Four considerations for monitoring equipment assets

July 11, 2013
Monitoring and diagnostics are critical factors in asset management programs. Here are four recommendations for creating more effective monitoring systems:
1. Phase in implementation. If you are connecting several pieces of equipment to a remote monitoring system, first connect a few strategic ones and run for several days to understand issues in the environment or with connectivity, user expectations, usage patterns, etc. Once you get this feedback and fine-tune the system, scaling is not that difficult. But if you start directly with all the assets, this would just multiply any problems.

2. Identify diagnostic priorities. Gone are the days when automation included diagnostic systems that were solely driven using binary code triggered by I/O. Today's manufacturing environment demands real-time status monitoring and diagnostics. Trial-and-error diagnostics will no longer suffice for problem identification when it comes to resolving issues that halt production. The rapid rate of technology evolution makes it nearly impossible to stay current with all the options that engineers and designers have today. Technology now allows real-time monitoring of machine status, error conditions, the temperature of vital components, speed, current draw and a wealth of other data that an engineer can provide via an HMI or other device. With so much information potentially available, designers need to assist end-users in determining exactly what information is critical to their operation and the best way to present the information. Interaction with the end-user is vital. The engineer must have a thorough understanding of the customer's performance criteria, diagnostics requirements and problem resolution procedures. Time spent obtaining this information lays the foundation on which the rest of the project is often based.

3. Monitor system. If you are going to collect data from machines using PLCs, you need to include some level of system monitoring. It may be as simple as a "Ping" test to the PLC or a bit toggle where the application sets or resets a bit. In any case, the communications link should be monitored and alerts created when they fail. The alert can be as simple as a line-side machine alarm or sending an alert email to a group email for IT and technicians, or even to a centralized operations center monitor. Monitoring and notification do not need to be complex to be effective.

4. Shared transmitters. Using real-time vibration monitoring on large or critical rotating equipment can provide maintenance staff with valuable information on the health of their assets. However, continuous monitoring of one pump or motor may not be required. In most applications it is acceptable to monitor one rotating asset for a short period of time, say for 5 minutes, and then use the same transmitter to monitor several other motors or pumps. With this arrangement you will still need sensors on each piece of equipment, but they can share one transmitter, reducing costs. A system can be engineered to use several tandem Piezo acceleration sensors wired through relays so that the transmitter monitors one device at a time. Data collection can be simplified by using a PLC with the transmitter and relays in one node. The controller can switch the relays and collect the vibration information from the corresponding pumps or motors.

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