The Latest Technology Trend in Condition Monitoring
The ability to monitor the condition of assets 24/7, from any location, is becoming the new trend in maintenance practices. Ultrasound, being a key technology in condition monitoring, will play a key role in this trend.
Just as technology has been rapidly developing in fields like telecom, data analytics, smart devices and infrastructure, the same can be said of asset condition monitoring. Just how far has technology come in asset maintenance, and what does that mean going forward? What current technology is the equivalent of cutting-edge developments in those other fields – playing the role of RFID or Internet of Things? For asset maintenance, it is remote monitoring – the ability for technicians to utilize modern tools to collect and parse through continuous data sets from a given asset without the need for 24/7 in-person attention.
It is important to recognize that new technology often calls into question old methodologies or habits. Each time some development emerges, the industry involved must adapt to make best use from it. That can be particularly difficult in the industrial setting, often driven by the mantra, “If it’s not broken, don’t fix it.”
But plant maintenance technicians have increasingly recognized the benefits of predictive maintenance in terms of keeping equipment online, preventing unplanned shutdowns, increasing plant efficiency and saving money for the organization.
The paradigm shifts of asset condition monitoring
The book “Asset Condition Monitoring Management” by Jack Nicholas, Jr., outlines four ways asset condition monitoring has changed over the decades, including nowadays:
- In the 1980s, microprocessors made way for more portable data collection devices.
- In the 1990s, laptops emerged while software packages gave all computers better memory storage.
- In the 2000s, wireless data transfer arrived as the methods for reporting and analysing data grew more sophisticated.
- In this decade, the condition monitoring paradigm shifts include Internet of Things, cloud computing, big data, tablets, virtual and augmented reality, wearable devices and so on.
Though the technologies have changed, many of the challenges remain the same: will technicians and practitioners accept the change and alter their behaviour? Can IT departments keep newly online assets safe from cybercrime? Is the infrastructure available for massive amounts of data? Do we have the skilled workers necessary to champion these tools and then pass their knowledge along to others? And finally – what do we even do with all this data?
Finally, to add a bit of perspective, consider this: today’s college graduates were born after Amazon opened, eBay came online and Yahoo registered its domain name. They have largely grown up with technology – that’s a good thing. Those who go into engineering and maintenance will be comfortable using modern tools and techniques – and organizations must be prepared for a
generation of labourers who expect the most up-to-date tools to be available.
Ultrasound remote monitoring
Ultrasound technology has emerged as an essential tool in its own right. It is no longer simply a leak detector – it is a valuable technology that allows maintenance teams to identify mechanical faults earlier in the P-F Curve and even develop a more effective lubrication practice.
Coupling remote monitoring with ultrasound could prove to be one of those paradigm-shifting developments. Ultrasound works best when you have as much sound information to work with as possible – that makes it easier to identify patterns, establish baselines and pinpoint inconsistencies. Moreover, as much as today’s maintenance technicians want to avoid reactive maintenance, there are certain assets that take priority over others. Anything that is closer to failure will earn more attention, meaning other assets could fly under the radar if they are assumed to be newer and in better shape. Remote monitoring can give technicians a way to keep an eye – or ear – on assets that aren’t being monitored. That is true for ultrasound monitoring on both mechanical and electrical assets.
There are few limitations on the application for ultrasound remote monitoring. Any instance where maintenance professionals are collecting manual data through handheld devices might be an opportunity to monitor remotely. In other cases, equipment that is difficult to access – dangerous, remote, isolated, or submerged – can receive the type of regular monitoring that extends useful life. Additionally, slow speed assets are great candidates for remote monitoring because it would otherwise require the maintenance technician to take a longer time to gather enough information manually.
Beyond the advantages of larger data sets and remote collection, remote monitoring comes with an easy installation and the potential for a wireless setup. Compared to other systems, ultrasound remote monitoring is a cost-effective choice.
Ultrasound use cases
Let’s break down a few of the most common ways plant technicians utilize ultrasound maintenance to improve reliability:
- Leak detection: Huge energy-saving (and therefore, money-saving) potential in compressed air and gas leaks, steam trap testing and valve testing. This is the most common application and it gives back the quickest return on investment. Some ultrasound tools can even be coupled with a free leak-reporting app in iTunes and Google Play, like UE Systems’ Leak Survey app.
- Electrical inspection: For corona, tracking and arcing, ultrasound usage is driven by safety, insurance agreements, standards and improved technology and software. Keep in mind here, that it is a good idea to use more than one technology to avoid missing potential problems, especially corona.
- Condition monitoring: Bearings, rotating equipment, and condition-based lubrication are all good candidates for regular remote ultrasound inspection. The best practice here is to establish a route, find baseline readings, determine trends and identify alarm levels. Ultrasound is particularly helpful with slow speed bearings.
The 4Cast and Remote Access Sensors
UE Systems’ remote monitoring tool, 4Cast, interfaces with a bearing asset to continuously collect data and send an alert to the technician’s route-planning software if any alarm levels are surpassed. It works together with ultrasonic Remote Access Sensors (which can be very useful by themselves to inspect enclosed or hard-to-reach bearings) – the sensors, which are permanently mounted on the bearings, pick up the ultrasound emissions and send them to the 4Cast, which then sends that information to data management software in the form of decibel readings. The tool collects these readings from the sensors on a regular basis, but allows the user to specify how often to send information to the software. It will also send a sound file to the Spectralyzer (software for deep sound analysis) when necessary.
With an available Ethernet connection, the 4Cast sends all its readings and recordings using the plant’s network, which brings obvious advantages: maintenance personnel will be able to access these readings and sound files even outside of the plant’s network – thus allowing for true 24/7 remote monitoring.
Today’s facilities should capitalize on the latest trend in reliable maintenance to ensure they get the most out of their assets. As technologies like remote monitoring emerge, they have a positive net effect on industry. Remote monitoring is the latest important plant maintenance technology, enhancing an already valuable tool and allowing plants to build a predictive maintenance culture.
In an industrial setting, assets are everything. A breakdown can cause hours of downtime, and thus hours of lost productivity and lower financial gains. Preventative maintenance is one way facility managers counteract system entropy, but it is not perfect strategy. In some cases, a preventive approach to maintenance can actually lower the overall effectiveness of an asset. In the case of a valve for example, constant tightening can cause premature wear and tear.
Acoustic Lubrication is just one of the 8 application pillars adopted by world-class ultrasound programmes. And what an important one it is.