Averting the failure of critical plant machinery has been the driving force behind the adoption of condition monitoring across many process industry sectors.
Measurement and analysis of vibration, lubrication and the thermal state of core assets has already proven its worth in extending their working life and helping to avoid costly plant shutdowns.
Now, mounting business pressure, and advancements in Cloud and wireless technologies, are pushing the application of condition monitoring tools into new frontiers, say industry experts.
The sectors adapting best to condition monitoring have tended to be those that cannot afford the high costs that are associated with production downtime, says Sally Sillis, Schaeffler UK’s technology centre manager.
For many users, Smart Condition Monitoring is the transition from regular – or often irregular – offline measurements to continuous online measurements
Sally Sillis, technology centre manager, Schaeffler UK
“Operations that are moving quickly to adopt these practices, sadly, are normally under immense pressure, which is forcing such a move. For example, personnel reductions mean less people to carry out maintenance or deal with a process or machine breakdown situation.”
Added to this are market pressures to increase production output by improving equipment reliability, which she says has led most process industry sectors to introduce some type of condition monitoring strategy or systems into their plants.
But while adoption rates are increasing, many of these operations still need assistance to make condition monitoring work most effectively for them, adds Sillis.
New technologies such as wireless networks and the Cloud are not only helping these companies to deploy condition monitoring to a wider range of plant assets, but have also opened the door to engineering specialists, such as Schaeffler, to provide better analytical support.
Blue sky thinking
The Cloud is playing an increasingly important part in this relationship, by allowing huge quantities of data to be stored and shared easily, and at relatively low cost, promoting a shift to Smart Condition Monitoring practices.
“For many users, Smart Condition Monitoring is the transition from regular – or often irregular – offline measurements to continuous online measurements,” says Sillis.
Schaeffler’s cloud-capable SmartCheck is an online condition monitoring device that provides a point of entry into the digitalisation of machines and equipment based on vibration monitoring. By connecting the SmartCheck to the Schaeffler Cloud, users are able to access Schaeffler’s ‘ConditionAnalyzer’ digital service.
“A text message about the real condition of the asset is sent to the user or to the user’s existing systems to enable a decision to be made about the maintenance intervention to be taken, for example ordering spare parts, planning for downtime, and scheduling staff,” says Sillis.
Although hard-wired condition monitoring devices are still considered safer and more reliable by many of Schaeffler UK’s process industry customers, she says wireless, battery-operated condition monitoring devices are becoming increasingly available, helping to reduce electrical wiring and cabling costs for less critical equipment.
Sillis says she expects to see new, long life battery-operated devices being introduced over the next few years, as the technology evolves further.
Frederic Thomas, managing director of AVT Reliability, says condition monitoring tools can help to fill in a missing layer of technology, as companies await Industry 4.0 and its promise of every machine connected to the internet.
The company’s Machine Sentry platform offers real-time management of safety and business-critical assets by integrating multiple technologies such as thermography, oil analysis, visual inspection and vibration data.
Technology helps reduce unneeded intrusive maintenance and increase equipment uptime, as software can analyses the data collected by an operator or technician automatically
Frederic Thomas, managing director, AVT Reliability
With a dwindling number of mechanical engineers with the skills to strip machines and repair them, it is becoming more and more important to monitor the assets, understand their condition and perform maintenance tasks when required.
“Our technology helps reduce unneeded intrusive maintenance and increase equipment uptime, as our software can analyse the data collected by an operator or technician automatically, providing a clear message on potential failure modes and remedial action required,” says Thomas.
Although the cost of having sensors connected to every single item of equipment is still too expensive right now, Thomas says Machine Sentry “allows customers to connect assets that couldn’t previously be monitored, offering an auto diagnostic solution from the incoming data”.
Being web-based, the data collected by the end user can be accessed online by the customer, or any of AVT’s engineers, from anywhere in the world.
This means there is no need to wait for an engineer to travel to a site to analyse the health of assets, he adds.
On the increase
In addition, Thomas explains, he has also observed at first-hand an increase in the application of condition monitoring among his firm’s clients. “We have a client in the food and beverage sector, and when we started working with them ten years ago, we did a little bit of lubrication and vibration analysis.
“Today they are using Machine Sentry on all of their assets with an operator, who reports anything they can see, touch or smell on a regular basis.”
He says they also deploy a lubrication management routine using Machine Sentry data, to about 20% of their plant assets, compared with 10% previously.
“They have been able to expand this footprint because Machine Sentry is three to five times faster than traditional tools, making the cost of deployment cheaper and more effective,” he says.
AVT Reliability has also begun work on rolling out products that are capable of monitoring vibration on fixed assets such as small bore connections.
“Non-rotating assets such as pipework can still suffer from vibration if they have machinery connected to them, and can start failing on stress points,” says Thomas.
Its Easy-Brace is a universal small bore connection anti-vibration bracing system that can be applied to pipework to help reveal the weakest points and reduce the chance of fatigue failure.
“This is particularly useful in an ATEX environment where you may need to monitor carbon or dangerous products transported through pipelines, to reduce the risk of failure,” he says.
Experts at Geoquip believe in installing maintenance programmes right at the start of a project
Geoquip Water Solutions provides remote monitoring and telemetry for water supply systems and projects.
Managing director Mike Deed says its bespoke panels and dashboards enable customers to monitor equipment such as boreholes and wells on a day-to-day basis from anywhere in the world.
Geoquip collects the data either via the Cloud or the mobile network, employing a remote management platform and an eWON communication gateway to provide access for in-house experts and its customer base.
“There will always be new developments in areas such as remote monitoring, but the important message is one of education,” says Deed. “Installing a borehole should not be a case of fit and forget. People must think about the fact that they need to build in maintenance and monitoring programmes right at the start,” he says.
“If they don’t, then they are setting themselves up for problems in the future. All too often it is only when they start to see flow rates falling, equipment slowing down and pumps becoming blocked that the penny actually drops.”
Effective monitoring and telemetry allows Geoquip to put in triggers and alarm points which raise alerts when faults or particular combinations of problems arise, he says. “By having full remote access, Geoquip can work with customers and provide solutions before they develop into major situations.”
Deed adds that Geoquip’s range of BoreSaver cleaning treatments are safe, biodegradable and can be used in situ, with no need to remove pumping equipment. A recent addition also includes markers to reassure users that any residual chemicals have been removed.