Sound Maintenance Practices Protect Fan Investments

By Michael Bauer

Fan reliability is critical in keeping underground operations running smoothly and cost effectively. The repercussions of operating with damaged, worn or outdated equipment can be devastating and can include mine shut-downs, accidents, excessive energy consumption and costly repairs. Conversely, regularly serviced, well-maintained fans can provide efficient, dependable service for more than 40 years, depending on the application.

In light of the uncertainties surrounding today’s sluggish economy, some of the most important activities necessary to ensure smooth, uninterrupted operations are garnering extra emphasis, despite personnel reductions and budget constraints. These days, ensuring scheduled inspections, maintenance and repair of fans are implemented is paramount because a limited budget means there’s little to no capital available to replace these costly pieces of equipment, making sustainability key.

The paradox is, by cutting back on service and allowing a fan to break down rather than taking a proactive approach, clients almost always end up investing more for emergency repair of the equipment than they would have on scheduled maintenance and servicing.

Moreover, with the long lead times involved in securing the right part for the fan, the resulting downtime can mean loss of production or unscheduled outages for extended periods of time, accruing even more unnecessary costs as well as potentially negative publicity. Worse yet, a malfunctioning fan can lead to catastrophic failure of the fan as well as failure of other costly equipment. For these reasons and more, it makes good business sense to keep these heavy-duty pieces of equipment in top shape.

Custom industrial fans are engineered to meet the performance requirements of their specific application, such as flow, temperature and pressure specifications, and are essentially built based on a client’s individual needs. That means care and maintenance of these fans require a heightened level of expertise. That also means compromising the integrity of the original design by using quick-fix non-parts, which may be the correct size, but rarely have the right frequency, specs and durability required for the specific application, can cause far more damage than their perceived cost savings.

It follows, that to ensure a superior level of service is delivered, it’s critical to partner with a service professional that understands the design and construction of all types and makes of industrial fans and can deliver solutions tailored to the needs of the specific application of that fan. In addition, there are a number of pre-emptive actions that can be taken to help keep fans up and running at optimal performance, such as:

* On-site performance analysis to ensure the fan is operating within its originally designed specifications;

* Identification of strategic spare parts to keep on hand in case of a breakdown;

* Non-destructive testing to identify cracking, ideally performed at regular intervals in the presence of a qualified technician

* On-site training by the fan manufacturer to educate facility technicians on the tell-tale signs of wear or potential malfunctions, enabling them to perform basic maintenance themselves; and

* Detailed record-keeping of maintenance and repairs.

One particular offering that often differentiates professional service technicians from others in the field is the ability to perform industry-recognized fan testing, such as AMCA 803 and ASME PTC-11. These tests can help identify air flow and vibration issues, as well as mechanical problems, which when addressed, can help reduce the risk of breakdown or malfunction before problems arise.

In the end, it’s critically important for mines to protect and maximize the investment they’ve made in their fans. When properly maintained, fans can function efficiently for decades. Working with a knowledgeable, experienced service provider with access to talented engineers, technicians, spare parts and testing expertise can pay immeasurable dividends.

Employing a knowledgeable, professional service team to provide fan inspection, analysis and maintenance can deliver a solid return on investment in several proven ways:

 * Minimize downtime and increase availability

* Lower operational costs and extend service life

* Reduce damage by catching potential failure early

* Identify critical spare parts needed for inventory

* Provide equipment conditional analysis

* Clean and de-slag for improved efficiency

* Discuss findings to help prepare for long term maintenance planning and repairs

* Increase longevity of equipment

* Identify possible design enhancements and upgrades

Michael Bauer is director, aftermarket for TLT-Babcock, a company that specializes in the design, construction and maintenance of mine fans. It also repairs, rebuilds or replaces outdated or worn fans around the world, regardless of original manufacturer (

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