Hands-Off Monitoring

A wireless remote monitoring system offers a low-cost way to track equipment condition, improve maintenance practices, and prevent unplanned downtime.

Hands-Off Monitoring

The battery-powered sensor device measures vibration in two axes as well as surface temperature.

The cost of equipment monitoring technology is coming down; the technologies themselves are improving. In this environment, plant operations and maintenance people are seeking access to real-time data on equipment condition for less money than they are now paying.

That’s the reality as the industry embraces the Internet of Things (IoT). Nidec Motor has stepped into the IoT marketplace with the FORECYTE wireless equipment monitoring platform. It lets plant operations personnel place small wireless sensors on equipment to collect data on vibration and temperature, then view and analyze the data on a webpage.

The technology can help users keep close track of equipment health and thus fine-tune predictive maintenance programs, extend equipment life, receive alerts to adverse conditions, and avoid the high costs of unplanned downtime and catastrophic equipment failures. Thomas Schardt, commercial and industrial senior director for IoT, and Pranesh Rao, senior product manager for IoT, talked about the technology and its benefits in an interview with Treatment Plant Operator.

TPO: What led to the decision to bring this technology to market?

Schardt: Nidec Motor looked at what was changing in the market that affects our core business of developing and marketing motors and drives. We identified IoT, however one defines it, as a core technology we can use to improve our products and become not just a hardware provider, but a solution provider. That means taking our core competency and adding an IoT component, enabling more data analytics, real-time evaluation, interoperability, and interconnectivity. 

TPO: How did you choose this monitoring platform as an entry to the IoT sphere?

Schardt: Millions of motors in the U.S. alone are not monitored through an automated process or plant management system. Traditionally, condition monitoring is route-based, where vibration analysts go from location to location with hand-held probes. Today, the cost of sensor technology is coming down, and communication is affordable. That makes it possible to monitor critical equipment more effectively and efficiently compared to route-based monitoring. 

TPO: Can this technology be applied to motors other than those made by Nidec Motor?

Schardt: Yes. It doesn’t matter what kind of motor it is. It can also be applied to gearboxes and to driven equipment like pumps, fans, and compressors.

TPO: What exactly does the sensor device measure?

Schardt: It measures vibration in two axes and the surface temperature. Users can also add a thermocouple that plugs into the side and measures external temperature.

TPO: What attributes did you consider essential in designing this technology?

Schardt: First is simplicity — making it as easy to install and use as possible. There are no cables, and the online platform itself is simple and intuitive. Second is reliability. Third is interoperability — making sure we can integrate with SCADA systems and PLC-based systems that facilities use today and can connect to what is to come. Fourth is diagnostic intelligence, enabling users to understand and make use of the data. 

TPO: How is the sensor device attached to the equipment being monitored?

Schardt: The sensor can be attached using the built-in round magnet in the bottom of the case. However, most customers use a 1/4-inch, 28-thread stud mount, which is the best connection for collecting repeatable, high-frequency vibration data. The sensor can also be epoxied in place, but then the user loses the flexibility that a magnet or a stud mount provides. 

TPO: So a sensor doesn’t have to be attached permanently to the equipment?

Schardt: You can leave it in place permanently, but you can also use it for temporary visualization of the equipment. You can use it to do commissioning or troubleshooting. It’s highly flexible. You can program it to collect data once a week, once a day, every 10 minutes, down to every minute.

TPO: How does this technology actually communicate, transmit, store, and analyze data?

Rao: The sensor communicates wirelessly to a gateway using a commercially available proprietary protocol. It’s designed to communicate reliably over relatively long distances. The gateway collects the data and sends it to our cloud platform by way of Ethernet, Wi-Fi or cellular communication. It’s stored in the cloud, and there’s a web portal where customers can view the data.

TPO: How is the data presented?

Rao: Vibration data is typically presented graphically and temperature data in numeric form, although users can view it in a graph if they want to. They can also download the data and use their own analytical tools. The system can send alerts by email or text based on customer-set vibration and temperature levels, and for loss of communication and sensor battery level.

TPO: What is the payment structure for purchasers of the technology?

Schardt: There is a hardware fee upfront for the gateway and the sensors, and then a monthly subscription fee for accessing the portal. There is no installation of software on the client’s computers, and there is no per-user software license fee.

TPO: How is this offering beneficial specifically for water and wastewater operators?

Rao: Many pumping stations are unmanned. So now operators can monitor equipment condition online and get email and text alerts. If they have a remote pumping station, instead of sending route-based monitoring specialists every one to three months to check the condition and take data samples, they can sign in, view and compare the data, and spot trends. If they see a situation developing, they can go out to the site already with some understanding of the condition.

TPO: What does the future hold for this technology?

Schardt: We’re planning to add more sensor capabilities, including a resistance temperature detector to directly measure temperature of the bearing, usually the biggest failure point in equipment. We’re also looking at sensing for current, voltage, flow and pressure. In addition, we’re seeking ways to take data from other sensors in a facility and display it on our platform so that operators only have to sign in to one platform to view complete sensor information


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