KCF Technologies Blog

Matt's Musings

Me and my beautiful family.

We're as far north as you can go in upstate New York--that's Canada over there across the river.  But what looks like any old, large factory here actually is much more.  They broke ground on this spot to build it in the late 1880s, and in 1902 it became the first plant built to smelt aluminum in the world.  When the Wright Brothers were looking for for a lighter engine to power the world's first flying machine, this plant supplied the aluminum for the engine that did the job.

Five or six generations of Americans have worked here, making what the nation needed, turning raw material to molten metal, then bending it to do their bidding.  One way they do that is with what are called rolling caster stands.  Endless glowing bars of aluminum go in, and are rolled to smaller, more versatile shapes sizes and shapes.  Each castor stand is enclosed by a big roof, but our SmartDiagnostics® wireless sensors work very well inside.  They're very cozy there in the dark, at about 150 degrees.  And, even in that hostile, demanding place, the little sensors send a a steady stream of information on machine performance.  You'll find them all along the production chain, vigilant sentries keeping an eye on things, letting the production team know through it's monitors just what's going on.

This big company has another smaller company perform monthly vibration analysis, which gives a snapshot of what is happening at one moment, but that big company has never known exactly what's going on on at those caster stands.  When it's closed, you can't get a handheld probe in there.  And, if they hard-wire a monitor in there and something breaks during production, it can cause major damage.

Not like our little, self-powered wireless sensors.  For KCF Technology's SmartDiagnostics®, the ideal proving ground has been in the heat, under the metal roof, inside that caster stand.  From my conversations, though, these guys plan to always use their outside vibration analysts.  They see SmartDiagnostics® as a really powerful and versatile mobile diagnostics kit to supplement what they're doing now.  But, mobile means that our sensors go wherever they're needed, at a moment's notice.  I guess you could say, our sensors act as little minutemen for the plant.

They also make these massive molds, casting big blocks of metal that need huge, overhead crane systems, and those cranes have to function or it's a serious problem.  Currently, their old sensor guys have to climb up top, install a bunch of wiring and runs all the way down to their handheld, and it's cumbersome and unwieldy, and it cuts productivity.  SmartDiagnostics® has a permanent fix for this.  As time goes by and they realize our capabilities, they'll figure it out.  On pricing alone, we can outfit their facility with full-time sensors for a lot less that the part-time service they use now.

It really doesn't matter what industry I visit in the field--whether it's pulp and paper, wastewater treatment, power generation, this remarkable aluminum plant--there's always going to be many areas and applications where SmartDiagnostics® sensors are the best fit for the job, where they can consistently and safely monitor parts of their operations that have never been possible before.  We're providing them with a solution that is compact, wireless, capable of harvesting its own energy, yet providing full-spectrum data, all that at a very competitive price.  That's a powerful, persuasive combination.

Wireless Sensors Work

In the world of vibration monitoring, wireless sensors can provide a cost-effective alternative to traditional machine monitoring methods. 

The following article, authored by KCF Technologies employees Christopher Shannon and Matt Cowen, was published in the June/July 2013 issue of Uptime Magazine

SmartDiagnostics® sensor
on a compressor.
Traditionally, machine vibration monitoring is performed in two ways: machines can be periodically monitored by utilizing a temporarily mounted sensor and a portable analyzer machine, or machines can be continuously monitored by permanently mounting sensors and wiring them into a high end diagnostic system in the plant.

The advantage of a portable system is that it can cost less to procure and install since there is no permanent wiring required. However, if a facility decides to hire an outside firm, even this option can be costly, running between $600 and $1,200 per day while still providing some level of predictive monitoring. The disadvantage of a portable system is that machine problems do not follow a schedule and there is a very real possibility that a machine can develop problems or even fail between the periodic assessments.

Permanently mounted sensor systems attempt to address the issues presented by portable systems, but they do so at a very high cost.  Acquiring and installing a permanent system can run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars when you factor in the costs of the sensors, diagnostic machine and software, and the installation and maintenance of long wire runs that are necessary to power the sensors and collect the vibration data. These costs can dramatically affect the return on investment (ROI) of continuous machine vibration monitoring for predictive maintenance and put such systems beyond the financial reach of most companies.

While permanent machine monitoring has traditionally been performed using wired sensors, costs for wiring vibration sensors are high, ranging from $50 to $100 per foot. Wire installation costs are a driving factor that limits the affordability of vibration monitoring. Wireless sensors address this cost issue.  Additionally, wireless sensors offer to simplify sensor installation, reduce maintenance associated with wiring faults, permit new sensor locations that would not have otherwise been accessible with wired sensors, and offer greater flexibility with easy installation or removal, as required.

In summary, wireless sensors have the promise to make vibration monitoring practical for most companies.  Read the rest of the article on the Uptime Magazine website.

Photo by Matt Cowen/KCF Technologies.  All rights reserved.

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