How The I Io T Is Advancing Motor Maintenance 63e2c63933ba2

How to get the right data to improve motor maintenance

Feb. 16, 2023
"Most people's perception of artificial intelligence is about the same as the way they perceive magic."

Eugene Vogel is a pump and vibration specialist with the Electrical Apparatus Service Association (EASA). Before joining EASA, Eugene operated his own business, General Maintenance Equipment Engineering, Inc., which is a marketing service and training organization for industrial maintenance and related technologies. He also has an extensive background in vibration and dynamic balancing and chaired the St. Louis chapter of the Vibration Institute from 1993 to 2000. Plant Services editor in chief Thomas Wilk and senior content strategist Alexis Gajewski recently spoke with Eugene about how new technologies like IIoT are affecting the industrial motor sector.

Listen to Eugene Vogel on The Tool Belt Podcast

PS: Those changes in machine condition monitoring, we've seen those at professional reliability and maintenance events as well, the various kinds of technologies and services the vendors are offering up these days. And I like how in your presentation, you framed those technologies and broke them down into three areas on getting data in greater quantities. You said it was (1) wireless machine-mounted sensors and transducers, (2) internet cloud access to data, and (3) artificial intelligence to evaluate the data. That maps on to so much of what we're seeing in the industry right now. Which of those three things is your average plant team or perhaps your average service center most comfortable with right now? And is there one that people are less comfortable?

EV: A primary component of that is a machine-mounted transducer, which is wireless, doesn't require cables, and can communicate that data to places other than the immediate locality around the machine. That means you don't have to have a technician there to take the data. That's very attractive from a lot of different perspectives, probably more than we could even talk about here, but includes safety, training, and costs. If you can get good data to a computer anywhere without having to send a technician out there to stand next to the machine and endanger himself, that's a big plus. That's not a hard decision to make: do you want to pay somebody to go in there and take that data, or do you want to sit at your desk and look at it coming in in real time. That's an easy decision.

I think the thing that folks are least comfortable with is the internet communication. The internet is a scary place. It's a dangerous place for data. And all of the companies who would be investing in this on a fairly significant scale have an IT department and they've got folks who they're paying around the clock just to keep their data safe. They say, “OK, we're going to put transducers on 100 different machines and it's all going to talk to the internet and it's all going to be really sweet,” and somebody in IT says “Oh, yeah.” And there's concern there.

While very few people have a good understanding of artificial intelligence, it doesn't elicit a lot of negative feelings. Most people's perception of artificial intelligence is about the same as the way they perceive magic. Magic happens. People do that. It's not a big thing. It's just the way people do it. So, artificial intelligence, if you don't understand it and you don't even imagine how it might hurt you, it's like, sure, why not let the computer do the decision making? But the internet part of things, when it encounters the IT department can really cause some snags.

PS: That's interesting. Let me ask you one follow-up question. Would you say it's part of the job of the motor service professional, whether it's a shop or whether it's a plant technician, to be able to have those conversations? Do you find that the service repair partner is more experienced in those conversations?

EV: Well, it depends on the company. Certainly, there are some large corporations who have got that covered quite well. But I don't know that that necessarily is the bulk of the market. The big guys are always there. As you scale down in the size of the of the entity, and they've got folks that look at that, the EASA service center – any service center – can be an important component and an important player in bridging that difficult gap of how do we get that data back and forth, especially if that particular service center is providing the wireless communication equipment and interpreting the data. If they are the recipient of the data, either in conjunction with the customer or independent of the customer, they've got a system that they know works. They've got other customers that they're using it with, and they can say, “Look, this works great over there, works great over here. We'd like to help you,” and that's a big step forward.

Whereas a customer walking in with no experience in IIoT machine condition monitoring has to start from square one and learn the basics. There's not a lot of IT people that understand how bearings fail, how stators fail, how anything else fails, and what is this stuff we're looking at. The service center understands that, and if they have a relationship with some sort of system that provides the transducers and the communication and whatever AI might be involved, they definitely can be in the driver's seat. In larger corporations, that may not be true. That middle tier of companies, they're going to need some help.

