Online condition monitoring takes preventative maintenance to another level

Aug 10, 2015 by Rich Merhige

One of the most stressful situations a crew can encounter is an unexpected outage, especially if a charter or owner’s trip is coming up. The biggest concerns are how long the necessary repairs will take and how much they will cost.

Unfortunately, in the yachting industry, most maintenance dollars are spent for corrective maintenance rather than easing these worries via predictive maintenance efforts such as condition monitoring.

With online condition monitoring systems, predictive maintenance is easy to master. Today, online condition monitoring can be described as the process of gathering data from machinery to assess the overall operating capacity of the system it is a part of. Data is compared either against an existing database (trending) or a model (model-based) to diagnose existing issues and show the beginnings of wear and tear on mechanical components.

The roots of “engine” diagnostics and performance monitoring go back to the 1700s. These “primitive” forms of monitoring were ahead of their time and monitored cylinder pressure with steam engines, then diesel engines, and later critical compressors and engines.

Portable diagnostic monitoring really gained footing in the 1960s when oscilloscopes were used for data collection and analysis in the field. Over the next 30 years, these systems increased in popularity and became known for their successes.

In the 1990s, amongst rapidly evolving technology and a booming economy, the oil and gas industry (primarily in gas compression) started using online monitoring as an extension of the successful use of portable engine and compressor analyzers. Over the past two decades, these systems have evolved rapidly as the hardware computing power and software capabilities have advanced.

Data collection used to take days to collect and analyze on mechanical systems using hand calculations. This can now be done instantaneously and presented in easily readable graphics and reports.

Online condition monitoring has evolved and enjoyed much success in the oil field for the past few decades. Marine engineering professionals took notice of this technology and started applying it to naval fleets, then commercial and workboat fleets.

Yachts can benefit greatly from condition monitoring, too, and there’s been more movement toward maintenance programs that include this.

Condition monitoring systems can be either portable or stationary, and they monitor, analyze and troubleshoot machinery. A good system will collect data to trend any vibration, stress, temperature, proximity and cylinder pressure from reciprocating or rotating machinery. By collecting data like this over an extended period of time, captains and engineers are able to get a good picture of exactly how their machinery performs, and predict how it will perform in the near future. With systems as meticulous as these — particularly the stationary ones that transmit data remotely — mechanical engineering is much more readily available and at a better price.

Condition monitoring systems are surprisingly easy to set up and can be done with minimal downtime. The system’s sensors are easily placed on engines, gear boxes, frames and cylinder heads. Data collection can begin immediately, once setup is complete, and enough data can be collected within only 15 minutes that could produce viable readings for analysis.

At this point, there aren’t a lot of hard studies directly related to vessel maintenance that provide statistical data for cost savings by incorporating condition monitoring into scheduled maintenance programs. Rough estimates from other industries incorporating such technologies claim that up to $9 per horsepower and about 20,000 hours can be shaved off of maintenance budgets and schedules, respectively.

Aside from the time and cost benefits of condition monitoring, much can be said for the environmental benefits as well. It’s much easier to maintain efficiency and minimize emissions when machinery is monitored regularly. Class has taken notice and has already started setting forth standards in regard to this.

As the yachting community becomes more educated about the many benefits of condition monitoring systems, they will grow in popularity, advancing the industry tremendously.

Rich Merhige is the owner of Advanced Mechanical Enterprises and Advanced Maintenance Engineering in Ft. Lauderdale, which specializes in rotating and reciprocating machinery. This column is co-written by Teresa Drugatz, marketing manager at AME. Contact them through or +1 954-764-2678. Comments on this column are welcome at



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