And getting started is easier than you think. From smart thermostats and garage door openers, to fitness devices that wirelessly connect to your smartphone, the Internet of Things (IoT) is all around, but you may not always recognize it. So, if a connected device is good enough for your home, why not critical machines and business processes?
By bridging the gap between the digital and physical worlds, the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is ushering in a new era of efficiency, growth and information by giving companies clear line of sight to critical assets and manufacturing processes, says Bill Sayavich, Global Services Technology Manager for Parker Hannifin. What used to require analog equipment and cumbersome procedures can now be accomplished with a growing number of wireless and cloud-based solutions.
“If necessity is the mother of invention, then inefficiency may well be the mother of IIoT. If a maintenance worker has to walk the plant floor for hours each day collecting diagnostic data, then take even more time to crunch that data with a spreadsheet, a solution that calculates the data and sends it direct to a smartphone or PC is going to fundamentally change the way that company does business.”
IIoT is driving solutions providers like Parker to develop innovative new products and techniques that help companies work more efficiently and improve their bottom line. But while some businesses have already committed the time and resources to invest in condition monitoring solutions, others may be having trouble figuring out where to begin.
For a company that recognizes the benefits of IIoT-enabled condition monitoring but doesn’t know where to start, Sayavich says they just have to answer a simple question: ‘What business challenge are you trying to solve?'
“We’ve come to understand that virtually any problem can be solved by having better information about it, and IIoT gives us a much richer set of data with which to solve these challenging business problems. Once you’ve identified the problem, work with a partner to help you identify the information you need to take informed action.”
Typically, Parker has found that customers are trying to solve productivity and uptime scenarios, says Mario Calvo, Business Unit Manager for the company’s Quick Coupling Division (QCD). To determine what data needs to be collected and why, Calvo recommends companies put together a small recon team of operations workers, including maintenance, production and plant managers.
These are the employees whose “whole purpose at the plant is to make sure that the equipment is running, and that they have the parts they need to make repairs,” he says. This team takes the first steps in putting together a plan by determining where the problem areas are located and what they want to measure to alleviate those problems. From there, operators must decide which assets will be fitted with the IIoT-enabled condition monitoring solution.
“Ask each person on the team to complete the statement, ‘If I knew X, I could avoid Y'. For example, using pressure sensors, operators can diagnose issues with cylinders or pumps that might not be operating at optimal levels.”
It’s important for first-time IIoT users to start with a condition monitoring solution for one or two critical assets to better understand how it benefits their processes and their bottom line, Sayavich says. While the natural progression may be to migrate to a fully monitored plant, he says the goal is to develop a “strategy for listening to the most critical machines or processes,” without necessarily attaching a sensor to every machine or component.
Sayavich advises customers begin by listing any asset of critical importance, and then from that list determine a small subset of those assets to begin gathering greater operational insight.
“We talk to the customers and have them take us to the machines that they can least afford to fail,” he says. “These are the machines that have no redundancy, they run the most hours and represent the most critical steps in the process. Basically, if they go down, everything goes down.”
Machines that are difficult to repair or have rare parts should also be added to the short list, as well as assets that could present a danger to employees if conditions go unchecked, he says. By monitoring the conditions most critical to each asset, like temperature, pressure, humidity and vibration, operators can predict that asset’s health, thus prevent downtime.
“A physician will almost always begin any visit by taking your vitals, including temperature and blood pressure, because those are among the most critical measurements that quickly assess your condition,” he says. “There are many similarities to IIoT. If I have a machine that’s running 100 degrees hotter than usual or well beyond what it’s rated for, you can pretty much guarantee that it’s not going to run like that forever.”
Depending on the solution operators choose, an Internet infrastructure may need to be installed, says Guillermo Hiyane, Product Sales Manager with Parker’s Fluid Systems Connectors division. While Bluetooth-powered sensors can transmit data to mobile devices within range without an Internet infrastructure, Cloud-based systems need an Internet infrastructure in order to get the data to users who are just feet away, or anywhere in the world.
“As long as you have Internet, electricity and data to measure, that’s all you need. You don’t need high-speed Internet or any Big Data Internet services. IIoT-enabled devices can work with wireless or hardwired/LAN networks.”
After working with the recon team to determine the type of sensors to use, the engineering team and customer’s maintenance team plan the number of sensors needed to achieve the intended goals. When placing sensors, Hiyane advises customers to expect to have to adjust the plan, sensor locations and potentially other factors during a piloting phase.
