Maintenance Predictive Maintenance

Track Equipment Health Like Personal Health

EP Editorial Staff | December 20, 2016

Left. These New Jersey hospital cooling towers shut down because vibration analysis could not be performed with sufficient frequency.

Lengthy vibration-monitoring intervals led to an unexpected failure in a New Jersey hospital’s cooling towers.

Consumer-driven monitoring technology allows a New Jersey medical facility to predict cooling-tower failures and eliminate downtime.

Although predictive-maintenance programs can dramatically reduce overall maintenance costs and eliminate breakdowns, operations frequently face challenges safely, efficiently, and cost-effectively collecting and analyzing data on vast machinery fleets. That’s why, at many sites, equipment-health monitoring often has been limited to higher-value machines or those designated as “critical.” Emerging technology, however—much of it consumer-driven—is rapidly changing the industrial landscape.

Incorporate personal-health technology

Consumer-driven technology innovations have spurred a drastic change in how we live our daily lives. In addition to helping power the remarkable connectivity of the Internet of Things (IoT) as we know it, those advancements are moving into the industrial arena to change how plants and facilities manage equipment assets. Bluetooth Smart and other low-cost sensor technologies used in personal-health-and-fitness trackers, such as Fitbit and smart watches, are, in fact, revolutionizing monitoring and maintenance programs for industrial equipment. The i-ALERT2 equipment-health monitor from ITT PRO Services (, Seneca Falls, NY, is one such example.

Much like a personal-health monitor, the I-ALERT2 targets a critical area of a machine. Instead of tracking a human’s heart rate or numbers of daily steps, however, it tracks a machine’s 24/7 trend data, but it doesn’t stop there. Personal-health trackers also offer periodic check-ups (where the user can identify hidden problems that might arise in the future), or quick checks to assess immediate needs. Incorporating this type of thinking and sensor technology in an equipment-health monitor allows plant managers to transform the data collected by the i-ALERT2 into meaningful insights into day-to-day operation and strategies that prevent future failures.

 Installing i-ALERT2 units (small blue box mounted on casting) on the hospital’s cooling-tower pumps made it possible to continuously monitor vibration.

Installing i-ALERT2 units (small blue box) on gearboxes and motors in the cooling towers allowed continuous vibration monitoring.

Make data meaningful

Unplanned pump and rotating equipment failures and frequent plant shutdowns can clearly damage a site’s bottom line. Maintenance, energy, operational, and downtime costs represent more than 75% of the total life-cycle cost of that equipment. Finding ways to reduce these factors is the key to system optimization.

No matter the size of an organization or how many pieces of rotating equipment must be monitored, the value of effective predictive-maintenance practices and use of state-of-the-art monitoring tools can’t be overstated. The experience of a New Jersey hospital is a case in point.

When one of three critical cooling towers at the hospital failed unexpectedly, the local ITT M&C (monitoring and control) distributor performed an emergency repair. Prior to the failure, the distributor had only been able to conduct annual vibration surveys on the equipment. That’s because the cell had to be shut down and restarted twice to allow sensors to be placed and then removed after data collection. This cumbersome process posed a problem for the busy healthcare facility, particularly when ambient temperatures are high. In those conditions, the hospital must run all three cooling towers and cannot shut them down for monitoring.

The i-ALERT2 dashboard provides visual indication of equipment health.

The i-ALERT2 dashboard provides visual indication of equipment health.

Unfortunately, because of the lengthy monitoring interval, the impending failure wasn’t caught early enough to allow a planned repair or replacement.

To solve this problem going forward, the gearboxes and electric motors in all three towers were fitted with i-ALERT2 condition monitors. With the addition of the equipment monitor, it became possible to perform vibration routes without shutting down and entering the cells to place accelerometers and cabling. The physical health of the machinery can now be retrieved wirelessly on a frequent basis, allowing increased time to plan maintenance activities. MT

Leveraging the Technology

The i-ALERT2 Bluetooth monitor continuously tracks vibration, temperature, and run-time hours, then wirelessly syncs diagnostic data directly to a smartphone or tablet. The value of this technological evolution comes, not from how many sensors can be packaged into a device, but how to make the data meaningful and actionable.

As for specific return on investment from the technology, smaller organizations, where employees wear multiple hats, find payoff in the ability to quickly deploy the i-ALERT2 in several machines. Among other things, the technology allows personnel to monitor all equipment in the time it takes to walk the plant, and prioritizes which machines need attention.

For larger organizations with a more defined hierarchy of duties, the i-ALERT2 equipment-health monitor fits well in an operator-driven reliability program. It enables operators who are already making inspection rounds to quickly and safely add vibration, temperature, and run-time data to the program, which ultimately helps reliability and maintenance teams prioritize activities. 

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