PS: And that is where a lot of our readers reside, in that middle zone, where it's not always clear who takes the lead until someone finally does. If it's possible, I'd like to talk about smart motors for a few minutes to level set for some of our listeners. How would you really define what a smart motor is?

EV: Well, the smart motor doesn't exist. It's a concept I first encountered in the 1970s working in a service center. One of our motor vendors purchased a vibration analysis company. It happened to be one where we had one of their analyzers, so we knew about it. Why would a motor manufacturer purchase a vibration analyzer company? And the idea was, as it was explained to me, that they wanted to instrument their motors to detect problems in the motor while it was running so that it would give them good data about their machines in the field. If they could do this, then they could have motors out there talking to them, telling them where they're developing problems, and we can build a really good motor that way.

And secondly, if you've got a customer with a motor that's failing and you happen to be the person who makes motors and sells them, I think you'd want that information so you can say, “Hey, you've got this motor out there, it's got this problem, and you're going to need a spare. Why don't we just make sure we've got one available to you and just pick up the phone or send us a fax and we'll get a new motor out there to you.” That's a really powerful thing.

So that's the concept of a smart motor, a motor which can communicate its condition and its possible failure back to the manufacturer so that they have data to improve their product and they have the sales aspect of being able to provide a really close relationship with their customer on motor replacement.

PS:  Back in June, you'd mentioned that smart motors currently have less than 1% market penetration. How do you really see that market developing in 2023 and into the future?

EV: As I said, smart motors don't really exist. It's a concept. Multiple major motor vendors have IIoT systems. They have transducers that they put on their motor which can talk back to them and do just exactly what I discussed. If you asked them, “Is that a smart motor?” They'd probably say no. But that's what the concept is. So to the extent that an IIoT transducer attached to a motor communicating back to some entity connected with the motor manufacturer is a smart motor, then yes, they're there. They've got them out there, and they have systems that are working. There are millions of electric motors being produced and sold in in all sizes and configurations, and it's a very small percentage of those which the customer optionally chooses to purchase that attached device. Presently, they are growing. The IIoT sensor is sold with the motor as an optional product. Motor manufacturers are selling them and promoting them. Their salespeople say, “It's great stuff, it works great, you need to take a look at this,” and customers are buying it.

I don't see a significant change in that process or in the slope of that product expanding. They're going to continue to sell the way they're selling. None of the manufacturers that I'm familiar with are making any significant changes to the way they market those products. Although marketing always advances, and they always come up with new things, new videos, new advertisements. The product is established, they have them, and you'll see steady growth within that marketplace, just as it is right now, unless something changes.

PS: I'll ask a quick follow-up based on the possibility of something changing. You added in your June session that a decision by a major motor manufacturer to make those systems standard instead of optional would be a game changer. Have you heard anything in the past six months in that direction? Are we still in a wait and see mode on that?

EV: No, I have not heard anything, and honestly, I don't expect to hear anything. I don't think motor manufacturers will go in that direction. There's a significant amount of risk involved in engineering something on a much larger scale than they currently are, and it adds cost to a product, an electric motor, which is largely perceived as a commodity. There are some real reasons not to, could be some good reasons to do it, but with the risk involved, I don't think it will happen.

The other thing that I think limits what motor manufacturers specifically will do is that the marketplace for IIoT in machine condition monitoring is much broader than electric motors. There are players in that marketplace, major ones, which are not associated with electric motors, and they have to compete. So if I'm a motor manufacturer and I've got a product that only works on motors and here's product B, C, and D which work on all my machinery, I have to compete in that marketplace. So I don't see motor manufacturers jumping in with both feet and coming up with a true smart motor.

About the Author

Thomas Wilk | editor in chief

Thomas Wilk joined Plant Services as editor in chief in 2014. Previously, Wilk was content strategist / mobile media manager at Panduit. Prior to Panduit, Tom was lead editor for Battelle Memorial Institute's Environmental Restoration team, and taught business and technical writing at Ohio State University for eight years. Tom holds a BA from the University of Illinois and an MA from Ohio State University

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