Back in the mists of time, that is, in the sixties, the engineers in charge of the gas turbines used to generate electricity in power stations, and others monitoring helicopter gearboxes, used sensors to monitor shaft thrust bearing wear and the vibrations in the bearing housings. Those were the days when condition monitoring was in its infancy. In the seventies the same techniques were applied to the bearings on large fans because when they failed, they tended to roll around and demolish sections of the plant. Also, centrifuges were equipped with out of balance detectors – maybe you might remember the domestic washing machines that ‘walked’ around the kitchen when spinning large items of washing. Nowadays even such domestic appliances have sensors that cancel the spin cycle if the clothes are eccentrically loaded.
In the boom years, 10 years ago, when sensors for anything were needed to feed the growing demands of the IoT, suddenly the big guys decided that vibration and wear detection were the things everyone needed. The automation majors bought up lots of the condition monitoring firms, to corner the expected market boom. I don’t think it happened, except in certain sectors, of which more later. Just like it hadn’t happened in various phases ever since the eighties – which was when I was involved. Basically the sensors did not come with an engineer attached, and the analysis for many applications was complex, varying from site to site and pump to fan to centrifuge.
This year seems to mark the start of a new effort in this area and maybe this time the approach is more logical. The manufacturers of the electric motor drives have introduced their own condition monitoring sensor systems. At least we can assume therefore that they have some knowledge of sensor positioning and the characteristics of the equipment they are monitoring, and maybe there is a spin-off into extending their guarantees and service package, when their sensors are used.
Many of these new systems were being trumpeted at the UK 2018 Drives & Controls Exhibition, using all the currently in vogue buzzwords. The WEG offering was christened ‘Motor Scan’ and measures motor temperature and vibration. This is transmitted via Bluetooth and then from an app to the Cloud. There the Weg analytics use spectral analysis to predict pending failures. Control Techniques has a ‘Forecyte’ sensor, magnetically attached, also sending via an App to the Cloud. Again the sensor measures temperature and vibration, and the parent company Nidec is ‘developing further analytics to provide meaningful output from the data’. Mitsubishi introduced Smart Condition Monitoring (SCM). This system uses the Schaeffler FAG SmartCheck sensors, which themselves give local warnings using a traffic light system but the data is also relayed by Ethernet to an intelligent sensor controller. Here the SCM system provides alarms and condition warning messages to the operators.
ABB took maybe a different approach. With a large installed base of industrial motors, and a need to cater for the ‘Upgrade to IIoT’ desire of factory managers, it has developed a wireless, pocket-sized sensor that can be attached to any motor, and uses Bluetooth to transmit data on vibration, sound and temperature. Again this is sent to the Cloud where it is analysed, and the conclusions sent back. ABB also suggest that it can offer advice to reduce energy consumption. The sensor requires no setup for retrofit use on ABB motors, but will also work on other branded motors. New ABB LV motors can be factory fitted with the sensors.
Apparently Grundfos has been working with Augury in the US for two years, using the Augury predictive analysis techniques, based on sound/vibration monitoring, to improve the reliability and condition monitoring for the water pumps covered by their service agreements. This has now also been rolled out in Europe. It is a similar approach to that taken by GE some years ago after it acquired Bently Nevada and all its vibration monitoring expertise. With many service contracts on major assets like gas turbines (based on aero engines) and pumps/compressors on natural gas lines, LNG liquefaction plants, and the like, GE runs a 24/7 monitoring service on these installations. GE service teams are then called out to those specific sites identified with developing problems. For GE this makes good sense, since its service contracts are fixed price deals with guaranteed uptime, and penalty clauses for any failure to meet this measure!
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