AMCOL Predicts Equipment Failure with Condition Monitoring

AMCOL Predicts Equipment Failure


  • To prevent motor damage before it happened and to reduce unplanned downtime from equipment failures by obtaining timely and actionable information on the equipment condition



  • Over a three month period, the system detected six key equipment conditions that have resulted in a cost avoidance of between $85,000 and $114,000

Dynamix™ Condition Monitoring Surveillance System from Rockwell Automation® Saves Maintenance and Capital Cost at AMCOL Bentonite Mill

As one of the world’s leading producers of bentonite clay, American Colloid Company (AMCOL), focuses on high quality, on-time delivery.

One of its milling sites in Lovell, Wyoming, processes the dried bentonite clay into drilling well products and granular cat litter products. In its raw form, bentonite is as much as 30 percent water by weight so the plant uses rotary kilns, fluid bed dryers and other drying equipment to reduce the moisture. The drying process produces a material that is more efficient in subsequent processes of grinding, mixing and screening.

To ensure end products that perform uniformly and specifically to customer standards, AMCOL implemented manufacturing controls that not only improve production but also help reduce operating costs.



The Raymond mills at the Lovell plant run a continuous manufacturing operation with multiple pieces of rotating equipment, each with the potential to break down and halt production. If drying and milling stop so do customer shipments.

“The plant was losing a lot of motors in the milling process,” says David Wilkerson, Electrical and Instrumentation Supervisor at the AMCOL Lovell plant, “about two critical motors a year.”

The electrical and mechanical departments struggled to identify root causes of the issue. Worn bearings and belts went undetected, resulting in damage to motor bearings and windings.

As part of AMCOL’s reliability initiative, the plant contracted a third-party service provider on a monthly basis to measure and analyze the vibration levels to help diagnose equipment issues. However, this method did not generate timely data, missed critical faults between monthly intervals and did not collect data on equipment that was not running; all of which are critical for scheduling planned maintenance work. In the AMCOL environment, equipment degradation can occur suddenly and quickly ramp up to a catastrophic failure.

AMCOL’s goal was to prevent motor damage before it happened and to reduce unplanned downtime from equipment failures by obtaining timely and actionable information on the equipment condition. The plant wanted a cost-effective solution that would integrate with their existing system architecture and have a quick payback period.



AMCOL turned to its long-time Allen-Bradley authorized distributor, Border States Electric, in Billings, Mont., to help find a viable solution. Border States recommended a cost-effective, timely and actionable Dynamix Condition Monitoring Surveillance System with project delivery from Rockwell Automation.

Condition monitoring is an effective method for improving Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE). The Dynamix Condition Monitoring Surveillance system helps to protect critical assets, eliminate collateral damage and reduce maintenance, repair, and operating (MRO) costs through the automatic measurement and diagnosis of machinery health and performance conditions.

The Dynamix Condition Monitoring Surveillance System is a service and solutions offering from Rockwell Automation’s Global Solutions team. The system integrates appropriate Allen-Bradley XM Series measurement modules, Logix controllers and FactoryTalk visualization products. The solution also includes all of the necessary controller logic and display development, tailored to the customer’s specific needs, along with complete system configuration and installation services and support. While customized for each application the solution leverages proven add-on instructions and templates built on industry standard logic and alarm methods. The solution designed for AMCOL was a multiplexed system using an Allen-Bradley XM122 module, ideal for detecting rolling element bearing faults, linked to an Allen-Bradley CompactLogix L35E controller and a FactoryTalk View ME HMI station.

The Dynamix solution provides early warning of impending failures and continually assesses the condition of the plant’s equipment to help prevent problems before they occur. XM modules provide the core vibration analysis by converting raw time waveforms into a frequency spectrum. Up to four different frequency bands can be programmed for each input to give early warning notification of specific machinery issues.

Utilizing the surveillance and alarming add-on option to AMCOL’s TechConnect support agreement, Wilkerson monitors plant asset data on a daily basis and schedules maintenance work orders accordingly.


“The new system gives us two to three months warning of impending failures which allows us time to schedule maintenance,” says Wilkerson. “Having the system issue advisories in plain English was perfect since we don’t have vibration specialists on staff.”

The third party provider continues to measure vibration data via scheduled walk-arounds but is now also hired to diagnose suspected problems reported by the Dynamix system.

The Rockwell Automation Global Solutions team delivered a complete solution by providing the domain expertise to recommend the appropriate condition monitoring solution, effective project planning, engineering, installation, system configuration and validation. Using a collaborative approach, the Global Solutions team configured the system to capture data from the critical areas of the equipment and the third-party provider monitors the system-generated reports to identify root causes.



Following implementation of the condition monitoring system in November 2009, AMCOL was able to identify a variety of potential equipment failures.

As of April 2011, Wilkerson said, “We have not had an unexpected motor failure since we’ve deployed the Dynamix Condition Monitoring Surveillance system.”

From specific savings, such as not needing to rewind or replace motors, to general savings such as reducing unscheduled downtime and maintenance costs, integrated condition monitoring helps AMCOL maximize machine productivity by integrating systems and processes, and using multiple technologies to monitor machine performance.

“The beauty of this program is that it warns you if something is unbalanced, loose, or if spike energy is high which usually points to a lubrication problem,” says Wilkerson. “The system helps us identify the root cause of each issue quickly.” Together, the system hardware and software enables capturing this type of data.

In one example, the vibration monitoring system indicated an increasing trend of high vibration on the #4 mill. Upon further inspection, AMCOL discovered a large crack in the spider – the mill component that suspends mill journals and mill rolls. Had the crack evolved into a break, it would have resulted in a catastrophic failure of the mill, and a $90,000 mill re-build. Instead, AMCOL replaced the spider for $14,000, for potential savings of $76,000.

Advanced detection and notification of several motors using continuous motor trending meant AMCOL was able to replace motor bearings at a cost of $1,700, rather than motor replacement at approximately $13,000 or motor re-build at $5,000.

“The online monitoring system has also been a key tool for detecting loose belts or a soft foot on our Raymond mill fans and drives,” says Wilkerson. “We have had three separate loose belt situations in the months of January and February. This can lead to damage to sheaves, belts, and even excessive damage to bearings.”

The average cost of replacement is $900 for fan bearings, $1,600 for motor bearings, $1,650 to replace sheaves and $960 to replace a belt. AMCOL was able to tighten the belts on three of the motor mill fans at no cost.

The purchase and installation of the Dynamix Condition Monitoring Surveillance System has been a key asset to avoiding expensive failures. Over a three month period, the system detected six key equipment conditions that have resulted in a cost avoidance of between $85,000 and $114,000.

AMCOL realized a payback on the ICM system in less than 4 months.

“We’ve proven the concept and our central maintenance group for western mining is considering deploying the solution at other sites,” says Wilkerson.


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