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Condition Monitoring: Using Wireless to Reduce Machine Downtime

Posted by: Ute Decker on July 26, 2017

Improved efficiency and productivity is a key requirement in the manufacturing industry for sustainable growth. Operational downtime is the enemy to be avoided at all cost. This also affects partners and suppliers across the manufacturing supply chain – and can especially be felt by the machine building sector.

In the past, you’d often find that each machine was assigned its own technician to monitor its performance and perform diagnostic reviews known as “condition monitoring.” Condition monitoring is intended to prevent machine failure by monitoring the condition of a specific parameter within a machine, such as vibration or temperature. With a close eye on these machines, technicians can identify any significant changes that indicate a developing fault. This process is a major component of predictive maintenance.

In today’s plant environment, however, there are far fewer technicians responsible for monitoring the data of an increasing number of machines with much higher production speed. Out of this new working environment arises the need for machine builders and end users alike to have immediate access to the maintenance data of their machines. Much like other dated processes in today’s digital world, condition monitoring and predictive maintenance have gone wireless.

Wireless technology is playing a huge role in enabling fewer technicians to be in more places at once, without needing a physical presence or traveling far distances. Previously, this process was achieved by placing fixed monitors close to or on the machines themselves to check on process data, and the technicians responsible for monitoring would manually review the data on-site.

Now, wireless monitoring applications not only make it easier for technicians to monitor a larger number of machines, they can even provide predictive monitoring data that can preempt issues and optimize machine performance. This is done by utilizing the large data sets made accessible by machines being wirelessly connected, with the data centralized in the control room for additional analysis. All of this, now done from the convenience of a tablet or mobile device.

In the past, technicians would have to perform diagnostic checks and condition monitoring on-site for each machine. With the implementation of today’s wireless monitoring systems, these tasks can conveniently be performed via tablet or mobile device.

The Benefits of Wireless Condition Monitoring
 

This new way to monitor and predict issues or maintenance needs for machines has major benefits for both machine builders and manufacturers.

Let’s be honest – all manufacturers really care about in the end is high uptime of their machines, right? With fewer planned maintenance periods, in order to produce more output from the factory, the windows of time for updates continues to shrink. When factories need to halt operation to fix machine issues, the unplanned maintenance costs money, time and effort. Higher machine availability ultimately equals less maintenance costs and higher output.

This is where machine builders can really help their customers. By leveraging all that wireless can offer when it comes to predictive maintenance, they can help identify and addresses issues before they occur. This is an entirely new business model and potential revenue stream for machine builders. Here are a few ways machine builders could benefit from adding this service to their portfolio:

  • Assist more customers through remote machine access for monitoring, maintenance and even programming. Technicians no longer need to travel or be on-site and this will save on travel costs and time. In addition to not being tied to the placement of a fixed control panel, machine builders can also minimize productions errors for their customers, like during tool changes. This also helps to dramatically reduce maintenance needs and costs.
  • Fix problems faster by more quickly identifying and locating spare parts and increasing overall response times. Automated notifications and alarms help teams immediately address unforeseen issues or errors.
  • Differentiate themselves from competitor machine builders in the market by offering customers more convenient and immediate support (sold through an additional service offering). This can enhance overall cooperation with the customer and increase their satisfaction. Machine builders can be more flexible and agile in their support, as well as evolve the machines and monitoring as new technologies become available.
  • Leverage the large quantities of machine data they have access to in order to create models and better understand machine behaviors. Then, ultimately, they can identify common issues, patterns or parallels, as well as any weak or vulnerable points in the machine design to improve upon future iterations.

In order to access machine data on a smart phone or tablet, a wireless connection must be installed on the machine through an industrial wireless access point.

Getting Started with Wireless Monitoring: 7 Things to Consider

 

So, if this growing trend of using wireless connections to monitor machines offers mutual benefits to machine builders and manufacturers, why aren’t we seeing more of it? Perhaps you’re not sure where to start.

