Gadgets, groups improve maintenance

The November issue of EPM is now online. Tom Bryan writes in his editor's note about several maintenance-related stories, which appear in that issue.
By Tom Bryan | October 21, 2015

The tools being used by today’s plant maintenance professionals are giving ethanol producers virtual superpowers—technicians with x-ray vision—allowing them to see, diagnose and fix problems before production is disrupted. In “High-Tech Maintenance,” EPM Senior Editor Susanne Retka Schill reports on how ethanol plant maintenance teams are employing technologies like vibration, ultrasound, infrared and lasers to keep their plants running smoothly. And with a typical 50-MMgy ethanol plant having hundreds of bearing-laden motors, gearboxes and pumps, there are plethora opportunities to put these expensive gadgets to use. From electrical panel inspection, to ultrasound leak detection, to motor alignment, high-tech tools are making ethanol plant maintenance faster, safer and more efficient. Ultimately, producers say, the expense of these tools is justified by improved plant reliability, increased machinery life spans and fewer unplanned shutdowns. As Retka Schill reports, these tools are no longer discretionary purchases. They are necessary additions to the maintenance department’s modern tool chest.   

We also look at how ethanol plant maintenance managers and technicians representing more than 90 facilities have found strength in numbers through a sort of professional social network. In “TEAM M3: Networking Builds Strong Tool Belt,” EPM Managing Editor Holly Jessen provides us with a look at how about 120 maintenance professionals are working cooperatively to solve everyday plant problems through peer-exclusive crowdsourcing. As the group’s past director says, “If you have a problem, all you have to do is send an email, post a question or make a call to one of the members and, within minutes, you will have an answer.” Even though the participants in TEAM M3 are competitors, they benefit by sharing without giving away proprietary information. They also use the network to exchange parts and share inventory burden. The usefulness of the group is evident in its rapid growth. Not only is TEAM M3’s maintenance network strong and growing, but an affiliated plant managers group is thriving as well with 160 members from 95 facilities. The success of TEAM M3 reminds us of the cooperative spirit the U.S. ethanol industry was built on.

Finally, in “Designs on Success,” our cover story, we feature a longtime industry service provider celebrating a huge milestone. ICM Inc. is enjoying its 20-year anniversary. As Jessen reports, ICM started in 1995 as a 20-person company and went on to become one of the most prolific ethanol plant design companies in the world, putting its stamp on more than 100 facilities. Now focused on bolt-on technologies, next-generation ethanol, enhanced coproducts and plant services, ICM continues to build a strong legacy of innovation in the ethanol industry and beyond. Hats off to our friends in Colwich, Kansas.    

Author: Tom Bryan
President & Editor in Chief