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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.

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.

In the scene, they make the point that all of our human senses, and in fact everything in the Universe, is based on monitoring and interpreting vibration.  I absolutely agree that sound, sight, and touch are all ways in which we monitor vibration in the world around us (and, even taste and smell, from a certain point of view).  In a very real way, our bodies have evolved as extremely attentive vibration sensors, and that is responsible for many of the great things human beings have achieved.

Taking advantage of ever-evolving and constantly emerging technolgies in microchips, sensors, micro-electrical machines systems, software, and radio-frequency wireless, we are increasingly able to extend this human vibration sensing technology into the world around us.  This makes it possible to make ourselves and our systems more aware and more predictive.  Many years ago, there was a man or woman carrying water in a bucket.  Over time, it evolved to be a man with a handle-operated pump.  In 1900, it was an early electric motor, with someone listening with his hands and ears to tell if it was operating properly.  Over time, the person started listening to it with a wooden-handle screwdriver.  In the mid-1900s, engineers started listening to the machines with sensors, and that evolved quickly as computers became smaller and more powerful.  Today we are "giving the machines a voice" by monitoring those machines with small wireless sensors.  What's next?  Stay tuned.

Pumped Up

Our company is passionate about using advances in technology, especially wireless and imbedded intelligence, to save money by helping customers get more predictive about how their machines operate.  One of the biggest applications is industrial pumping systems, and I spent last week at the Hydraulics Institute Fall Meeting in Baltimore where wireless condition monitoring was a main topic.

A lot of people are interested in getting more predictive about pump health and eliminating failures, but a lot of people are also unsure about what can be done with new technology, and how to go about it.

SmartDiagnostics® software showing
the pump vibration levels rising
on the way to failure.
To help address those questions, a team of KCF's technicians and engineers got our hands on a 10HP pump that had been recently taken out of service at a commercial building after operating well for several decades.  Then we installed wireless condition monitoring sensors on the motor and pump, and monitored it while it ran.  Since pumps can often run reliably for a long time, we helped it along towards failure!  After shovelfuls of gravel and mud in the impeller, drying out the pump bearings, and some other creative techniques, we learned that well-made American pumps aren't that easy to kill.  However, man eventually won out over machine (by drilling into the bearings and injecting sand directly into the race) and we reached failure.  Enjoy the video from our demonstration.

And, sure enough, the SmartDiagnostics® system showed the failure just as it developed to failure (on a rapidly accelerated schedule!).

Pump Test

Recently KCF ran a test on a small industrial pump to see if we could get it to fail and to see what the vibration signatures looked like as the pump failed.  Unfortunately, we were not able to get the pump to fail within a work day, however we did get good vibration data as the pump's health deteriorated.

We took a number of photos and videos from the test and here are two of the photos.

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

How to Easily Save Trillions of Dollars

Can it really be easy to save money with continuous condition monitoring systems?  What's the secret?

Here's a more direct question:
"What would I do if I had access to continuous vibration data on all of my rotating equipment?"  If you are a normal person like my mother, my wife, and most of my friends, that's probably a question that you never have asked yourself, and never will.  (Note: My dad was doing vibration monitoring projects on Sikorsky helicopters back in the early 1970s, but that is a special case.)

Fortunately for KCF Technologies, the question of how to make use of loads of vibration data is one that is often asked by our customers and industrial partners.  Why?  Because there is great promise in installing small, low-cost, wireless sensors to monitor equipment and save lots of money in industrial processes.The promise for savings is huge, estimated by the Department of Energy (DoE) at $2.5 Trillion per year in U.S. industry (which incidentally would solve most of the country's financial problems and guarantee American competitive advantage).

So what's the problem?  The problem most commonly described is that it's hard to make useful, actionable information out of reams of vibration data.  That has been the case until recently, because vibration monitoring has required sensors, sophisticated acquisition systems, and a well-trained vibration technician or engineer.  Each pump, compressor, turbine, air handling unit, chiller, fan, etc. has its own mechanical behavior and vibration characteristics and requires detailed expertise to fully understand the complexities that would impact up-time and reliability.  This has generally relegated vibration monitoring to only the critical assets of a plant where the expertise and monitoring equipment can be justified.  However, many pieces of important equipment (most, actually, in the balance of plant) are skipped.

So what's the secret to make sense of the data on all the other rotating equipment?

The secret is to start simple, break down the problem with some assumptions, and incorporate a wealth of readily available knowledge into easy-to-use, or automatic, software.  This is the core assumption used in SmartDiagnostics®:
  • Rotating equipment vibrates at an overall level, and at certain frequencies, and the vibration increases before it fails or needs to be shut down for maintenance/repair.
From that, the problem can easily be solved:
  1. The frequencies can be easily calculated for some of the most basic types of equipment and failure modes, and built into downloadable templates.
  2. The vibration levels can be set based on standard ISO Vibration Severity recommendations
  3. Both the frequency bands and vibration levels can be adjusted to a specific machine based on a baseline (if the software is easy to use).
Starting in 2004 with a DoE project to tackle low-cost, ubiquitous, wireless sensors, KCF has been working to to solve this problem, and we've got at least a big part of it solved.  It's inexpensive and easy enough to achieve a positive return on investment in under a year.  Check back for examples and case studies of how our customers are doing this today.

For more information on how our customers are doing this, check out the templates for monitoring templates on KCF's SmartDiagnostics® costumer resource page.

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