Whether you’re just now considering or have already embarked on the journey to tap wireless capabilities for condition monitoring and predictive maintenance, here are seven key considerations:

  1. Secure your wireless connections – Communication with wireless local area networks (WLANs) opens up a wide variety of new possibilities for industrial applications. At the same time, poorly configured wireless communication systems introduce new risks to the network and the industrial applications that rely on it. Make sure any wireless devices you select are configured with the proper security features, such as Protective Management Frames or Wireless Inclusion Detection systems.
  2. Meet specific government requirements – In order to use wireless devices in your machines, each product must first be approved by the governance bodies of the country where it’s being used. Check carefully to ensure your current (and future) geographies are covered. Many vendors have limited country-specific approvals and for machine builders who have global customers, this is especially important.
  3. Integrate seamlessly into an existing network – Any wireless devices added into your current infrastructure must be easy to install quickly and properly into the machine, ideally following a plug-and-play principle. Look for products with some pre-configuration included – then you can clip the device in, connect and press a button to go live.
  4. Stand-up to harsh conditions – As with any industrial setting, corporate or enterprise devices just won’t cut it. You need a device designed with extreme industrial conditions in mind to ensure your products stand the test of time. Along with making sure the device is protected against electromagnetics interferences, this could include the ability of the device to withstand contact with chemicals, moisture or other debris. With machines in particular, pay special attention to the operating temperature ranges of the products you choose – ideally from -10°C to +60°C or higher.
  5. Test for reliable signal coverage – Industrial complexes typically have large amounts of metal surrounding the area, which can compromise wireless signals. With this in mind, it’s important to ensure you can get a signal wherever you need with thorough testing of the area. Consider using up to three multiple input, multiple output (MIMO) antennas to overcome obstacles, improve packet loss and ultimately improve your wireless coverage. With antennas at both the source (transmitter) and destination (receiver), you can minimize errors and optimize data speed.
  6. Select the right antenna – For machines, most often the omni antenna is the better technology because of its ability to cover a circular area. The particular range depends on the sensitivity of the antenna. MIMO antennas consist of a single structure containing up to three single antenna elements inside. These antennas actively utilize reflections and delays in signal propagation to combine more than one stream. This enables a higher data rate and a better quality of connectivity in “noisy” environments, such as in manufacturing plants.
  7. Choose a true partner – Aligning your team with vendors who are true consultants, advisors and partners throughout the entire process will make any wireless project or upgrade far more successful. It’s critical to have a dedicated system integrator with the capability to help the machine builder when developing the system and executing its implementation. This person or team should have the technical expertise to provide on-site support for the machine planning cycle. In addition to helping with the concept before the machine is built, they will also assist as the concept is integrated into the machine. Support from the beginning and throughout this process is key, as continuous evaluation and changes will be necessary.

Are you interested in introducing wireless applications to your condition monitoring? If so, you’ll need to make security a top priority. Be sure to read Belden’s free white paper, A Construction Kit for Secure Wireless Network Design.

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About the Co-Author
 

Florian MückMarco Reichenbaecher | Email Marco
Senior Vertical Marketing Manager, Automotive Manufacturing
Belden

Marco Reichenbächer has been in the automation industry since 2003, and has worked for Belden since 2007. He graduated with a business administration degree from the University of Münster. Marco has more than 13 years of experience with different industries, such as discrete manufacturing, especially in the automotive, transportation, oil and gas and power markets. Based in Stuttgart, Germany, Marco managed several industries as a vertical marketing manager and defined the strategic operations planning of Hirschmann and Lumberg Automation to implement growth initiatives for key product lines and markets. Today, he works for the vertical marketing department leading automotive manufacturing to develop application oriented solutions and create marketing campaigns for this industry.

Tags:Condition Monitoring, Wireless Machine Control, Predictive Maintenance, Wireless, Wireless Devices, machine builders, Wireless Mobile Machine Control, Industrial Wireless, Wireless Network Design, Wireless Connectivity, Wireless Remote Monitoring, Wireless Service, Remote Service

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