“It’s a process, but the end goal is getting something that works as a perfect fit for the customer. And do it as long as necessary.”
Cloud-based solutions usually have a collection server to receive and transmit data from all sensors in the network. If sensors are out of range, repeaters can be installed to extend the signal without interference.
“Each sensor has its own tracking identification key, so there is no chance for the signals to crash into each other,” Hiyane says.
One of the biggest challenges is striking a balance between monitoring frequency and keeping operational costs low and assets running. Cloud-based solutions allow for more constant monitoring, as well as alerts for when conditions breach a preset threshold, says Calvo.
“As you get the information, you can identify which sensor it’s coming from, and where that sensor is placed,” Calvo says. “Parameters that you have set will trigger an alarm to alert operators when the condition is within or perhaps outside of a preset range. It’s not controlling the equipment, like a thermostat with a furnace, but it gives you the condition levels so you can go do something about it.”
Leaving cloud-based sensors on an asset also allows users to zero in on problem areas with large, complex equipment, he says. Connecting to the sensors allows users to plot data trends and diagnose where the problem is occurring quicker and easier than if the operator were using manual gauges and manifolds.
“It was particularly successful with one of our sister divisions [Parker Sporlan] that sells to the HVAC space. When adjusting or maintaining the HVAC units, their end users would collect data manually, plug it into a formula, do the math and then determine how they would need to adjust the system for optimal performance. They were able to install our Bluetooth wireless sensors and transmit the data to a mobile app that did all of the calculations for them. It saved them a tremendous amount of work, reduced mistakes and allowed them to do more service calls every day. In the end, our customers are able to improve their return on investment per service call.”
Hardware for cloud-based solutions typically cost more than Bluetooth sensors, so Calvo recommends anyone who is new to IIoT to start with Bluetooth to make sure the solution is useful to them, then work up to cloud-based. Even older assets can be retrofitted with either IIoT solution.
Hiyane helps to install condition monitoring solutions for compressed air systems. While the end goal is always to provide consistent air pressure throughout the system, he says achieving that can be approached differently for each industry. For example, monitoring temperature and humidity is critical for the food and beverage industry, while the majority of other industries rely heavily on tracking pressure and flow. Two of the most important goals are eliminating air leaks and pressure drops, he says.
“Air may be free, but once you treat it and store it in a tank, and distribute it to all areas of the facility, it becomes a very expensive utility,” Hiyane says. “Compressed air leaks waste that air, costing your company money. Pressure drops are also expensive; for every two PSI (pounds per square inch) in pressure drops, you’re wasting 1% of your compressor power.”
It’s important to keep details like this in mind when plotting a condition monitoring solution, he says. After ensuring the system works properly, it’s important to properly train the workers who will be using it, he says. Workers with access to the data must be able to translate it into useful analytics.
“It’s not all about the data; it’s about the conjunction of those numbers together to make good decisions,” he says. “With compressed air, it’s always the same variables that they ask you to measure, but you want to make sure that you measure them correctly, in the correct places and at the correct time.”
For the last few years, Parker has been developing IIoT-enabled condition monitoring systems that companies can use to build predictive maintenance solutions, Sayavich says. Compared to preventive maintenance, which relies on routine inspection and maintenance to keep assets in satisfactory working condition, predictive maintenance minimizes costs by tracking and analyzing a set of conditions to direct maintenance only where and when necessary. Leveraging this data, Parker is developing IIoT solutions that will not only alert users to issues with their assets, but will provide a seamless and efficient path to securing critical spare parts globally.
“There are hundreds of millions of critical components in use today that are essentially ‘invisible’ to traditional asset management systems or data collection platforms,” Sayavich says. “There has been a great deal of effort aimed at digitizing the products we manufacture at Parker and creating a cloud-based library of assets for our clients. We already use this data to provide day-to-day preventive maintenance services. By harnessing this data to create the next generation of analytics and algorithms, we can further reduce risk and increase asset utilization.”
“This is a paradigm shift for the industry, and we hope our customers recognize that they have better options than to ‘fix when fail,’” he adds. “That strategy is simply too costly to the bottom line and presents unnecessary risks for the enterprise.”
Article contributed by Bill Sayavich, technology manager for Parker Hannifin Global Services (top), Mario Calvo (middle), marketing manager for Parker's Quick Coupling Division and Guillermo Hiyane Division Sales Manager, TransAir.
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