In a water scarce country like South Africa, handling wastewater correctly is not a luxury but an essential service. Due to rapid urbanisation and resource-heavy lifestyle changes, our wastewater system is under severe pressure, which is compounded exponentially by an ageing wastewater infrastructure that cannot cope with the increasing demands being placed on it.
Ageing infrastructure also implies ageing rotating equipment. In the case of water treatment, these rotating machines are typically motors, pumps, blowers and compressors. Higher demand requires these machines to be available and to run reliably for longer periods, thus extending maintenance intervals. There is therefore a growing need for maintenance-related outages to be shorter and subsequent maintenance efforts need to be focused and problem-oriented.
In a nutshell, the key factor to getting ahead of our growing wastewater problem is a maintenance planning process driven by excellent condition monitoring and machine status data. So, the question is, how do we achieve this?
1. Continuous condition monitoring
A properly implemented vibration condition monitoring strategy has been proven in practice to increase the reliability and reduce the maintenance costs of machines by preventing ‘run-to-failure’ situations. Traditionally, a walk-around vibration condition monitoring program would be the norm for wastewater machines, always with the risk of missing problems that develop in-between surveys. With the advent of new monitoring technologies, however, it is becoming more cost-effective to monitor these types of machines around the clock, making it possible to detect problems early and plan for maintenance interventions.
2. Sensors that can withstand harsh environmental conditions
It is essential to implement rugged sensors that can withstand the corrosive wastewater environment, and can be used in applications where the sensor might be submerged. Typically, these sensors are stainless-steel with integrated cables that are hermetically sealed to withstand submersion. Using sensors that are appropriate for these conditions can also make it possible to monitor bearings that are inaccessible during normal operating conditions, such as submersible pumps.
3. Integration of measurements
Over the years vibration transmitters have become smart and can differentiate between the most prevalent vibration problems faced by wastewater operators. Transmitters can provide a vibration level output indicating misalignment, looseness and unbalance conditions, as well as a signal indicating the condition of the rolling element bearing.
These vibration levels and the corresponding alarm status, provide valuable information for planning maintenance requirements and should be visible to operators and engineers. This is easily achieved by integration with existing PLC, scada and data historian infrastructure. This also allows for the automatic shutting down of these machines in the event that vibration levels exceed predefined safety limits, protecting machines from running to complete failure.
4. Going wireless
In many plants, wireless condition monitoring strategies are becoming a viable solution. Wireless monitoring systems allow for all the functionality of traditional systems, with the benefit of mitigating cable costs. This not only reduces the costs of copper wire, but also allows for an easier and often quicker installation. Wireless technology is proving to be the right solution when there is a requirement not to disrupt operations during installation. Battery life and battery maintenance of wireless sensors are both factors to consider, but as technology continually evolves and improves, so battery life of several years is becoming a reality.
Continuous monitoring requires a significant upfront investment to establish the infrastructure. Therefore, it is essential to identify the correct solution before spending money on it. Cost-effective condition monitoring solutions are available to put the power in your hands. The key is to utilise sensors, record the signals of interest, make the measurement data available to the right maintenance personnel and to integrate this information into the existing maintenance planning process. The investment in continuous measurements and condition monitoring can realise real savings for your business by applying a data-driven predictive maintenance approach.
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