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'The Advantages Are Clear:' Wireless Vibration Monitoring Answers a $65,000 Question

You could scarcely ask for a more upbeat title than "Wireless Vibration Monitoring - Improves Reliability and Enhances Safety," written by Travis Culham.  Culham is the Rotating Machinery Engineer at the Barking Power Station in the large, eastern suburb of Dagenham in London, England.  His article was published three months ago in maintenance.co.uk, "a monthly E-zine, featuring a mix of news and editorial articles" produced in the United Kingdom by Conference Communications.

"Taking advantage of the ease [with] which new measurement devices can be introduced to an existing Smart Wireless network," writes Culham, "our Barking Power Station is using a wireless vibration transmitter to monitor rotating equipment remotely and in real time.  The introduction of this device is helping to improve maintenance schedules and prevent unexpected downtime..."

"Monitoring techniques for rotating machinery have improved greatly in recent years," Culham notes, "with advanced vibration monitoring and analysis tools now able to identify even the slightest changes in the condition of an asset--as they are taking place.  Online vibration monitoring can help to predict when a failure will occur and alert maintenance as to the health status of the equipment.  Early warning of impending failures can prevent process shutdowns that lead to lost production."

"Continuous monitoring is making an important contribution....At Barking Power many of the largest and most critical pieces of rotating equipment have vibration monitoring permanently installed: ideally, all rotating equipment should be monitored..."

But just how important can such a high level of proactive predictive maintenance be?  Culham gives the seemingly trivial example of a gas turbine starter motor, housed in a hard-to-access compartment, from which, Manual readings were taken using a handheld collector and then downloaded for analysis."  This enhanced level of maintenance scrutiny was, important as these motors have a history of problems that can lead to total failure requiring replacement of the entire motor."

"Despite the potential problem, we wanted to continue to run the the motor; otherwise this affected our ability to run the related turbine, reducing our maximum output capacity by 200MW.  Shutting the motor down...and completing a total overhaul would make the turbine unavailable for approximately 36 hours.  Potentially this could cost our company as much as £50,000 in lost revenue (about $65,000), depending on the price and demand for power that day."

A wireless vibration monitor proved to be just the ticket.  "This success gave us great confidence," Culham recalls.  "If smart wireless technology could be applied here, then it could be applied pretty much anywhere throughout the plant."

In addition to its accuracy, remote vibration monitoring had other advantages: "Without the wireless vibration transmitter, we would have been unable to monitor the starter motor safely and would have had to take it out of service--with all the negative production impact that would have entailed.  Additionally, removing the need for maintenance personnel to visit the plant floor reduced risk."

"At Barking Power we want to continue to use technology to avoid forced outages...," he concludes.  "The advantages are clear.  We no longer need to have plant personnel make as many trips to the field, so safety improves.  We receive vibration data transmitted from the motor....This enables us to estimate when a motor is going to fail.  The real-time information from the wireless vibration transmitter provides valuable insight that can prevent unplanned shutdowns and improve maintenance scheduling and reliability."

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