People are good at doing all sorts of amazing things, but putting plant personnel in roles where they perform tedious activities is a waste of potential and a drain of human resources. It’s even a greater waste when the functions can easily be automated. So why do many companies still use manual rounds to gather information about plant equipment?
Brian Joe asks this very question in his article in the April 2018 issue of Flow Control, Continuous Remote Monitoring Versus Manual Rounds. Given the costs of putting another person on the payroll plus all the safety considerations, who can afford to have someone moving among the equipment, clipboard in hand, looking and listening to the operation? A good question, but it still goes on in many locations in one way or another.
Some plants have these manual rounds carefully organized and scheduled, sending individuals out at prescribed intervals with ultrasonic listening devices, machinery vibration analyzers and infrared temperature readers to look for developing problems. If they are careful and methodical enough, a technician might catch a problem using these portable diagnostic tools while there is still time to schedule a repair before a failure and outage. In other plants, these efforts are more haphazard.
The idea of adding monitoring devices to equipment to perform these kinds of checks is nothing new. Companies have been doing it since the days of panelboards, but the biggest drawback has always been cost.
All of these monitoring components had to be installed and wired, often at considerable expense, which is why they were added only to the most critical piece of equipment. Many other installations within the facility could have benefited from the same treatment, but the costs were too high. Fortunately, new approaches provide ways to monitor existing and new equipment at much more reasonable cost and with less disruption to existing operations. The key is using modern industrial wireless technology, specifically WirelessHART.
It's clear that not having to add wiring can drastically cut installation costs, but only if there are enough of the right instruments to perform the monitoring functions, available for wireless networks and at reasonable prices.
A critical pump installation can be outfitted with different types of transmitters to monitor a variety of performance characteristics:
Vibration transmitters for the bearings
Seal condition monitoring transmitters
Temperature transmitters on the pump and motor
Flowmeter transmitters for the main outlet
All of these transmitters are available with WirelessHART communication.
These wireless transmitters solve part of the problem, but without the means to analyze the data coming from them, the plant will still be sending out folks with clipboards while the data simply accumulates in the bit bucket. Fortunately, with newer sensor technology has also come new ways to process and analyze measurement data.
Data capture, analysis and presentation are performed using preconfigured apps that can communicate with the gateway via the plant network or through cloud connections. Using a wireless smart device with the app installed allows any authorized user to access the information produced by the app. Using a simple, actionable interface, users can see exactly what they want with no custom programming required.
Brian goes into more detail on specific areas where there is a combination of device and app ready to be used, so the whole article is well worth a full read. Plants must still update their work processes to implement these automated monitoring solutions, but getting rid of manual rounds is usually not a tough sale.
You can find more information like this and meet with other people looking at the same kinds of situations in the Emerson Exchange365 community. It’s a place where you can communicate and exchange information with experts and peers in all sorts of industries around the world. Look for the WirelessHART and IIoT Groups and other specialty areas for suggestions and answers.
Posted by Deanna Johnson, Director Integrated Marketing Communications for Machine Automation Solutions
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