Improving Machinery Reliability On A Budget

New technology is making it easier and cheaper for small and big manufactures to solve machinery mysteries. One new and unique technology is an ultrasonic sensor with embedded cellular connectivity.

New technology is making it easier and cheaper for small and big manufacturers to solve machinery mysteries. One new and unique technology is an ultrasonic sensor with embedded cellular connectivity.  This all-in-one device was recently deployed at a plastics plant in Iowa. The plant had limited experience with ultrasonic or vibration technology. They simply magnetically mounted the sensor on a suspect bearing on one of their oven recirculation fans. Within minutes the data was pre-processed in the device and a summary point was posted to the cloud. In the cloud, the data was automatically compared to thresholds, a high reading was detected and a text message alerted the plant personnel with a descriptive message similar to the one below:

“Date/Time: Critical Alert: No. 4 Oven Recirculation Fan Bearing, 29.2 G’s”. 

In this example, the first step to resolve the condition was to go to the asset for a human inspection. Was the sensor mounted correctly? Was there smoke, visible vibration or any noise? Was the bearing hot? Upon evaluation, it was decided to add grease to the bearing. Within minutes of adding grease, the alert cleared. It almost seems too fast and too easy. Was adding grease really the answer?

Industry experience shows that plants are often too busy with day-to-day work, interrupted by reactive work to notice what in hindsight seems so simple. This is where technology comes into play. The data in the example above proved that adding grease made a quantifiable and sustainable difference in improving the operation of the bearing. So how does technology help and can it produce an ROI? 

Which Technology Is Right For You?

It’s important to remember that not all technology is created equal. The right technology should be simple and easy, yet have the ability to grow with your facility, both in size and capability. The decision to implement technology must consider installation and training costs. Some technology, specifically around ultrasonic and vibration, can get complex and it is unclear what action is necessary. Many technologies also take time to configure, time to learn and time to maintain. Pick a technology that avoids these complexities. 

One strategy, is to start with a technology that leverages existing infrastructure and can be shared across multiple assets. With the cellular sensor example, it can be moved from suspect asset to suspect asset, and from site to site, thus enabling multiple quick finds and multiple quick wins to provide an ROI.  The proceeds from this quick win can be used to self-fund further improvement investments.

Setting Up For Savings

The ultrasonic/vibration sensor with embedded cellular is built-for-purpose and designed for an industrial plant floor. However, unlike other industrial sensors, this setup is as simple as a consumer cell phone, turn it on and it is immediately collecting and transmitting data. Just like your cell phone is set up at the provider store or kiosk, the ultrasonic/vibration sensor is setup before shipment. You can also customize settings. Still, with this technology, your plant location must have cellular coverage. Because it uses the existing cellular infrastructure this sensor does not need any wires, Wi-Fi passwords, network IDs, firewalls or additional gateways. There’s no software or app to install or update. You simply login to the website, edit your profile to add your phone number and select the alert levels you want to receive. Below are a few examples of the settings and views available from your login:

  1. Overview of device status
  2. View historical trend data
  3. Create and manage users
  4. Edit alert thresholds
  5. Edit update rates
  6. Organize device districts and locations
  7. Add installation pictures and movie clips
  8. Export data

Trading Time For Technology

One way to improve machinery reliability is to inspect the machinery, find early warnings of impending problems and repair these problems while they are small. Lubrication is often a common, easy fix while other frequent faults are loose bolts or components, misalignment, imbalance and worn or defective bearings. These faults occur at random times, meaning they are not predictable based on time or runtime. However, one ultrasonic/vibration sensor can be used to detect all of these faults. Sensor technology can consistently detect these faults weeks to months in advance, allowing enough time to plan and schedule the repair thus avoiding a much larger more damaging event.

A budget-friendly way to deploy alerts is to utilize existing cellular network infrastructure and smartphones. Alerts can be sent via a cellular sensor through text messages and emails. Meanwhile, you can use your existing cloud storage and computer for data history, visualization, and analytics. Now that you know how easy it is, you can trade your valuable time for technology.

Craig Truempi, CMRP, is Director of IIoT Reliability at ATEK Companies.

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