According to research by analyst Aberdeen, the average cost of unplanned equipment downtime is $260,000 per hour. With the average outage lasting four hours and costing in excess of a million dollars, it is little wonder nearly three of every four organizations consider zero unplanned downtime their top priority.
Predictive maintenance matters
To avoid costly incidents, extend the life of equipment, and reduce operational inefficiencies in the process, industrial plant operators are turning to predictive maintenance (PdM) solutions based on low power wireless technologies. Wireless PdM involves reliability engineers remotely monitoring data about the condition of industrial assets to forecast problems before they escalate. In turn, engineers can reduce maintenance to only when it’s necessary for the asset to continue to operate at its full potential.
Replacing man with machine
Plant maintenance teams at Louisville Gas & Electric, based in Kentucky, U.S., are tasked with monitoring the condition of boilers and piping to ensure equipment continues to operate safely and reliably, while also considering the possibility of failure. Previously, the continuous monitoring of these assets involved a costly, staff-intensive process of collecting and sending data to a central server stored at the plant. An individual engineer would then need to visit the plant and inspect the data on that specific computer. Troubleshooting problems and making maintenance recommendations could take hours.
Since the facility implemented National Instruments’ (NI) PdM solution (incorporating NI Wireless Vibration Sensors with Bluetooth LE connectivity enabled by Nordic’s nRF52840 SoC, an NI gateway and NI InsightCM software), these same reliability engineers have been able to receive automated alerts and immediately access more data online than ever before.
The wireless advantage
Modern industrial plant applications often involve the permanent installation of vibration and temperature sensors on machinery to provide the comprehensive data needed for successful PdM. But thanks to wireless technologies like Bluetooth LE, many more wireless sensors can now be attached to many more machines throughout a large facility. These sensors then report critical data back to a central server or the Cloud, via a wireless gateway. When a nominated threshold for asset health is reached and an alert raised, reliability engineers have instant access to the machine’s condition data and analytics via asset management software, from anywhere.
Wireless networks also make it possible to monitor assets in hazardous environments and hard-to-reach locations, while drastically reducing the costs associated with the installation, maintenance, and performance of the asset monitoring systems. As wireless sensors in industrial settings can’t always be easily recharged or replaced, they must be able to achieve long battery life. Wireless networks ensure the right balance between throughput, range, and low power consumption.
The latest PdM solutions provide automated machine learning analytics through AI technology, allowing experts to spend even less time collecting data and more time diagnosing and fixing issues. AI acts as eyes and ears, with human beings only needing to investigate once the AI has raised a red flag.
Imagine, for example, the logistical challenge engineers would face at Boeing’s Everett facility, the largest enclosed industrial space in the world, if they were forced to check the aircraft factory’s equipment manually. Fortunately, the aircraft manufacturer has developed and trained machine learning algorithms able to identify real-time data patterns and make accurate recommendations to its engineers within minutes.
The revolution begins
The predictive maintenance revolution is being driven by a combination of wireless connectivity, affordable wireless sensors, and IoT and AI technologies. Not only is more sensor data now available to provide superior analytics, but by bypassing the prohibitive expense of wired monitoring systems—providing engineers with greater problem-solving flexibility and improving overall equipment reliability—a company can achieve substantial savings on its bottom line. It’s, therefore, safe to predict wireless PdM is the way of the future for industrial plants of all sizes.