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Preventive Maintenance Strategies: Planning Pipework Maintenance

Plumbing is often installed and forgotten – at least until something goes wrong. In fact, according to the Department of Energy, 55 percent of all facilities utilize a reactive maintenance plan, while only 31 percent of facilities follow a preventive maintenance plan. Yet preventive maintenance plans save the average facility between 12 percent and 18 percent over reactive programs.

The DOE goes on to list several reasons why preventive maintenance is preferable to reactive maintenance:

  • Big savings on energy costs.
  • Components last longer.
  • Preventive maintenance saves money on expensive processes by preventing shutdowns.
  • Equipment is less likely to fail and you're less likely to experience downtime.
  • Preventive maintenance plans can be implemented with greater flexibility than reactive maintenance plans. 

If you’d like to take advantage of the savings while increasing reliability throughout your facility, one of the most important things to do is develop maintenance checklists for your personnel. Since plumbing is the lifeblood of your facility, a pipework maintenance checklist is essential for preventing potential hazards, breakdowns, lost time and damage.

Prioritizing Your Maintenance Needs

The University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Department of Engineering has an interesting take on preventive maintenance checklists. To create a comprehensive checklist – whether for plumbing or for other vital systems – you must first create a hierarchy of maintenance needs. Under this framework, you can assign various elements of your facility’s pipework to primary, secondary and tertiary categories.

Primary components should include things like: pumps, boilers, pressure valves and other important plumbing system components. Anything that sees constant use or is under a lot of stress – like pressurized lines, high-heat pipes or acid lines – should fall into the primary category. You may also consider adding systems that, should they fail, would present a hazard to your workforce or cause unnecessary damage and downtime.

The secondary tier should contain the elements of your piping system that are important, but won’t cause major problems in the event of a failure. Valves that are rarely used, drains, airline fittings and more can all be categorized as secondary priorities.

The tertiary category is reserved for items that are unlikely to fail or items that are non-essential. Buried pipework and waterlines are two examples of items commonly included in the tertiary category.

Creating a Checklist Schedule

It’s not enough to simply prioritize your pipework checklist - you’ll need to develop a schedule for your maintenance technicians to follow. Also, make sure your schedule isn’t cost prohibitive. For instance, if you ask your maintenance personnel to examine each item on your primary checklist at the start of every shift, you’ll need to increase your maintenance staff, which will negate some of the savings of a preventive maintenance system.

To minimize unnecessary inspections and repairs, subdivide your primary checklist into things that need to be inspected on a daily, weekly or monthly basis. Secondary items can be dealt with on a quarterly or yearly basis. Items on your tertiary list – for example, sewer line inspections or upgrades to buried piping – can be done every two to five years.

Delegating Preventive Maintenance Tasks

As you’re creating your pipework checklist, be aware of the types of maintenance each component in your system will require. Some things, like pipes containing dangerous chemicals, should be visually inspected for leaks, corrosion or other faults each day. Other components – valves, flanged fittings, and anything that can wear or loosen over time – will need preemptive repair or replacement every few months or each year.

This is where a preventive maintenance plan’s flexibility proves helpful. You do not need your maintenance personnel doing shift inspections each day. Instead, you are free to be creative. For instance, if you employ security guards, visual inspections of sensitive plumbing can become a part of their daily patrol. You can also require machine operators to look for leaks, corrosion or other minor problems at the start of each shift. Let your maintenance crew handle things that wouldn’t be obvious to the untrained eye as well as items that require expertise, such as:

  • Steam valve inspections
  • Pump repair and replacement
  • Valve packing and replacement
  • Upgrades and new installations

A pipework maintenance checklist requires a lot of planning and collaboration. However, once your new policies and procedures are in place, you will find that preventive maintenance makes a world of difference. You can expect to save money on repairs and damage caused by catastrophic failures, and your facility will experience increased efficiency.

Amanda Hill is the content and creative manager for Commercial Industrial Supply

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