KCF Technologies Blog

Cloud Computing: A New Paradigm in Industrial Maintenance

Attaching SmartDiagnostics® receiver nodes to a collection server
set up to transmit data through the Cloud.
In 1970, the internet was in its infancy.  Then, the internet, or rather its precursor, ARPANet, consisted of just five nodes, one at Stanford University, one at UCLA, one at UCal-Santa Barbara, one at the University of Utah, and finally, one at Bolt, Beranek & Newman (a technology R&D company).

Now, the internet is, to quote writers from the Internet Society, "...at once a world-wide broadcasting capability, a mechanism for information dissemination, and a medium for collaboration and interaction between individuals and their computers without regard for geographic location."  This "medium for collaboration and interaction between individuals and their computers without regard for geographic location" is at the core of Cloud computing, a technology that has become available to industrial maintenance teams.  With the Cloud, maintenance teams are no longer tied to only being able to view machine health data on computers with a company's own network.

Additionally, Cloud setup is simple.  It only involves a small machine that connects to the Cloud and talks to the sensors.  Furthermore, the Cloud allows for a truly "plug and play" machine diagnostics system.  All a maintenance professional has to do is plug a small server box into an outlet, connect wireless receiver nodes to the server box, place wireless sensor nodes on a machine, and then wait for data to start flowing.

Now, with Cloud technology, maintenance teams can view machine health data from as close as just down the street, to as far as an ocean away, and it's all made possible by something created by a few university and private company researchers 44 years ago.

Note: This is the first post of a series of posts about how the Cloud can be used by industrial maintenance teams.

Photo by Christopher Shannon/KCF Technologies.  All rights reserved.

February 4 Webinar: Dr. Gary Koopmann on Vibration Fundamentals

Dr. Gary Koopmann
KCF Technologies Co-Founder and Senior Technologist, Dr. Gary Koopmann will lead two webinars on vibration fundamentals on February 4 at 9 a.m. and 3 p.m.  Along with being a co-founder and Senior Technologist at KCF, Dr. Koopmann is also Professor Emeritus of Mechanical Engineering at Penn State University and the founder of Penn State's Center fro Acoustics and Vibration.

Those interested in learning more about how machine vibration waveforms can be analyzed in terms of their amplitudes and frequency content, should register for one of the two sessions by e-mailing KCF at sales@kcftech.com.

SmartDiagnostics® Feature Highlight: Configuring, Updating, and Calibrating Vibration Sensor Nodes (VSNs)

The VMS Configurator Sensor View screen.
The Sensor View panel is where you inspect and configure the operation of your sensor nodes.  To see see the Sensor View, click on the Sensor View tab in the top left portion or the VMS Configurator screen.  The Sensor View will display the list of sensors that are configured on your system in the left pane of the window and will display current configuration and real-time data being received and allow you to configure operating parameters for the currently selected sensor node in the right pane.  To select the sensor node for which to display the details, click on that sensor in the left pane of the window.

Sensors that are reliably functioning and transmitting data will show multiple green bars.  When you initially configure a sensor node, it will take a few seconds for the data to be transmitted to the Primary Receiver Node (PRN).

After a few seconds--once communication between the sensor and the PRN begins--the screen will show a single green bar.  As the PRN to which the sensor node is assigned receives more heartbeat pings, the number of green bars shown for that sensor will increase to indicate that the system is receiving a robust signal.

The VSNs will work well as configured straight from the factory, but you can further tune their operation to make them work better in your environment.

