Condition monitoring takes flight with wireless sensors

Two sensors without wires keep tabs on the health of rotating equipment

By Jim Montague

CT1703 ABBcustomerworld Day2

A large part of success in politics and other endeavors is simply showing up, but sensors that could improve condition monitoring in process applications often can't show up because wiring is too costly or it's physically impossible to locate them where they're needed. To solve this problem by getting sensors where they need to go and bringing back information for better condition monitoring, ABB has developed compact, rugged sensors that can be deployed on motors, pumps, fans and other equipment, can measure vibration and other variables and can send details back to a central location for analysis and improved decisions.

"The oil and gas world is changing a lot due to the extreme effects of low prices, and so it's hard for many users to stay profitable," said Diego Pareschi, global product manager for rotating machines, oil, gas and chemicals, Process Automation Division, ABB, in a presentation this week to attendees of ABB Customer World in Houston. "So, we've been talking about using wireless sensors for condition monitoring and gaining more visibility into oil, gas and chemical (OGC) processes, especially rotating equipment, as they’re the most common cause of downtime in OGC plants."

Pareschi reported that the most important assets in OGC plants are pumps, compressors and other equipment. "These devices are their heartbeat," he added. "So, we looked at present maintenance practices and found they mostly use break-and-fix processes. But then we look at our smart phones and smart wristwatches and look at our rusty plants and processes and ask, ‘Why can't they use these consumer technologies, too?’"

Sense locally, send wirelessly

To make the leap to wireless condition monitoring, Pareschi explained the initial impulse is to spread sensors everywhere and try to use them for predictive maintenance. "Sensors have been monitoring the big assets for a long time, and many companies do it," he said. "It's trickier to monitor smaller pumps and equipment, so the chemical industries have been looking at what condition monitoring technologies they can borrow from other industries, and wireless sensors were suggested for rotating machine analytics and distributed sensing."

ABB's two wireless sensing solutions include its WiMon wireless monitor—a bearing-mounted, screw-on, battery-powered vibration sensor—and its upcoming Smart Sensor for low-voltage electric motors on compressors, pumps and fans. WiMon has been available for several years, uses WirelessHART protocol for communications and organizes its network as a mesh grid. It performs 1-second measurements and can take measurements continuously or at up to 8-hour intervals. WiMon's range is 40-50 meters, unless it's elevated, in which case its range can be up to several hundred meters.

"Rotating equipment typically fails every three years, but these failures are at random, and so monitoring bearings for vibrations can be very helpful," said Pareschi.

Moving data on up

Pareschi explained that once WiMon and other ABB sensors gather values and signals from rotating equipment and field processes—and assess equipment status with ABB Fingerprint audits—they relay it to a locally oriented cloud infrastructure. Here, it's elaborated on to provide more advanced services to the site, and optimize short- and medium-term operations and field services. Much of this information also can be delivered to intranets and the Internet via ABB's ServicePort fleet-monitoring dashboard, which can take in data from the DCS; from wireless sources through Ethernet; or from sensors through OPC and Modbus networking.

"ServicePort can connect multiple sites, aggregate input from many machines and then divide that data by function, such as process application, mechanical, electrical or control," said Pareschi. "The data can then be analyzed and turned into reports with details on bearing wear occurring at the bottom. This can really make formerly dumb sensors smart. No raw data is transferred, just key performance indicators (KPIs)."

ABB also offers a remote cloud service, in which data from different sites is also aggregated in remote service centers and used by subject-matter experts to provide other advanced services, consultancy and collaboration with third-party service providers such as OEMs. "This enables us to benchmark, compare performance at different sites and see which is doing better," added Pareschi. "Also, if a customer has a problem with a pump in the fleet, it can also get help from an ABB service engineer more easily. We're also proposing a subscription service that we periodically review."

Download the full report from ABB Customer World 2017

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