Three Strategies Optimize Condition Monitoring
EP Editorial Staff | February 9, 2023
Automated, continuous condition monitoring, coupled with expert analytics support, unlocks performance improvement.
By Erik Lindhjem, Emerson
Operating a plant without continuous condition monitoring is typically at odds with the strategies companies need to meet sustainability goals and remain competitive in a global marketplace. Until recently, the equipment needed to monitor all of a plant’s assets—especially the most remote equipment—was costly and required specialized expertise to install and maintain.
That paradigm has changed. More sensors with more options than ever before are available. When a reliability team selects the right technologies, even the most remote assets can be quickly, easily, and cost-effectively brought into a plant’s continuous condition-monitoring program to ensure that maintenance teams are monitoring reliability around the clock.
There are many available solutions for continuous condition monitoring, and many variables go into the selection of software and technologies. Every plant’s solution will be different, but there are key strategies any reliability team can follow to help them improve return on investment, increase reliability program support, and realize better results across the lifecycle of their equipment.
Invest in condition monitoring
Operations and maintenance teams in process-manufacturing facilities know that operating rotating equipment with no condition monitoring increases cost and creates safety risks. At the most basic level, operating without insight into an asset’s health leads to surprise equipment failure that directly affects production, as well as potentially causing additional damage that is even more costly to repair. Those repairs are then rushed to bring the process back online as quickly as possible. As a result, maintenance can end up expediting parts and providing extra personnel at added cost—all to perform work that may or may not address the root cause.
Continuous condition monitoring helps reliability teams keep a finger on the pulse of every asset in the plant. When they implement best-in-class systems, operations and maintenance personnel receive real-time, intuitive, actionable information they can use to intervene before equipment faults become process interruptions.
Until just a few years ago, one of the key factors keeping plants from monitoring anything but the most critical equipment was the cost of running wiring to sensors. Even for short runs, cabling is expensive, and many facilities have essential assets that are far in the field, exponentially increasing the cost.
Wiring is no longer an issue. Wireless sensors empower teams to connect measurement points on equipment, no matter where it’s located. Adding those sensors will not happen if they are costly and complex to install. Fortunately, today’s most efficient sensors pack expansive functionality into a compact, cost-effective package. Sensors smaller than a soda can deliver comprehensive vibration data over self-organizing wireless mesh networks.
Wireless sensors monitor a variety of parameters such as overall vibration, frequency faults, and temperature measurements. The best devices use prescriptive diagnostic technologies to cut through traditional vibration data and provide a simple, reliable indication of equipment health. They can be easily integrated into any control system or plant historian. Moreover, when coupled with modern machinery health software, these flexible sensors provide diagnostic waveform data and alert broadcasts to help plant personnel instantly understand the health of their equipment from anywhere, regardless of experience.
Today’s best sensors do not require expert assistance to install. They are designed to be intrinsically safe, can operate in hazardous areas, and can often be installed in minutes by plant personnel, allowing the team to quickly bring hundreds or thousands of assets—some of which may have been stranded for decades—into the plant’s predictive-maintenance strategy.
Better decision making
Many of today’s process-manufacturing facilities are functioning with smaller teams of less-experienced personnel. Regardless of the experience level of operators and technicians, the plant still needs personnel to make the best decision to consistently maintain high safety and continuous performance improvement. Bridging this experience gap requires decision support—delivered by features available in the best modern condition-monitoring technologies.
One of the key problems solved by the technologies is timely collection of data. Today’s small teams are frequently finding they lack the time for scheduled maintenance rounds because personnel are needed for other, higher-value plant tasks. Fit-for-purpose industrial condition-monitoring sensors and software eliminate the need to choose between maintaining asset health visibility and other essential tasks. Wireless sensing devices deliver data directly to software on the handheld devices personnel already carry, instantly alerting them to asset health changes.
Turning complex spectrum and waveform data into usable information takes years of experience. Many new technicians struggle to determine severity from raw data, which makes it difficult to know when to act. To eliminate this problem, many reliability teams are selecting software that turns data into simple reports. Equipment health is identified by color—green, yellow, or red based on severity of defects—so a person with little or no analytics experience can quickly determine whether to act.
Teams have access to more data than ever before. That data is typically a blessing, especially when it comes from a sensor that provides clear and early indication that an asset is failing. However, that same data also provides critical information necessary to dive deeper into performance issues and recurring problems—a task not every reliability team will want to tackle on its own.
While many of the best condition-monitoring technologies offer easy ways to provide early warning of asset failures, some problems will be complex enough to require in-depth analytics. Consider a recurring problem with a motor or fan. Traditionally, an expert technician would have identified the problem as a result of manual rounds or notification from condition-monitoring technologies. The technician would have studied the sensor data, which is often complex and multivariate, for weeks or months to determine the root cause.
Many plants don’t have a deep bench of experienced personnel or the time needed for extended analytics to validate the root cause of problems. As a result, reliability teams are turning to condition-monitoring services offered by automation suppliers to ease the burden of analytics.
In such a scenario, trained, ISO 18436-2 category 3 and above, certified professional analysts provide insights that empower organizations to make meaningful business decisions. These analysts do this by monitoring and interpreting data and then following up with easy-to-read, actionable recommendations to improve machine performance and availability.
Analytics services from an expert automation provider also offer advantages beyond making it easier to access skilled personnel. Service teams comprise not only analysts with high-level certification, but also from across a wide spectrum of industries, all working side by side. Instead of relying on the insights of a single analyst, manufacturers harness an entire team that can collaborate across their collective years of experience to not only offer better diagnoses, but also provide the most effective, efficient actionable advice.
Making the move to continuous condition monitoring helps process manufacturers drive competitive advantage and sustainable operation. These efforts are facilitated by technologies that are easy to install, with a foundation of decision making and analytics support built in. EP
Erik Lindhjem is Vice President and General Manager of Emerson’s Reliability Solutions business, St. Louis (emerson.com). He focuses on driving digital transformation through management of automation assets and machinery that enables clients to reach top-quartile performance.