How to perform smarter motor maintenance

In this installment of Automation Zone, real-time IoT data plus human insight makes for a powerful maintenance formula.

By Vijay Anand, ABB, and Michael Offik, Baldor Electric Co.

We are in a unique time in which micro-electro-mechanical systems (MEMS), smart devices, networks, and internet services are converging. We now have the technologies to remotely monitor low-voltage and medium-voltage motors, collect raw data and transmit it wirelessly, and transform that data into useful information for maintenance and operations planning. In combining the internet of things (IoT) with the service of equipment and human decisions, we are on the verge of what many believe is the next industrial revolution.

Low-voltage motors

Today, almost every manufacturing plant around the world uses low-voltage (up to 690VAC) motors in its manufacturing processes. Plants may vary from having a few motors to more than 1,000, but the operation of these motors is core to the success of the plant, so most teams have implemented a preventive, and sometimes predictive, maintenance program. Because of the traditionally high cost of instrumenting motors and connected equipment, generally only the most critical motors are monitored continuously. Others may be checked periodically for key health parameters such as temperature and vibration, and some are never monitored but simply are replaced upon failure. 

If properly applied and maintained and used in an appropriate operating environment, low-voltage motors will provide years of reliable service. However, operating environments may not be ideal; proper alignment and loading may vary; and maintenance schedules may not always be followed. Fortunately, the technologies already in the consumer marketplace are poised to help the industrial user.

As IoT in the commercial world is bringing us smart homes and wearable fitness devices, we can begin to apply this concept to the industrial world. Sensors are becoming smaller, less expensive, and more reliable, and the cost of processing information continues to come down. The ability to communicate wirelessly and with lower energy consumption via cloud computing is making this all possible. 

MEMS allow for measuring rotating equipment in the factory, and as these systems combine with networks available on smart devices such as tablets and phones, we can see IoT moving to the factory floor. Figure 1 shows how a solution across an entire facility could be structured – not only can all of the low-voltage motors be monitored, but also the raw measurements around the condition of the motor can be processed, and recommended service needs will be reported.

What this means for operations and maintenance managers is that they can extend the life of their equipment, reduce downtime, and in many cases increase the efficiency of their motor-driven systems by applying the information they are obtaining from their new “smart sensors.” Data can be collected from a safe distance of several feet from the motor and then be uploaded and analyzed. Then general health, operating conditions, and trend data can be reviewed and incorporated into a facility-wide maintenance plan.

Medium-voltage motors

Electrical maintenance engineers in process industries face unique problems when it comes to supporting operation of medium-voltage motors. On one hand, every minute of downtime for a large motor leads to thousands of dollars of lost revenue, while on the other hand, the knowledge required to provide predictive information on large motors is limited and not easily accessible.

Measurement signals from large motors contain useful information but can be complex and difficult to break down into individual fault components without generating false positives and negatives. Automated diagnosis techniques can help achieve best possible discrimination of defects using a library of algorithms. Employing a physics-of-failure approach together with sophisticated signal processing of data can produce key condition parameters that reflect the development of defects.

While it’s critical to identify faults early in a medium-voltage motor, it's equally critical to have this intelligence communicated to maintenance team members right away so they can begin to take corrective actions. The power of the IoT helps make true remote monitoring possible by getting the key parameters into the hands of those who can make a difference. With the right tools, notification of a motor’s health, wherever the motor may be, can be communicated promptly to the operator, wherever he or she may be, allowing ample time to put a maintenance plan in action.

Combining powerful analysis tools for medium-voltage motors along with the IoT provides maintenance engineers peace of mind – they're “always on site and always monitoring.”

We believe the processes and plants of the future will have devices connected together with wireless networks. This allows measurements from motors in one place to be transformed into useful information for maintenance teams in another place, increasing manufacturing uptime and taking productivity to another level.

Fortunately, for many of us, that future is today.

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