Machine and Process Management

Can industrial productions grind to a complete halt because of a single, faulty pushbutton?

pushbuttonsThe concept is as old as humanity:  Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong, and at the worst possible time. Known in some parts of the world as “Murphy’s Law,” this adage relates to objects that inexplicably seem to exhibit a spiteful behavior towards the unfortunate humans who interact with them. Although no scientific evidence supports the true existence of such a concept, unexpected “surprises” in business and industry do occur and oftentimes result in avoidable expense and loss of production.

Malfunctioning industry pushbuttons such as starter keys, on/off switches, or pilot lights illustrate the  “Murphy’s Law” type of problems. Although these control buttons represent less than 1% of the total cost of the connected equipment, their failure can result in significant expense.

On the dashboard of a ship, for example, a pilot light indicates that “all systems are go” in terms of the ship’s power supply. If that pilot light simply burns out (which they all are prone to do after a certain period of time), that one small event could trigger a series of security procedures that leads to detention of the ship. A ship that is unexpectedly out of commission can result in $100,000 per hour in lost revenue for the shipping company.

Other industrial pushbuttons, if not properly designed or maintained, can also impact operational safety. Consider the “emergency power off” (EPO) button. The EPO button provides a quick way to guarantee that emergency responders (like fire fighters) are not exposed to dangerous voltages and increased fire threat. Pushing the button eliminates electricity as a source of energy-feeding combustion. But what if the EPO failed to execute?

Although “Murphy’s Law” may just be a construct of the human imagination, investing in robust pushbutton devices is important. Some simple strategies can reduce the possibility of unintended shutdowns and work stoppages triggered by faulty pushbutton devices:

  • Failure-resistant product specifications – Investing in higher reliability pushbutton technologies (like those that attain an IP69K rating) which are designed for use in severe, harsh environments can limit incidents of surprise failure. Vendors should be challenged to prove that their testing laboratories adhere to endurance standards and that testing is conducted with aged components. Their labs should be accredited by organizations such as UL, and attain all the necessary worldwide certifications. The devices should be waterproofed, operational in extended temperature ranges (from -40 °C to 70 °C), and resistant to shock, vibration, and harsh chemicals in order to ensure a longer lifetime.
  • Preventive maintenance program – Pushbutton devices should be replaced before they fail. Vendors should provide indicators of expected lifetime (either the number of guaranteed operations, or a clear indication of mean time to failure in years and months) so that end users can implement an effective preventative maintenance program, including provisions for spare parts.
  • Reactive organization – If downtime does occur, the damage can be minimized through fast reaction strategies. Any actions or initiatives taken to limit the mean time to repair of equipment will help. Select vendors with extensive, global distribution network outlets so that replacement products are available near key plants. Vendors should also be asked to provide user friendly distributor locator tools. When purchasing pushbutton units, selection should be based on both product quality and product design so that repairs can be performed with a minimum number of spare parts. The products should also be configured so that they can be installed and mounted in the shortest operating time possible.

To avoid unexpected industrial equipment failures or interruptions to production, you really should consider every eventuality, including the failure of humble operator interface devices like pushbuttons.   Click here to learn how you can keep machines operating at peak performance in any environment?

 

 

 

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