The Importance of Equipment Inspections

Equipment inspections are a critical part of an effective preventive maintenance program. Equipment inspections will typically include a comprehensive assessment of the condition, functionality, and safety of the machinery, tools, and facilities that drive your operation. 

The primary objective of equipment and machinery inspections is to evaluate equipment for any issues that might contribute to malfunctions, breakdowns, safety issues, workplace injuries, or outright failure. In addition, regularly scheduled and systematic inspections can help your organization identify issues that might be preventing your equipment from functioning at maximum efficiency. 

To that end, inspections are an essential component of preventive maintenance. An effective inspection program can significantly reduce unplanned downtime, prevent onsite injuries and accidents, and ultimately extend the expected useful life of your physical assets.

Why are equipment inspections important? 

Inspections are an inherently proactive form of equipment maintenance with many clear and proven benefits. Let’s first consider what might happen to your operation in the absence of regular equipment inspections. Without regular equipment inspections, you could easily overlook potential problems such as the need for calibration, lubrication, spare parts replacement, or minor repairs. 

These issues can quickly escalate into unexpected equipment breakdowns, prolonged unplanned downtime, and costlier repairs. These conditions can, in turn, cascade into a series of heightened operational risks including workplace safety violations, missed delivery deadlines, and decreased lifespans for critical pieces of equipment.  

In contrast, when your operation engages in regular, thorough, and proactive equipment inspections, your organization will enjoy the following benefits: 

  • Increased equipment lifespan, with regular inspections and responsive maintenance helping to reduce the long-term impact of regular wear and tear
  • Enhanced safety, with inspections identifying and remedying hazards before they can escalate into accidents, injuries, or fatalities
  • Reduced downtime, with proactive maintenance procedures preventing equipment malfunction and failure 
  • Simplified compliance thanks to regularly scheduled inspections that improve accountability, build audit trails, and ensure operational alignment even as regulatory standards change or evolve
  • Reduced maintenance costs, with early detection helping your organization save money on costly repairs, emergency rush orders, and premature replacement of critical assets 

Types of equipment inspections

Maintenance teams depend on inspections to ensure continuous and optimal operation of critical assets including: 

  • Mechanical equipment like engines, pumps, and HVAC systems
  • Electrical equipment such as generators, transformers, and circuit breakers
  • Industrial equipment including conveyor belts, cranes, forklifts, and other heavy machinery used in factories and warehouses
  • Safety equipment such as fire extinguishers, emergency alarms, and personal protective equipment (PPE)
  • Construction equipment like bulldozers, excavators, and other heavy equipment used on construction projects

The inspection strategy that you use will depend on the nature of the equipment under review. Inspection for each asset will be informed by a combination of regulatory requirements, safety standards, manufacturer recommendations, and internal Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs). In many cases, your maintenance team will deploy a combination of these inspection strategies for a single physical asset. 

Below, we take a closer look at some common inspection types:

  • Visual inspections are often conducted in advance of other inspection types, with inspectors looking for cracks, leaks, corrosion, and any other clear and superficial signs of wear, damage, or malfunction. 
  • Preventive maintenance (PM) inspections usually involve coordination between regularly scheduled equipment checks and routine preventive maintenance tasks such as lubrication, calibration, and planned parts replacement.
  • Predictive maintenance inspections typically deploy condition monitoring sensors and other advanced technologies to identify potential issues before they can escalate into malfunction or breakdown
  • Compliance inspections are mandatory, and will typically be conducted in accordance with federal, state, and local regulatory guidelines.
  • Safety inspections may be focused on the safe function of production equipment or more specifically on safety equipment such as fire suppression systems and machine guards. Safety inspections must align with Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standards.

