The Case of the Wobbly Microscopes

A leading cancer hospital serves thousands of patients every year and prides itself on exceptional patient care; every detail of hospital operation planned and orchestrated to ensure the best possible experience, in one of the most frightening and vulnerable times in a patient’s life.  With this type of high level cancer treatment, even the slightest hiccup in hospital operation can be incredibly problematic to the doctors and patients involved in their mission of a better cancer care.  So, when an entire operating room is rendered unusable due to mysterious ambient vibration, it’s a big deal.

That’s exactly what happened at a leading cancer hospital in Utah.  Sometime before the early summer of 2015 the microscope of Operating Room 7 in Building 225 began experiencing mechanical issues.  Due to unidentified vibrations the microscope became impossible to focus. Within the same time frame a separate operating room in another part of the Hospital began to experience similar mechanical failures with their microscopes.  What could be the source of the issue?  The scopes worked fine in other parts of the hospital, so it was clearly not simply a malfunction with the scope.  The oscillation in the images that caused the focus problems would indicate environmental causation, but from what source? (Local construction, activity in other parts of the hospital, ghosts?)

A perfect opportunity for PdM Specialists to crack the case.

After performing a vibration study on the operating room, we were able to identify a high amplitude dominate frequency as the source of the mysterious vibration.

Vibration signature from the surgery room floor:

Vibration signature from the surgery room floor

PdM was able to determine that it was simply an unbalanced fan located in a mechanical room directly below the operating room.  The fans unbalance caused an oscillating vibration to travel through the ceiling at a frequency that wreaked havoc with the scopes mechanical focus.

The same high amplitude dominate frequency was identified within the mechanical room, emanating from an inline booster exhaust fan.

Vibration signature from the Inline Booster Exhaust Fan:

Vibration signature from the Inline Booster Exhaust Fan

The hospital had been putting up with these issues the vibration had caused to the microscopes, but with cancer surgery things should be prefect.  PdM Specialists were able to fix the issue with a simple fan replacement, saving the hospital time money that could be far better utilized for cancer treatment and research.

Further this case study is an interesting example of how simple mechanical problems from unrelated machinery can have dramatic impacts throughout a facility’s systems.  Problems that can be identified readily through PdM’s toolbox of predictive maintenance and analysis techniques.

At PdM Specialists, we have both the experience and expertise to help you achieve your performance goals. Whether it’s testing, troubleshooting, or proactively maintaining assets, we’ll offer a complete and customized solution for your equipment.