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Sensor monitors health of electrical systems

April 1, 2019
Researchers develop sensor to avoid hazardous electrical failures, test on Coast Guard cutter

The monitoring system provides an easy-to-read display to show crew members the condition of the various electrical devices being monitored. As long as the needle stays in the green area, the device is operating normally, but if it goes to the orange or red segments, it means there’s an issue that needs to be checked. Source: The researchers and MIT. 

Knowing when a system is going to fail before it does has made preventive maintenance strategies that much better at avoiding hazardous situations. As the Internet of Things (Iot) proliferates into every part of work and life, sensors are monitoring nearly every aspect of any process and providing actionable information.

With this in mind, researchers at MIT looked at yet another area to be monitored and developed a sensor to oversee all electric devices within a small facility and relay information about the system’s status via a graphic display. Their hope is to help facilities avoid electrical hazards and unplanned downtime.

The sensor attaches to the outside of an electrical wire, without splicing or cutting of wires, and monitors the flow of current in the adjacent wire. It detects the “signatures” of each piece of equipment in the circuit by analyzing fluctuations in voltage and current, according to an article from the MIT News office titled “Energy monitor can find electrical failures before they happen,” by David L. Chandler.

Additionally, it can perform computation and analysis tasks locally, does not require an Internet connection, and can be used to identify efficiency improvements, Chandler reports. The sensor is monitored via non-intrusive load monitoring (NILM) graphic display dashboards.

The team tested the sensor on the Coast Guard’s USCGC Spencer cutter in Boston, where it detected a motor with burned-out wiring, which had the potential to start a fire, Chandler reports. A single sensor tracked about 20 motors and devices onboard the cutter, and detected a power anomaly drawn by the diesel engines’ jacket water heater. When crewmen went to check the heater, they found severe corrosion and broken insulation clearly visible, he adds.

In March, IEEE Transactions on Industrial Informatics published a paper about the research by MIT professor of electrical engineering Steven Leeb, recent graduate Andre Aboulian, and seven others at MIT, the U.S. Coast Guard, and the U.S. Naval Academy. A second paper will be published this month in Marine Technology.

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