new. Maintenance crews have been doing this for ages – just in a very manual way. Technicians would inspect equipment with clipboards in hand, making notes of any changes, concerns, weird noises, etc. Then, a maintenance supervisor or operations manager would spend hours (and hours!) sifting through these stacks of papers to determine which repairs to assign and what equipment to prioritize.

Of course, it wasn’t uncommon for technicians to miss something, for those clipboards to sit in service vans for days, or for the supervisor to get derailed and not have time to examine the reports, resulting in big, costly equipment failures. Luckily, we now live in the fabulous era of technology, and CBM has had a big upgrade. Between data collection devices, inspection apps, analytics tools and more, asset managers now have a wealth of real-time CBM data at their fingertips.

How is CBM different from predictive maintenance?

Good question. They are similar practices for sure. The shortest answer is that predictive maintenance relies on some form of machine learning. With CBM, the analytics engine is flagging issues based on how real-time data gets classified into predetermined threshold criteria. If a temperature reading is outside of the acceptable parameters, you’ll receive an alert. With predictive maintenance, the analysis layer also involves algorithms that recognize failure predictor patterns and project future issues. It’s just a longer game, really, in terms of CBM. Both are incredibly useful tools for making data-driven maintenance decisions. It really boils down to your organization’s unique needs, equipment types and budget.

Here’s what you need to get started.

CBM involves three basic steps: gathering, analyzing and presenting asset data. To implement it, you essentially need three things as well that accomplish each step:

  • Data collection device – This could be an IoT sensor or monitor that continuously collects data from your machinery. Or, it could be an inspection app that technicians use to collect and submit data.

  • Analysis engine – You need some kind of simple rule set or analytics tool that can organize the data received into those preset parameters we talked about. You’ll want to look for a solution that allows you to customize the thresholds to reflect your business needs.

  • Presentation option – The whole point here is that you no longer want to be drowning in data. You need a dashboard that can present simple data visualizations with clear alert indicators so that you can track and manage your performance data.

Some software providers offer all-in-one CBM solutions, while others have a variety of options available at each phase, and some will offer to build you a custom tool from scratch. It’s always smart to shop around and find a solution that works for you. If you do your research, chances are your CBM solution will be money well spent.

Still have questions about how exactly this all works? Want more specifics on the tools you actually need? Get in touch. We love talking about this stuff.


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