Why Things Break

I used to tease our maintenance staff that there were only two reasons a machine went down: it went down because we worked on it or because we did not work on it.

This came to mind because of a television commercial touting a new synthetic lubricant that only has to be changed once a year. This claim sounds sketchy to me, in part because in my experience most automotive breakdowns happen because the owners do not even look at them — much less work on them.

Despite their annoying attempts to sell me other services, my local oil change outfit does a nice job of inspecting my vehicles for potential problems every time they open the hood. It is not possible to predict every failure, but I do not think only looking once a year is a good idea.

Sure, there are dozens of sensors on the modern automobile that may light up the dashboard. Maybe it is from watching too many Star Trek episodes where sensors were faulty and the intrepid explorers suffered the consequences, but I am skeptical of warning lights.

Predictive maintenance may truly be the next big thing, but I feel safer with regular visual inspections by trained observers; even untrained observers would do in a pinch. In 1998 I studied our gearbox rebuilding records and learned that the majority of rebuilds were brought on by lack of lubrication or contaminated lubricant.

One large project required all new gearboxes to be fitted with an oil level sensor that was wired into the remote control station. This was a last minute addition required by the client’s new consulting engineer and some gearboxes were already on site and installed. Only one gearbox of the more than two hundred involved failed due to the complete absence of oil, so the consultant was a genius. I wonder how long the mill operated before the always stressed management disconnected those sensors? After all, how much could it hurt to run one shift with a low level?

About Charles D. Schultz 678 Articles
Charles D. Schultz is President of Beyta Gear Service and one of Gear Technology's technical editors.