The latest technology trend in condition monitoring

September 14th, 2017

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 the internet of things? For asset maintenance, it's 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.

Adrian Messer, CMRP, of UE Systems gave a presentation that touched on some key developments within the field of condition monitoring, focusing on remote monitoring application through ultrasound tools.

Covering your assets: Remote monitoring applications using Ultrasound

It's 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 ain't broke, don't fix it."

But plant maintenance technicians have increasingly recognize the benefits of predictive maintenance in terms of keeping equipment online, preventing unplanned shutdowns, increasing plant efficiency and keeping more dollars in the organization.

The paradigm shifts of asset condition monitoring

Adrian referenced a book, "Asset Condition Monitoring Management" by Jack Nicholas, Jr., that outlined the 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 analyzing data grew more sophisticated.

In this decade, the condition monitoring paradigm shifts include the internet of things, cloud computing, big data, tablets, virtual and augmented reality, wearables 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 behavior? Can IT departments keep newly online assets safe from cyber crime? 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 other? 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. These folks 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 laborers who expect the most up-to-date tools to be available.

Technology has come a long way.Technology has come a long way.

Ultrasound remote monitoring

Ultrasound technology has emerged as an essential tool in its own right. As Adrian pointed out, it's no longer simply a leak detector – it is a valuable tech 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's closer to failure will earn more attention, meaning other assets could fly under the radar if they're 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's 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, 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.

"Slow speed assets are great candidates for remote monitoring."

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. UE Systems' ultrasound tools can be coupled with a free leak reporting app in iTunes and Google Play.

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's 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.

Remote monitoring with 4Cast

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. The tool collects readings on a regular basis, but allows the user to specify how often to send information to the program. It will also send a sound file to the Spectralyzer software when necessary.

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, it has a positive net effect on industry. Remote monitoring is the latest important plant maintenance tech, enhancing an already valuable tool and allowing plants to build a predictive maintenance culture.

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