Pay Close Attention to Valves

Shutoff valves are arguably the most important part of any facility's piping system. Your facility should have an easy-to-read map of the locations of all valves. In an emergency, you can save time if your employees know exactly where to look when they need to shut down portions of your facility's plumbing.

Every facility, from a hospital to a steel mill, needs a routine plumbing maintenance plan that includes valve maintenance. You can prevent downtime simply by ensuring that all valves - pressure valves, check valves, shutoff valves and more - are working as they should. That means your maintenance engineers need to check daily or weekly for leaks. When a valve shows signs that it may seize or malfunction, repair or replace it immediately. Not only will you experience less unplanned downtime, but properly working valves will help streamline planned plumbing upgrades.

Developing a Plumbing Maintenance Plan

Valves aren't the only parts of your plumbing that will need routine maintenance, and in a busy facility, it's easy to ignore piping and fittings. In fact, research shows that up to 55 percent of all maintenance plans are reactive while only 31 percent are preventive. Yet the same research shows that preventive maintenance comes with many more advantages, including:

  • Between 12 percent and 18 percent savings compared to reactive maintenance.
  • Drastically reduced downtime.
  • Increased equipment lifespan, leading to fewer repair and replacement costs.

In other words, when it comes to plumbing, don't wait for slow drains turn into clogged drains, or small seeps into floods.

Does this mean that you need to inspect every square inch of your plumbing on a weekly or monthly basis? According to the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the answer is no. Rather, maintenance comes down to an intuitive understanding of your facility's systems. Paul Ring, vice president of facilities management at CH2M HILL, says that you must "know what must be monitored closely and what can be allowed to fail with few if any consequences."

An easy way to allocate time and money to the various parts of your plumbing is to classify them according to priority levels. You could use "primary," "secondary" and "tertiary" as classification levels, or another metric that you prefer. The important part is that you assign high priority levels to the sections of your facility's plumbing that are most likely to cause downtime when they fail. This helps your maintenance engineers plan a maintenance schedule as well as a repair or upgrade budget. Leave those items that won't cause downtime on the lowest levels of your priority plan.

As an example, put plumbing to boilers, pumps, fire sprinklers and other essential equipment on your high-priority list. Drains can go one of two ways. If employees use them daily or weekly, put them in the high-priority tier for regular cleaning and inspection. On the other hand, a drain in a forgotten corner of your warehouse is probably something you can put on the low priority list.

Make Room in the Budget for Upgrades

It happens all the time: Facilities maintain the status quo with their equipment for years on end because plant managers and maintenance engineers are trying to cut costs. After all, if it's not broken, why fix it? Don't wait until it is necessary to upgrade every bit of your facility's plumbing. Instead, take a phased approach, replacing sections at a time, until you feel confident that you can rely on your facility's plumbing.

To upgrade effectively, it helps if you have records that show the materials used in your plumbing system as well as an installation date. For instance, if you have galvanized steel plumbing that is 30 years old, you can safely assume that it is nearing the end of its life. However, if you have PVC piping that is 30 years old, you can focus your upgrades elsewhere, since PVC has a lifespan of up to 110 years.

The key to creating a reliable plumbing system in your facility is to realize that nothing lasts forever. If you treat maintenance and upgrades as a constantly evolving process rather than an occasional event, you can cut costs and put an end to prolonged downtime.

About the Author
Amanda Hill is the Content and Creative Manager for Commercial Industrial Supply, based out of Rock Hill, South Carolina. CIS is a supplier of commercial plumbing equipment, pipes/fittings/valves, for industrial facilities all across the United States.

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