KCF Technologies Blog

The Future Looks Brilliant for Asset-Monitoring Technologies

"The leading magazine for pump users worldwide," Pumps & Systems published a special November issue on power generation operations, emphasizing "Instrumentation, Controls & Monitoring."  Among the many worthwhile features in the issue was the first installment in a two-part look at "The Future of Asset Monitoring Technologies."  This forward look at the prospects for forward-looking technology was written by Roberto Piacentini, Preston Johnson, and Theresa Woodlei, three managers at National Instruments, "a producer of automated test equipment and virtual instrumentation software" headquartered in Austin, Texas.

The U.S. Energy Information Energy expects both power generation and demand to increase at 8% to 9% for at least the next seven years.  This growth-orient outlook contrasts starkly with their snapshot of of the current state of America's power generation industry: "...aging plants with equipment at the end of its life--increasing demands for reliability--and an aging workforce reaching retirement in the next few years.  All these factors exponentially increase the the need for effective and automatic knowledge transfer, training and new approaches to the maintenance of power generation assets."  The alternative is too grim to contemplate.

The authors accept asset monitoring enabling predictive maintenance as fundamental to the future growth and prosperity of U.S. power generation.  The Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), a nonprofit funded by the electric utility industry, has come up with the numbers that back that claim:

"According to the research, a scheduled maintenance strategy is the most expensive to conduct at $24 per horsepower.  A reactive maintenance strategy is the second most costly at $17 per horsepower...[plus] the additional costs of safety being compromised.  A predictive maintenance strategy is the most cost-effective at only $9 per horsepower, and it nearly eliminates the risks of secondary damage from catastrophic failures."

To give that meaning, in 2009 the 1,436 coal-fired power plants in the U.S.A. produced an average of 235,885,794 watts each--roughly 316,200 electrical horsepower apiece.  Thus, predictive maintenance could save a plant as much as $4.75 million over the cost of scheduled maintenance, or $2.53 million more than reactive maintenance, not to mention the incalculable safety and production costs a catastrophic failure might incur.

The article lists other benefits of asset monitoring: lean and logical replacement parts inventory and positioning; greatly increased production reliability; more confident scheduling; and minimization of both production downtime and human health risk.  But, what makes it possible for predictive maintenance to produce these savings, beyond the innate efficiency of its paradigm, is a maturing technology that is arriving on the scene just in time to meet this urgent demand:

 Today, with the use of wireless vibration and power monitoring devices, reliability engineers can overcome historic cost barriers."

"Power generation providers are taking advantage of the cost effectiveness of wireless devices to add low-cost sensors to equipment.  Without the need to connect wires to transfer data, reliability engineers can expand instrumentation beyond critical assets and communicate condition monitoring data for many assets across systems."

The availability of all this data can itself be a problem, the authors admit, as "acquiring, analyzing, and managing this massive amount of data efficiently and timely, and communicating operations knowledge throughout the organization becomes a complex task."  Still, given the needed tools and technology, it's a task that may at least be within reach of America's power producers in the twenty-first century.

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