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How to begin the Industry 4.0 journey through asset condition monitoring

April 19, 2021
The reality of IIoT potential is attainable, but you need to have an integration team with you every step of the way.

There are many misconceptions and questions on the sometimes “overpromise” of what the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) can deliver. IIoT and its subsequent solutions are not a one-size-fits-all solution that can simply be dropped into a plant and generate immediate value. If used incorrectly, they can be nothing more than an expensive distraction forcing your team to use another new piece of software and providing information that requires a team of experts to sift through. However, a properly architected IIoT solution will serve as a value-generating addition to your existing control network, provide a platform to help your understaffed maintenance team, and give you plenty of lead time to optimally schedule maintenance activities on your most critical assets.

The reality of IIoT potential is attainable, but you need to have an integration team with you every step of the way. But where is a predictive maintenance program infused with IIoT most likely to integrate seamlessly? For starters, if you are looking at your annual budget and hoping for a shortcut, easy button, don’t click “add to cart” just yet. There are a few housekeeping items to note.

First off, foster your maintenance program with a strong safety culture. If you believe in the potential for zero instance in injuries, you must believe in the potential for zero failures and unplanned downtime. That may seem unrealistic, but this is the first step toward aiming high and setting an aspirational goal within any safety culture. It’s important to note that the operations and maintenance training should be on a par with your safety training, as typically they are not. Getting both reliability and safety to their full potential requires operational discipline and the tenacious use of this practice in all areas.

One of the highest contributing problems to workplace accidents and unplanned downtime is a lack of planning or analytics that leads to unexpected downtime. These pressures often lead to a stressful work environment with a high demand for productivity, whatever the cost. No task is so urgent that it cannot be done safely and reliably because any injury or equipment failure is preventable. Employers are responsible for providing a safe and reliable workplace, but everyone is responsible for upholding the integrity of the workplace standards for preventing injuries and failures. You can have excellent personnel safety and still have a major accident. Safety is improved by disciplined operating and maintenance practices.

When looking at your safety program improvement plan, the most common excuse for not investing in safety and reliability is the budget. Most companies assume it will cost millions to get their programs in order, but don’t realize how to start small and build Rome, not in a day, but over the course of many years. And there is no safety plateau; you will always need to keep improving upon the program. It’s a gradual process, but over the course of a year or two, you will start to see results that will change minds on the budget committee. This is about a change in mindset, a change in approach to engage the workforce and set higher disciplinary standards and higher expectations for the workforce, and then support them in meeting those expectations.

Eliminating small day-to-day problems has a much bigger impact on results than focusing on the major failures. Engaged employees are three times more productive than the average. Many organizations are not engaging or helping their employees do a better job. Focus on the high-level goals and think at a systems level. Develop shared measures between competing groups and partnership agreements so you are more likely to work together. Set clear goals that are reasonably attainable.

With these pillars of support in place, you will have to be more prepared for the approach toward IIoT implementation within your maintenance program. One of the base starting points to emphasize is condition-based monitoring, like motor and rotating equipment vibration analytics. With condition monitoring, we want to understand the degradation process of equipment so we can avoid or minimize the consequence of failure. We hear a squeak or a noise, we let that go too long, and it becomes a functional failure, and beyond that it very quickly deteriorates until it is completely broken. That time interval in between potential and functional failure is the time we have to take action to plan and schedule, mitigate the failure, or avoid the failure altogether.

To be truly transformational, this technology needs to do more than just augment. It needs to fundamentally change the way we approach industrial maintenance. Over the past decade, the promises of IIoT have been great, but many products have yet to truly rise up to meet the level of hype surrounding this space. There are good reasons for this: this stuff is hard, the technology is young, and it will take some time to perfect. But that doesn’t help you explain to management why your large IIoT expense is not yet generating any justifiable return on investment.

Fortunately, one area in which IIoT is starting to create industry-wide value is monitoring vibration in rotating equipment. It is perhaps obvious that any critical piece of equipment in the industrial setting is going to have at least one major rotating component, and that these rotating components are subjected to constant mechanical and electrical loads that lead to strain, friction, fatigue, and other sources of potential degradation.

Historically, preventative maintenance programs have turned to trained vibration analysts to perform monthly or quarterly route-based inspections of critical rotating equipment. These inspections typically collect high-frequency vibration data and use it to assess the amount of energy a piece of equipment is spending in various frequency bands. The results of these analyses can be used to detect the early onset of issues like misalignment, gear tooth chipping, or bearing degradation.

When it comes to rotating assets such as fans, blowers, pumps, cooling towers, and other equipment powered by AC induction motors, vibration analysis is an effective diagnostic tool. It delivers the granularity required to isolate the root cause of anomalous behavior in a timeframe that is useful to industrial maintenance operations. However, the type of vibration sensor should match the rotating asset’s characteristics to balance affordability with data accuracy and reliability.

The general types of vibration sensors include displacement sensors, velocity sensors, and accelerometers. Accelerometers are the best choice for most industrial rotating assets because they are simple, easy to apply, and very sensitive to the high-frequency vibrations typically generated during force-failure.

Large industrial motors cost a lot of money, rebuilding motors costs a lot of money, and downtime due to failed motors costs a lot of money. Adding vibration sensors to motors is cheap in comparison and can help detect early signs of motor malfunction. Many motors are in inconvenient, remote, hazardous, or difficult to access locations. Thus, some motors might go weeks or even months without even a proper inspection.

A completely unmonitored motor is a catastrophe waiting to happen. Vibration monitoring capable of providing support on all your equipment is important, but mostly in remote locations where parts may be difficult to find, downtime is expensive, or technicians are scarce. Vibration-focused IIoT can provide an hourly health check on your most critical assets, intuitive cloud-based IIoT systems can help transfer generational workforce expertise, and a fully connected IIoT network can make advanced insights available to both your smartphone and your PLC.

Remember, IIoT is not some widget you can install today to solve all your problems tomorrow. Like your safety culture, it will need continual updates and support, but the payoff will be quantifiable for many years to come. Find an IIoT based predictive maintenance solutions provider who will work with you on your precise needs for integration and then form an internal team and make a plan to support this system upgrade for the long haul. This technology will help get you where you want to go if you and your team are with it every step of the way.

About the Author: Nick Schiltz

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