From Walkarounds to Wireless Monitoring

From Walkarounds to Wireless Monitoring

Advances in condition monitoring technology means maintenance and operations teams can spend less time collecting data, and more time acting on it, says Chris James, product line manager for permanently installed condition monitoring at SKF.

Look after your assets and they will look after you. For as long as there have been machines, people have understood the need to monitor and maintain them. While the principle remains constant, the methods have evolved over time. To understand asset condition, technicians once relied mainly on their eyes and ears. Now they can collect data on a host of physical parameters and see how that data changes over time. In many industries, routine measurement of temperature, vibration and lubricant condition have been standard practices for decades.

A manual or automated condition monitoring approach is now available to companies.

Companies can choose between two fundamental approaches to the collection of machine condition data. They can take a manual route, equipping maintenance teams with handheld devices they can use to measure and record parameters during routine “walkaround” inspections. Or they can automate, installing permanent sensors that transmit data across a network.

Picking the right approach for any given asset requires an organization to balance the costs – of collecting, communicating, storing and analyzing the data – against the reliability benefits that data delivers. In practice, that means many organizations use permanently installed systems in their most critical assets and rely on handheld data collection for the rest.

Digitalization changes the game

When it comes to condition monitoring, the ongoing digital revolution in industry is set to transform both sides of the cost benefit equation. That is going to drive a big shift in the way companies collect data on their machines, and in what they do with that data once they have it.

First, the cost of permanently installed data collection systems is coming down. In part, that’s thanks to the development of robust, inexpensive sensors and processing electronics. More importantly, it’s because connecting those sensors has become cheaper and easier to do. That matters because installation labor, along with dedicated cabling and communications hardware, can make up 60 to 75 percent of the total cost of a permanent condition monitoring system.

Sensor technology can reduce operating costs of shop floor components.

Today, companies have multiple options to reduce those costs. They can connect data acquisition devices directly to their existing wired networks. Or they can go wireless. Secure Wi-Fi networks are increasingly common in factories and other industrial facilities, for example. A new generation of low-power wireless “mesh” network technologies makes it possible to install sensors that can operate for years on battery power alone. The ease of deployment of such sensors is attractive, but the energy budget still needs that balance against the asset’s criticality and wired alternatives.

Second, advanced condition monitoring systems are becoming cheaper to run, thanks to the development of new analytics approaches, such as the application of machine learning technologies. These methods are automating the interpretation of machine condition data to a much greater degree than was previously possible. That means companies can monitor more assets with fewer skilled analysts.

Finally, new technology is changing the way machine condition data is used. Although data analysis at a central location – or completely remote – is nothing new, the Internet and cloud computing have made orders of this magnitude easier and cheaper to implement. That can have big benefits for organizations with multiple assets operating around the world. The same technologies make the results of analyses far more accessible: a factory manager can now see the status of the facility simply by glancing at their phone.

So, does the digital revolution mean an end to the age-old tradition of the maintenance walkaround? Absolutely not. Machines will still need people to maintain, diagnose and improve them. And when it comes to routine inspections, and root-cause problem solving in reliability, there is no substitute for a hands-on approach. Tomorrow’s maintenance specialists will probably spend just as much time on the shop floor, but they’ll spend less of that time on routine checks and measurements, and more on activities that deliver real performance and reliability improvements.


(Article provided by SKF)

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