Maintenance and the Standard of Care By Steve Hamilton, P.E.

Figure       SEQ Figure \* ARABIC    1.  Shattered Bearing and Scored Shaft.

Figure 1.  Shattered Bearing and Scored Shaft.

Maintenance should be a key consideration when investigating the failure of a piece of equipment. Most equipment requires some level of maintenance.  Combustion engines require oil changes; furnaces require filter changes.  Insurance policies have property exclusions that can vary widely, including “wear and tear” situations that can be avoided with proper maintenance. There are several established philosophies to maintenance that cover a spectrum of care.  The standard of care for maintenance will vary depending on many variables. 

Maintenance Strategies
The simplest maintenance strategy is “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”  More formal nomenclature for this approach is Reactive Maintenance or Corrective Maintenance.  This is a strategy of repair and nothing more, and relies on the user being able to notice that something needs fixing.

The next level of maintenance is known as Preventative Maintenance.  This strategy is based on scheduled inspections with a prescribed list of items to be checked.  Oil changes at prescribed mileage intervals or changing smoke detector batteries annually are examples of preventative maintenance.

Beyond the prevention model is Predictive Maintenance.  To predict problems with equipment, real-time monitoring is used to establish baselines and then look for abnormalities from that baseline.  Just as increased heart rate and respiration rate can indicate increased effort, elevated temperature of an electrical connection, or increased vibration of a motor’s bearing can be an indicator of an abnormal condition that warrants further examination.

Figure        SEQ Figure \* ARABIC     2.  Thermal Image of Hot Electrical Connection (image courtesy of

Figure 2.  Thermal Image of Hot Electrical Connection (image courtesy of

Proactive Maintenance is an approach that looks to prevent root causes of failures.  Examples of this would be preventing contamination of oil during changes or preventing misalignment of components at installation.  This is a strategy that focuses on properly performing maintenance. 

These approaches needn’t be singular, they can be blended.  Organizations may not even have formal approaches to maintenance.  Does the organization follow a standard approach to maintenance?  Is it documented?  Do they follow their documented practices?  Is there an applicable industry standard or practice?  These are things to consider when trying to establish a standard of care. 

Often the strategy an organization follows depends on the maturity, or the size, of the organization.  The standard of care for maintenance on a family farm will be different than that found at a large industrial farm.  The cost of downtime, production loss, is another factor in the level of maintenance.  A papermill could stand to lose $20,000 per hour from a single motor bearing failure.  Obviously, prevention and proactive approaches could have large paybacks.

Successful establishment for the standard of care in maintenance depends on many variables.  By knowing what to look for and the right questions to consider you, are better prepared to make your case.

Contact Steve to discuss this topic further.