Remote condition monitoring (RCM) offers organizations exceptional opportunities to monitor asset health. Using condition monitoring tools such as sensors and cloud-based software, maintenance teams can gain actionable insights into their operations. With real-time data and insights, maintenance teams can prioritize their maintenance resources based on asset health.
Condition-based maintenance and the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) together can centralize data, systems, and teams in a way that wasn’t possible in the past. Technological advancements have made this remote condition monitoring more affordable and accessible, too.
Remote condition monitoring allows teams to find and solve issues before they become problems by remotely tracking equipment performance. By pairing software and sensors, today’s technologies take monitoring asset health and performance to another level by making data accessible in real time. The combined connectivity integrates systems in a way that enables maintenance teams to collaborate and take action from anywhere.
Tracking machine data, such as vibration or temperature, around the clock generates data that can be trended and analyzed. And this data can be accessed anytime and anywhere there’s an internet connection. A technician does not have to be standing in front of an asset with a handheld tool to know how it is functioning. A consultant with specialized expertise does not have to be in the same time zone or country to offer input and analysis based on asset data.
The benefits of remote condition monitoring
One of the true values of remote condition monitoring is the flexibility it opens up. Real-time asset health data is just as accessible to someone on the road as it is to someone on-site. Especially considering the rise of remote work, or the prevalence of multi-site operations, this accessibility gives teams the ability to collect and act on the data they need without it being cost prohibitive.
Some of the ways remote condition monitoring can benefit a business include:
- early detection of potential faults
- data-based decision making
- moving maintenance teams to condition-based maintenance
- preventing downtime through faster response times and better planning
- reducing costs associated with maintenance, inventory, and production
- increasing asset uptime and lifecycle
- improving ROI.
Around-the-clock data tracks events and can trend them over time. This can make intermittent and rare faults easier to spot and to solve in the future. With sensors capturing data and sending it to the cloud automatically, catching intermittent equipment issues is straightforward. Because of this type of capability, the benefits of remote condition monitoring can compound over time. Data-driven decision-making improves as the data itself improves.
Scaling remote condition monitoring
Developing a remote condition monitoring program does require some time and effort. Starting small, with an initial pilot program, can ease the learning curve and provide time for conducting training and collecting feedback and insights.
With remote condition monitoring, maintenance technicians can create work orders on their mobile devices, include relevant failure codes, and identify the parts necessary while at the inspection site. They can also view resources including product manuals, diagrams, and even the history of a specific asset, enabling them to compare baseline operating conditions to current readings to identify or diagnose problems.
Maintenance managers can assist their technicians or enlist specialized consultants from wherever they are. Remote condition monitoring means that teams are not limited by who is on-site at any given moment.
Choosing the right tools
Condition monitoring sensors, such as those designed to measure vibration or temperature, are placed on assets directly. They can monitor asset health around the clock, or at set intervals. If and when an asset’s operating conditions change, designated maintenance team members can be automatically alerted. Left alone, some faults can lead to catastrophic failures that shut down facilities or stop production.
Many sensors and software solutions feature automated alarms that can be triggered by preset thresholds. These alarms will notify a team when an asset’s operating conditions fall outside of certain parameters. For some assets and some types of faults, this early warning is especially crucial. Being alerted to abnormal readings that require action gives teams the time they need to respond and extend asset life. Even work orders can be automatically generated according to an asset’s condition.
One common tool used in a remote condition monitoring program is a vibration sensor. They come in a range of capabilities, prices, and more. Screening vibration sensors take snapshots of asset vibration data to indicate whether or not an asset is operating within normal thresholds.
Vibration sensors collect more complete data and are used to find the most common faults, determine their severity, make data analysis possible, and even suggest next steps. This type of in-depth data collection is not necessary for every asset in a facility. An asset criticality assessment helps determine which assets are most critical to production, based on their impact to business value and overall operations if and when they fail.
A thorough asset criticality analysis process helps eliminate assumptions and guesswork and the temptation to deem everything critical. It can also identify whether the assets getting the most attention are the ones that break down the most, rather than the ones that are truly most important. Often, stakeholders from different teams within an organization participate in the asset criticality assessment process.
Using the cloud
Some maintenance and reliability teams have already adopted cloud-based technologies for asset monitoring, maintenance tracking, workflow management, reporting, or other tasks.
The global pandemic helped many organizations see the benefits of the cloud and IIoT tools more clearly than ever. Software-connected equipment and advanced analytics tools can turn reams of data into actionable maintenance insights that are accessible from anywhere.
Being able to monitor conditions, processes, and production remotely helps teams keep critical plant operations running smoothly even when they aren’t on-site. Teams can work together to track asset conditions and share ideas and analysis from wherever they are.
Cloud-based solutions offer scalability, flexibility, and security. Data can be transmitted from sensors or test tools directly to the cloud via software. Authorized users can be given remote access to applications and data, eliminating data silos and increasing collaboration between departments or teams. The cloud facilitates fast and effective problem solving, while maintaining strict security requirements.
A cloud-based computerized maintenance management system (CMMS) software collects, organizes, and centralizes asset data. Data can be sent wirelessly from remote condition monitoring sensors and existing data can be imported from other sources.
CMMS software centralizes all of an organization’s maintenance information, processes, and tasks in one place. Adding real-time asset health data takes a CMMS to the next level. A CMMS helps teams develop a baseline and use both historical and real-time asset data to:
- detect asset performance trends
- find root causes
- perform corrective maintenance actions before assets fail.
A CMMS can be used to automatically generate work orders containing the next steps, including the severity of the issue. It can also help with optimizing resource planning, from labor hours to parts to response times.
Access to asset condition data, in conjunction with software analytics, can help reduce asset failures and unplanned downtime, ultimately extending an asset’s useful life.
By integrating asset condition data with CMMS software, organizations can improve their overall equipment effectiveness (OEE). Moving maintenance activities from reactive or calendar-based maintenance modes to condition-based maintenance increases efficiency and helps maintenance to become a business value add.
Better outcomes today and tomorrow
In today’s environment, companies are looking to maximize efficiency. Making the most of an organization’s resources means minimizing wasted energy, materials, and labor—none of which come cheap. Reducing production stoppages and unplanned downtime allows for better planning and better outcomes.
Cloud technology offers advantages that help ensure the continuity of an organization’s maintenance operations—even, as the past two years have shown, during an unpredictable global crisis. Taking advantage of remote condition monitoring not only will help organizations look ahead to tomorrow, but will also improve their efficiency, safety, and profitability today.
Being alerted to abnormal readings that require action gives maintenance teams the time they need to respond and extend asset life.
Around-the-clock data collection makes intermittent and rare faults easier to find and solve. With remote condition monitoring, sensors capture data and send it to the cloud automatically.
This story originally appeared in the September 2022 issue of Plant Services. Subscribe to Plant Services here.
About the Author: John Bernet
As a mechanical application and product specialist with Fluke Reliability, John Bernet works with customers from all industries to successfully implement their reliability programs. He has more than 30 years of experience in the maintenance and operation of commercial machinery and as a nuclear power plant electrician in the U.S. Navy. He holds a Category II Vibration Analyst certification and is a Certified Maintenance Reliability Professional (CMRP).