There are many different settings that you can adjust for each individual Sensor Node. The instructions that follow examine the different configurations and commands that you can specify for a particular Sensor Node. The view in Figure 11 shows the information for Sensor Node 1047710, as indicated in the left pane and in the "Node Serial #" under "New Sensor" in the right pane. If there is more than one Sensor Node configured, as in most systems, each will be listed in the left pane. Listed below are the configurations and commands available that you can review and often adjust for each of your individual Sensor Nodes.
  • Serial Number - The unique serial number that is factory-assigned to the Sensor Node. This number is also printed on the label. 
  • Address - The three-part wireless network address that is commissioned on the Sensor Node.
  • Last Ping - The time stamp of the last ping that the PRN received from this Sensor Node.
  • Up Time - The elapsed time since the last reset or battery removal of this Sensor Node. 
  • Filmware - The version of the firmware that is running on this Sensor Node. You will need this number if you have to report any problems with a Sensor Node to customer support. 
  • Battery Voltage - Get real-time battery life by clicking on the Update button. If the battery voltage has dropped below 3.3 volts, the battery should be replaced. This will also update the current temperature, displayed in the line below the Battery Voltage. 
  • Temperature - The current temperature of the Sensor Node in Fahrenheit. 
  • Data Ack - Indicates whether the PRN should send a positive acknowledgement to the VSN for every packet of data it receives. You should only change this value from the factory default in consultation with a KCF representative. 
  • FIFO Retransmit Delay - This is the time that the VSN will wait to retransmit a FIFO (First In, First Out) buffer of sensor data if it has not received a positive acknowledgement from the PRN. You should only change this value from the factory default in consultation with a KCF representative. 
  • FIFO Retransmits - This is the number of times that the VSN will attempt to retransmit a FIFO buffer of sensor data when it does not receive a positive acknowledgement from the PRN before giving up on transmitting the collected vibration data burst. You should only change this value from factory default in consultation with a KCF representative. 
  • Burst Retransmits - Sometimes data are not transferred from the sensor to the receiver completely in one burst. With this option, you can decide how many times the system will continue to try transferring the data if it does not get through on the first attempt. You should only change this value from the factory default in consultation with a KCF representative. 
  • RF Power - This is the RF power level setting. You should only change this value from the factory default in consultation with a KCF representative. 
  • Frequency - The radio frequency channel and GHz at which the Sensor Node is configured to communicate.
  • Accel Rate - The rate, in hertz, that the accelerometer is collecting vibration spectrum. The VSN can be set to collect at a rate of 3200 (default), 1600, 800, 400, or 200 hertz. The maximum frequency in the spectrum that the Sensor Node can report is approximately the Accel Rate divided by 2. The VSN provides 944 lines of spectral resolution regardless of Accel Rate selected. Therefore, if you need more fine detail in your spectrum and higher frequencies are not important to you, you should set the Accel Rate to a lower level.
  • Accel Range - The maximum number of Gs of acceleration that the VSN will report.
  • Accel Axis - The axis that the accelerometer in the VSN will sample when it collects vibration data.  The VSN supports collection in the X-, Y- (default), or Z-axes, where the Y-axis runs parallel with the long side of the sensor.
  • Collect Now - To have a sensor node transfer data instantaneously, click the "Send Command" button in the column on the right in the display.  This feature is helpful if information is needed more quickly than the configured Accelerometer Collection Interval.
  • Brown Out Node - A quick way to restart a sensor node if it stops reporting correctly.
  • Turn On LED - This command will visibly show that there is communication between the PRN and VSN. The LED will stay lit for the duration of the configured Ping Interval.
  • Ping Interval - This feature allows you to adjust how often the a VSN and PRN talk to one another. The interval can be lengthened to save battery life or shortened if constant data transfer is preferred.
  • Accelerometer Collection Interval - The accelerometer measures the data that the VSN transfers to the PRN.  The interval should be set based on how often you would like to view data from a particular piece of machinery on which a VSN is installed.
  • Number of Averages - This is the number of vibration samples to be averaged together to create a single observation.  The default setting is one, which means no averaging.  Averaging is useful because it tends to smooth out or eliminate outlier data in individual samples to show a truer picture of the machine's vibration spectrum.
  • Accelerometer Calibration - Each VSN comes calibrated by the manufacturer.  You can simply input the standard accelerometer values that are included with each sensor node if that calibration is ever lost.
  • Temperature Correction - Each VSN has the option to correct the temperature based on the current ambient temperature.  Each time you take a reading later on, you get vibration and temperature data.  While the temperature is calibrated at the factory, you may find it necessary to add an additional temperature correction factor.
  • Waiting Commands - When expanded, this list box shows all the commands that are currently queued in the PRN to be sent to the sensor node.  As the commands are sent, they drop out of the list.
  • Diagnostic Messages - When expanded, as it is by default, this box shows the diagnostics messages that are generated in the system as a result of the communication between the PRN and VSN.
You can learn more about KCF Technologies' SmartDiagnostics® technology here.

Seven Top Tips for Pulp & Paper Plant Preventive Maintenance

Pulp and paper mills are harsh environments full of dust and heat.  Eliminating or reducing their effects is critical to the healthy performance.  Preventive maintenance means equipment failures that result in production downtime and lost profits can be kept to a minimum, or prevented entirely.

Between 60% and 80% of all equipment malfunctions are caused by incorrect maintenance.  Maintenance should include basics like detailed cleaning, lubrication, and alignment, as well as the following procedures.  Here are our top seven tips for ensuring maximum system availability throughout a pulp and paper mill, adapted from a longer list by the Swiss-based ABB Group, which provides systems and services for control, plant optimization, and automation in pulp and paper as well as other industries:

1. Keep it clean
Dust can cause inaccurate measurement and overheating of critical electronic components.  It can be controlled using thoughtful industrial design and air-wiping devices.  Control system equipment must be sealed to prevent failures that can be caused by dust-coated electronics.  Keeping things clean also means other problems are easier to spot.  Cracks, leaks, loose connections, and other problems are more easily found if the item is not covered in a thick layer of dust.

2. Be systematic
Good preventive maintenance is based on detailed record keeping.  A logbook should track what was checked, why, what was found, and any action taken.  Such records are the platform on which preventive maintenance schedules are based.

3. Inspect regularly
Weekly checks on quality control scanners should include inspecting sensor windows for damage or wear to assure accuracy.  Monthly maintenance and verification as well as annual inspection should complement regular maintenance on scanners and sensors, ensuring that they give reliably optimum performance.  Equipment should be inspected while operating to minimize downtime and detect operational defects that cannot be assessed on stationary equipment.

