Utilizing the Industrial Internet of Things to Monitor Critical Machinery

October 05, 2016


For quite some time now, industrial engineers have leveraged connected computing advances to help manufacturing facilities run more efficiently. However, the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) will expand manufacturing automation even further by connecting industrial systems to make automation smarter. This will help ensure critical machinery and reliability is up and running to minimize costs and maximize productivity, and move towards predictive maintenance. 

The main goal of every business is to provide a product or service to a customer. And, if you can provide a better product or service, you can provide more value to your customer. By adding connected capability, you can provide alerts to service, replace or repair equipment, preventing costly downtime or high maintenance costs for pumps, valves and filters. The Internet of Things (IoT) is not only up in the cloud, the power of data and analytics can be delivered right to smartphone in an operator’s or owner’s hand, changing how business is done forever. 

Think Big, Start Small

It’s important to think big but start small. Identify the products or bad actors that are high enough in value or with high maintenance costs to warrant "connecting" them to inform the broader group of requisite people about their health and service schedule. Consider pumps, water meters and industrial valves. These products may be remote or located on the shop floor or manufacturing plant. It is clear that connected remote products and assets provide optimized route schedules and reduce lengthy downtime; but connected products in the factory or shop floor can connect beyond the local operator to the supervisor or local maintenance technician.

Focus on improving customer service through measurement or monitoring your product and acting on that data -- you want to change behaviors, not conduct a science experiment. Think of the entire project from doing an internal audit, deployment and a long-term service integrator of the initiative and not on fancy technology or the latest and greatest gadgets. Convince your leadership and employees that this is to improve customer retention and differentiation, not to replace field, service or factory employees.  When you embrace change, it is not just noise, but exciting and meaningful. 

Technology Stack

The IoT technology stack has historically come from the proliferation of smart phones globally. The billions of units has commoditized all the relevant components of this mini-computer in your hand, from processors, cameras and sensors.  These sensors have been repurposed and designed into "connected things.” IoT is further enabled by cheap computing power and storage through what we call cloud infrastructure. It has been stated that today an African chief has more computing power in his pocket than the entire White House of Bill Clinton. 

Sensors emit data to the cloud, and reporting, data analysis and applications are pulled to produce meaningful information. That information, in turn, should be utilized to influence human behavior (such as driving route optimization or maintenance scheduling) to optimize business performance. The enabling technology should be seen to create specific, measurable action, not conduct a science experiment. A schematic of the technology stack is listed below. 

Taking Advantage of the IIoT

Many systems within a manufacturing plant are intranet connected. However, much of the data collected from those machines never leaves the plant. An internet connection allows the critical data to be sent to supporting applications, analyzed and displayed by on one dashboard, in any location, available when needed. The transition to IIoT presents manufacturers with many benefits, including:

Visibility: The IIoT can bring real-time visibility into location and status of fixed and moving assets such as critical inventory, parts, equipment, and goods in transit. For example, if a plastic injection molding company houses its polyethylene in a silo, sensors can be added to monitor inventory levels. The connected system can sense when it is running low and send an alert to the supplier to schedule a fill, limiting downtime. Data from multiple sites is aggregated on a common platform for centralized management and analysis.

Predictive maintenance: From cooling systems to production machinery, manufacturing equipment often requires maintenance on a regular basis. IIoT technology can be utilized to remotely monitor and alert to changes indicative of impending trouble. If a motor’s temperature increases beyond normal or the vibration of a pump has changed, the trend will show in the data and it can be addressed before it becomes a disaster, avoiding expensive downtime. The IIoT makes maintenance service proactive, not reactive. Applying analytics to the machine data opens the ability to adopt a use based maintenance methodology, saving time and money.

Improved operations: The ability to predict potential equipment failures and repairs minimizes the number of service calls necessary. Manufacturers utilizing IoT solutions in 2014 saw an average 28.5 percent increase in revenues between 2013 and 2014, according to a TATA Consultancy Survey.

Industrial Use Cases

A.  Manufacturing

The manufacturing industry is rife with opportunities for a successful IoT deployment. First, there are many different critical operations that can be monitored to reduce downtime on a factory floor. Second, these critical operations are generally so big that the monitoring cannot be efficiently done by visual inspection only. By monitoring several machines all on one dashboard, all of a factory can be seen together on one screen. 

B.  Industrial Pumps and Valves

Pumps are the lifeblood of many industrial processes. Without pumps operating at their peak, valuable production capacity is lost. Continued wear and tear can lead to unexpected downtime. Monitoring industrial pumps or smart pumping systems for cycles completed, unexpected vibration, or high temperatures can indicate unusual operating conditions or that a problem is oncoming. This allows for a service technician to be sent before the operation is shut down completely. 

C.  Vibration

Used especially in motors and other manufacturing machinery, measuring vibration can be a strong indicator of an oncoming problem. As the vibration in devices continues to grow stronger, it can mean that a device is dangerously close to failure. Catching this change early enough in the process means that a service technician can be dispatched to the site to fix the problem before a complete breakdown. 

D.  Fluid and Flow

 A pressure drop across a valve could indicate a ruptured seal or a pressure increase could mean a blocked filter. A higher temperature could mean a problem somewhere in the production process. Having these data points means that a problem can be solved before there is a loss of quality in product or a shutdown of a factory floor.

E.  Temperature and Humidity

Temperature and humidity can mean many different things for different applications. Perhaps food ingredient supplies will spoil if above a certain temperature. Maybe crops will grow mold if it gets too humid. A motor will stop functioning if it gets too hot. Throughout all of these scenarios, AssetScan can gather this data and alert a problem through preset parameters. 

Business Process/Business Model Disruption

With the IIoT, there is an extension far greater from being a good partner or vendor to tying business value to measurable-based performance outcomes. Theodre Levitt captures this concept in his quote, “People don’t want a quarter-inch drill. They want a quarter-inch hole!” As Joseph Barkai writes in his recent book, "The Outcome Economy", companies create value not just by selling products and services, but by delivering complete solutions that produce quantifiable business outcomes for customers. 

It's important to note that the value of the IoT does not come from connected devices, but rather from the ability to extract, mine, organize and influence action from the information stemming from connected device data. The rubber will hit the road for all the companies designing expensive technology solutions that don't result in concrete results, but for the ones that do, new billion-dollar entities will be born. Organizations will be able to statistically argue their value as opposed to the empty slogans like "I guarantee it!"

New business models will emerge based upon an ongoing relationship outcome-based approach to doing business. We already see the subscription and membership economy becoming a dominant model and the Holy Grail in terms of recurring revenue with companies like Netflix. Software as a Service (SaaS) is morphing into things like Sensor as a Service (SeaS). For the scrappy independent business owner, considering this shifting landscape and embracing it could lead to significant gains and huge disruptions in their industry.

By:  Dan Yarmoluk, Business Development Executive, ATEK Access Technologies

Dan Yarmoluk is an IoT Business Development Executive for ATEK’s AssetScan. Dan has a technical background in OEM product design with batteries, chargers and sensors. He can be reached at dyarmoluk@atekcompanies with more information at www.assetscan.com