Equipment inspection challenges

Maintenance teams may face a range of common challenges in conducting inspections and keeping equipment productive. Below, we identify some of these common challenges and their potential impact on your equipment and your operation:

  • Pencil whipping refers to the act of signing off on a document without actually reviewing its contents. In the context of equipment inspections, this approach can lead to a lack of accountability, procedural inconsistencies, increased safety risks, and misalignment with regulatory standards. 
  • Communication hiccups can impede collaboration and coordination between maintenance teams, operators, and management, which can lead to a siloing of valuable organizational knowledge, slowed response times, and misrepresentation of equipment issues. 
  • Inadequate training can stand in the way of effective and accurate inspections, limiting the quality and consistency of your preventive maintenance program.
  • Resource constraints such as insufficient staffing, budget limitations, and inventory shortfalls can make it difficult for your maintenance team to perform timely and thorough inspections.
  • Data management issues are not uncommon when dealing with large volumes of inspection data. Maintenance teams that operate without the support of a digital management maintenance solution may risk blunting the effectiveness of regular inspections with inconsistent, incomplete, or inaccurate data.

When should you conduct equipment inspections

There are several different approaches to planning and scheduling equipment inspections. Each approach carries pros and cons, but ultimately the right approach for you will depend on the nature of your operation and your access to the necessary resources. Below, consider some of the popular approaches to planning and scheduling equipment inspections.

  • Time-based maintenance (TBM) programs schedule inspections at regular intervals (e.g., daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, annually).
    • Pros: Time-based maintenance is predictable, easy to plan, and ensures scheduling consistency.
    • Cons: Time-based maintenance can lead to over-maintenance, which can contribute to unneeded downtime, gratuitous operational disruption, and higher maintenance costs.
  • Usage-based maintenance (UBM) determines inspection scheduling based on the actual use of equipment, which can be marked by metrics such as operating hours, units produced, miles driven, etc.
    • Pros: Usage-based maintenance aligns activities with actual equipment usage, which means this approach is highly adaptable to changing conditions and operational demands. 
    • Cons: Usage-based maintenance relies on the implementation of a mechanism for tracking and monitoring equipment usage. 
  • Condition-based maintenance (CBM) inspection schedules are based on the real-time performance of equipment, with monitoring sensors detecting signs of abnormal function and alerting maintenance teams of potential malfunction or failure.
    • Pros: Condition-based maintenance reduces unnecessary inspections, provides early detection of issues, and optimizes allocation of maintenance resources.
    • Cons: Condition-based maintenance may require a significant upfront investment in monitoring technology, as well as the personnel and training needed to effectively harness this technology.
  • Predictive Maintenance (PdM) uses advanced analytics and machine learning algorithms to predict when equipment is likely to fail and trigger just-in-time (JIT) inspections and maintenance activities.
    • Pros: Predictive maintenance maximizes equipment uptime, prevents unexpected equipment failures, and uses data-driven insights to improve inspection planning and scheduling decisions.
    • Cons: Predictive maintenance typically requires a high up-front investment in technology, as well as continuous data collection and analysis, all of which may require the support of specialized personnel.
  • Reactive maintenance (RM) programs typically deploy inspections and maintenance activities only after equipment malfunctions or breaks down.
    • Pros: Reactive maintenance carries minimal upfront costs, requires no complex planning, and is simple to implement. 
    • Cons: Reactive maintenance carries a heightened risk of equipment failure, prolonged downtime, production losses, magnified safety hazards, and reduced equipment lifespan

Equipment inspection best practices

The right approach to inspection planning and scheduling may depend to an extent on the nature of your operation and your industry. However, some equipment inspection best practices are common across a wide range of industries:

  • Standardize inspection procedures by creating inspection checklists, defining criteria, and establishing Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) for measuring outcomes.
  • Provide comprehensive training for inspectors, including instruction on inspection procedures, proper use of the appropriate tools, and relevant safety protocols.
  • Optimize inspection scheduling, coordinating with management and production teams to minimize unnecessary disruption and downtime.
  • Integrate inspections with maintenance planning, fostering collaboration, coordination, and information sharing between inspection teams and maintenance personnel.
  • Utilize digital tools to streamline data collection, reporting, and analysis while equipping inspectors with mobile and remote access to systems.

Maintenance management software and equipment inspections

In the section above, we note the value of leveraging digital tools to streamline and improve your equipment inspection processes. Computerized Maintenance Management Systems (CMMS) are particularly powerful digital platforms that can significantly enhance your organization’s ability to manage and optimize its equipment inspection program. 

Benefits of leveraging a leading-edge CMMS platform like Limble include: 

To find out how else a CMMS platform can help you optimize your equipment inspection processes, check out our comprehensive Guide to CMMS Software.

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