Most plant maintenance engineers understand the benefits of preventive maintenance. However, if you are budgetarily constrained and short on staff, it can be easy to adopt a maintenance philosophy of “fixing problems only if and when they occur.” Unfortunately, this approach can lead to equipment failure, downtime and lost productivity, not to mention impacting the maintenance budget through unexpected equipment repairs, parts, equipment replacement, and excessive maintenance time and energy.

A better approach is to identify the “mission critical” systems across your operation and take preventive measures by implementing more aggressive maintenance procedures and technologies that streamline the maintenance process and reduce associated costs.

Check Tower Maintenance Logs for Past Problems

We have all heard the old saying that if you don’t learn from history, then history is destined to repeat itself. One of the best ways to anticipate and prevent maintenance problems is to look back on the challenges of the prior year and determine whether those problems are likely to recur. If they are, then determining what you will do differently to reduce or prevent these problems should be an important part of your maintenance plan.

For example, consider a manufacturer that has traditionally maintained its air-cooled chiller cleaning cycles using power washers and coil solvents. This maintenance usually is done in reaction to fouling of the coils by cottonwood seed, dust, insects and other airborne debris — in short, the maintenance is performed after the debris gets into the system, frequently causing operational problems between cleanings and requiring more maintenance time and effort during each cleaning cycle.

Adopting an external filtration technology that can stop the airborne debris before it can get into the system is a proactive approach that can change the dynamics of the maintenance process. The filters will have to be cleaned periodically; however, when you weigh the overall maintenance time, effort and costs of traditional power washing methods against those required to clean the air intake filters, cleaning the filters is faster and easier. External filters can be cleaned without removal and only require a broom or garden hose — even the rain washes them off. This increase in maintenance efficiency can be almost like adding another person to the maintenance staff because it speeds up the cleaning process, thereby enabling the maintenance engineer to more effectively maintain the cooling equipment while tending to other important matters across the operation.

Learn from Previous Years

Reflect back to last year’s cleaning challenges. Did you:

  • Experience any problems or unwanted maintenance on any of your air-cooled chillers, condenser units or cooling towers?
  • Have to climb under your chiller or condenser units to power wash the coils, only to wind up with the debris all over you?
  • Experience a compressor failure due to fouled coils?
  • Have trouble maintaining temperature setpoints or system capacity?
  • See an increase in your energy consumption?
  • Have damaged coils from spring and summer hail storms?
  • Have problems with debris prematurely “blanketing” your pleated pre-filters or final filters on your air-handling units?
  • Notice collapsed filters when conducting filter changes on your air-handling units?
  • Have fouled or plugged strainers, heat exchangers or blowdown valves on your cooling tower?
  • Have to clean or replace the fill in your cooling tower due to fouling or damage from pressure washing?
  • Have to shovel out the sump on your cooling tower because of sludge buildup?
  • Have a problem with algae or bacteria (including Legionella) in your cooling tower?
  • Develop a bio-film on the inside of your cooling tower?
  • Consume more water treatment chemicals than anticipated?

If you answered yes to any of the above questions and have not changed your maintenance process or adopted technologies designed to reduce or prevent the problems, then you’ll likely face the same problems again this year.

Don’t wait for your maintenance history to repeat itself. Now is the time to turn last year”s cleaning and maintenance challenges into operational improvements and maintenance efficiencies. The best time to make maintenance improvements on your cooling systems and related mechanical equipment is before failures occur.