4. Apply regular maintenance drives
Variable speed drives keep pulp and paper plants moving, and regular preventive maintenance is vital to maintain their health.  Keeping drives and motors clean ensures they do not overheat and helps maintain peak efficiency.  Tracking drive operation remotely lets you monitor drive system parameters, parameter changes on-line measurements, software changes and upgrades, remote guidance, and written instructions sent to the maintenance PC.

5. Upgrade motors
Motors are another essential in the drive chain, and motors designed for high reliability will help minimize downtime.  A new motor for process industries has a 20% to 30% greater cooling surface than its predecessor, reducing the internal temperature considerably, and giving longer component life.  With improved cooling, bearing grease lubrication intervals are 50% longer.

6. Assign the right people for maintenance
A key strategy is to control who implements the preventive maintenance procedures and to have an agreed planned program of work.  The best results are achieved when maintenance-minded personnel with the required training are given personal ownership of this important duty.

7. Provide the right training
Employees should be trained in correct normal operation so as not to exceed machine parameters, and in what to do when problems occur.  Shift engineers need to know all about plant operations.  Training staff only when equipment is commissioned, and failing to maintain current training can lead to more service calls and needless production delays.

Up on the Roof, There's Room for Big Improvement

Founded in 1980, the non-profit American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy (ACEEE) "acts as a catalyst to advance energy efficiency policies, programs, technologies investments, and behaviors" in the belief "...that the United States can harness the full potential of energy efficiency to achieve greater economic prosperity, energy security, and environmental protection for all its people."Since 1993, ACEEE has organized Summer Study sessions to examine key issues with important ramifications for our nation's energy use and policies, sharing papers on the their findings.

In 2004, one of the papers published was "Wireless Condition Monitoring and Maintenance for Rooftop Packaged Heating, Ventilation and Air-Conditioning" by Srinivas Katipamula and Michael R. Brambley of the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.  By looking not at the largest HVAC systems in the land, but instead on the sorts of small-scale single-enterprise units that serve most sops and stores in the U.S., they focused attention where it was desperately needed.

Although the co-authors note that packaged cooling systems are used in 4.7 million U.S. businesses including 36.5 billion square feet of commercial space in more than half the businesses in the nation, they are not above dishing the dirt on these overworked, under-serviced, indifferently maintained systems:

"During commissioning and re-tuning, they are often found with inoperable dampers, dirty/clogged filters and coils, incorrect refrigerant charges, failing compressors, failed fans missing enclosure panels, incorrectly implemented controls, and other problems.  Frequently, actual operating hours deviate considerably from intended (and assumed) schedules."

"...These units are often run until a catastrophic failure occurs...Complete failure though is often preventable.  Avoiding failures by properly maintaining the equipment would reduce repair costs, increase operating efficiency, extend equipment life, and ensure comfortable conditions, but this would require awareness of equipment condition and when the equipment needs servicing."

After briefly examining the prohibitively high costs of many maintenance approaches, what do they recommend as delivering the best bang for the buck?  After a detailed examination of refrigerant-side and air-side problems, and major surveys of air conditioning breakdowns, causes, frequency and expense, they conclude that a low-cost wireless monitoring system would represent the best value and the greatest likelihood of achieving the desired protection.  (They figure the average cost at $78 per wireless sensor point, as opposed to $193 for a wired sensor point.)

But, would the achievable savings be worth such an investment, even at one-third the cost of wired sensors?  You be the judge:

"Although there is no reliable data on the number of package units in U.S. commercial buildings operating under degraded conditions and the energy waste associated with such operations, a range of savings from 10% to 30% is generally believed to be achievable by correcting operating problems of these units...Assuming the range of savings is between 10% and 30%, the potential national energy savings  ranges from 23 to 70 trillion BTUs annually."

Frankly Speaking: Wireless Condition Monitoring - Spreading the Word

Happy New Year!  After a refreshing break, we at KCF Technologies are eager to lean fully into the work of deploying wireless condition monitoring to help reduce failures and improve operations in our buildings, industrial plants and facilities.  We call it “Giving Machines a Voice”.  As with many new technologies, this work involves more than just the technology itself.  Education and training are required to help show what is possible and build confidence in changing to a new way of doing things.   For that purpose, in 2014 we are creating a series of short videos to show exactly why, where, and how industrial wireless sensors are deployed.  The video above focuses on centrifugal pumps, the focal point of the Hydraulics Institute (www.pumps.org) and one of the most widely used industrial workhorses.

Frankly Speaking: Everything in the Universe is Energy and Vibration

I came across a video this week that is a deleted scene from a movie called "The Secret."  The movie talks a lot about vibration in a different way than we typically do at KCF when doing predictive monitoring of of industrial machines.  They talk about it in abstract, related to quantum physics, and how we interact with the Universe as human beings.  But, there are some thoughts that are very relevant to what we do.  To continue reading this post and to see the video, please view this post on our Frankly Speaking page.

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