What every plant manager needs to know about condition monitoring systems as a tool to weather crisis conditions

June 23, 2020
To avoid being unprepared for the next crisis, take time now to look at implementing a condition monitoring system.

The reach of the COVID-19 pandemic has extended deep into our lives, resulting in drastic changes in everyday living. Minimizing risks, from the grocery store to the plant floor, is more important than ever. Plant managers around the world are learning on the fly about the best ways to keep their operations running while minimizing risks to people, equipment, and facilities.

The coronavirus crisis has taught society in general new ways to cope with extreme disruptions. It also has demonstrated that many segments of society were ill-prepared to maintain productivity in their lives. In workplaces around the world, increasing illness and layoffs necessitated by disastrous market conditions have led to new challenges in plant operations. With fewer people available to detect problems with machinery and signal the need for preventive maintenance tasks, breakdowns and production stoppages become more likely – sometimes even for minor failures.

With crisis comes opportunity. COVID-19 has reinforced the reality for plant operations and maintenance managers that any and all manner of catastrophes are possible. Those who are learning how to manage through the new and extreme circumstances will be better prepared when the next crisis occurs. Whatever its cause – weather, economic, or pandemic – another crisis can and will happen.

Continuous condition monitoring to the rescue

Managers can take a big step toward ensuring their plant can remain in tip-top form with maximum productivity by installing cloud-based condition monitoring systems. As manufacturing workplaces return to action under new recommendations and restrictions, machine performance monitoring will be critical for plants working to make up for lost time and profits.

Manufacturers have learned that peak performance can be maintained through careful monitoring and data gathering so that problems can be detected and addressed before they cause expensive, time-consuming breakdowns and production interruptions. They also are gaining new experience in operating with fewer (and sometimes no) people as well as the necessity to avoid putting employees in close proximity with each other.

Today, across-the-board full-plant connectivity empowered by the internet of things (IoT) means that data can be collected directly from networked machines and equipment, thus eliminating human error. What’s more, data can be collected without plant personnel having to make direct contact with other staff. Thanks to the cloud-based platform, vital data can be retrieved and viewed from any internet-connected device – laptop, desktop, smartphone or tablet – and it can be set to upload to a computer for thorough analysis.

As plant managers learned during the COVID-19 pandemic, it is possible that during times of crisis, people will not be available to do performance and maintenance checks necessary to keep plants operating. As we have seen during the coronavirus crisis, plants that depend on people on the floor to make sure everything is operating in good condition may not be able to maintain full production.

Figure 1. Managers can minimize stoppages and become better at detecting problems by installing advanced sensing equipment and systems.

How to use the IoT to maintain operations

Continuous condition monitoring will be vitally important going forward as plant managers work through not only “normal” operations but also try to keep their operations going full speed during times of crisis. Today’s cloud-based condition monitoring solutions are ideal for accurate and reliable data gathering for predictive maintenance.

Cloud-based condition monitoring equipment enables plant personnel to maintain the government-mandated safety protocols and adhere to social distancing guidelines. In addition, cloud-based sensing systems will help manufacturing management and operators keep a watchful eye over their essential product producing equipment from a safe in-plant office or home office.

In the event of future crises that require many employees to work remotely, sensors engineered to work in harmony to continuously gather data and monitor performance of the machines will be vital in maintaining productivity. The best technology available today will provide invaluable information about your machinery’s performance by measuring and transmitting data. The data is related to vibration, pressure, temperature, humidity, strain, electrical current and voltage.

State-of-the-art condition monitoring systems will feature advanced software driving the IoT cloud solutions. Today’s continuous condition monitoring systems are based on component-level IoT that is interoperable, secure, scalable and readily available to any computer or mobile device connected to the internet. Managers and technicians can view dashboards for live and historical data.

Figure 2. A variety of continuous condition monitoring technology is available today, including Parker's wireless SensoNODE™ sensors (shown here) and Voice of the Machine™ data capturing software.

Today’s best continuous monitoring systems are easy to set up and use. They feature an easy-to-use web-based interface; require no software to download or update; send alerts via email, text or in-system; enable customizable alerts, charts and visualizations; permit review of data anywhere, any time; improve safety; measure without interruption of production; and monitor more assets and processes with fewer people.

Such technology will be invaluable in helping manufacturers operate their machinery efficiently and keep their plants’ production on schedule and on time even when illness and layoffs affect staffing.

Lessons for the future

The COVID-19 pandemic has taught plant managers that anything can happen; nothing can be taken for granted. Savvy managers have learned that anything that can result in more and better information about their equipment’s performance will help them respond quickly and decisively when the likelihood of a breakdown is detected.

Those who have determined the time has come to join the movement toward cloud-based continuous condition monitoring to gain the benefits of better performance, more uptime and increased productivity can begin the process today: 

  1. Consult with vendor representatives and others who are experienced in condition monitoring systems to learn about technology that will work for your operation.
  2. Work with your team to determine the areas where advanced sensing will help ensure reliable operations.
  3. Acquire and install the condition monitoring system that fits your needs.

One of the big lessons for manufacturers from the coronavirus is that anything can happen to affect plant operations. Many expect it’s just a matter of time before another crisis arises. To avoid being unprepared for the next crisis, take time now to look at implementing a condition monitoring system.

About the Author: Marc Williams

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