IoT: Med school for managing compressor health

In this Big Picture Interview, learn how the IoT and Big Data are helping new engineers and technicians get up to speed.

By Christine LaFave Grace, managing editor

Manhar Grewal graduated from Purdue University in 2014 with a degree in nuclear engineering and currently serves as product manager of the IoT and oil-free divisions at air compressor manufacturer Sullair in Chicago. He spoke recently with Plant Services managing editor Christine LaFave Grace about how the industrial IoT can help plants better manage the maintenance and auditing of their compressed-air systems – and help newer members of maintenance teams gain a better understanding of their plant’s compressed-air system quickly.

PS: Nobody wants to connect their compressors – or any other equipment – to the IoT just for connection’s sake. What are the on-the-ground benefits plants are seeking in making the decision to get their compressed air systems connected to cloud-based monitoring and management platforms?

MG: Sometimes end users are going after the real-time monitoring, but most often they’re after the alerts and notifications. They want to know if something is going to happen ahead of time so they can prevent downtime; they can have planned maintenance.

Users also can set preventative parameters they want to be alerted on, from the line pressure hitting a certain psi to the machine’s ambient temperature. IoT allows users to take a proactive approach to monitoring their compressor operations and also plan maintenance, which improves overall facility operations and saves time and money.

IoT gives users an opportunity to know if something is going to happen and the actions they need to take right now to fix it. Users also want automated reports of what part numbers to buy. They want to know, “OK, I need these parts, and these are the instructions once I get these parts,” or they want the contact of whom to contract to do the work.

PS: As with any industry tech trend, there are leaders, and there are laggards. What does IoT readiness look like in industry now versus a few years ago?

MG: In the past few years, nobody really wanted it, and no one was ready for it. Right now, no one’s still ready for it, but now everyone wants it yesterday. That’s just honestly where it’s at right now.

The only bad thing about IoT in general is it’s great if you’ve got a compressor that’s IoT-compatible, but it might be one of 200 devices in your end user’s facility. The main thing that the current IoT solutions need is the ability to take the data and not just use the platform, the website interface you have, but also embrace that your customer probably already has a central control room that takes all of this data in, and you need to be able to be compatible with that.

PS: Do you run into questions about the trustworthiness of alerts and notifications – skepticism about algorithms’ accuracy from people who’ve been working with equipment for 15, 20, 30 years?

MG: Yeah, that’s kind of a difficult barrier to break down, the old-school mentality with the new mentality. What we’ve tried to do is make everything super-simple for the end user. Even if you don’t use our website, if we get you logged in and registered properly, you’ll get the notifications you need. If you’re a $5 million factory or you’re a small mom-and-pop shop, you don’t want a paint booth to go down; you always want your compressed air system working.

All of this preventative notification sent via email or text kind of gives that assurance to the end user. IoT Technology is an enabler. It’s not a solution to everything, but it enables all of the solutions you could ever dream of.

PS: When you have conversations with younger technicians or people newer to the field, do you see strong interest in using predictive technologies to help manage maintenance?

MG: Millennials are all about Big Data. They’d rather just see the data and understand the trends than go to the actual machinery (and) pull the data off a data logger. They are very adopting of the type of technology. They’re more just asking, “How much data can you give me?”

In the compressed air industry, as with many industrial jobs, it’s an aging workforce, and that can present challenges. When we can show 10 systems and say, “Hey, user, this is your system, and here’s an ideal system somebody else is using that we can implement on you,” that’s great for demonstrating how to optimize compressor use.

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