In the times of Siri and Alexa, it seems everything is constantly being monitored for commands or to provide input and solutions to help optimize the experience. We see it all over in the everyday world. For example, my car is constantly monitoring a myriad of conditions via sensors, such as tire pressure, water temperature, oil pressure, and even more advanced parameters such as valve timing and climate control.
Many of these features have been around for a couple decades while some were introduced more recently. But they have all become pretty much standard on all car models. The benefits of these features have proven themselves in terms of safety, reliability, and convenience.
How did we evolve to this level of condition monitoring? And how does it apply to manufacturing?
Condition Monitoring In Manufacturing
I can vividly recall when I first started to drive, my dad harping on me to check the oil level, and make sure the tires are aired up properly. It was really just basic equipment care. With manufacturing, this manifested itself in what we now know as TPM or Total Productive Manufacturing, and more specifically tools such as CLAIR (Clean, Lubricate, Adjust, Inspect, Repair/Replace), to apply the same principles for basic care for the manufacturing process.
These methods for basic condition monitoring are key in early detection of defects to prevent unplanned failures. It's pretty widely recognized that it's cheaper to fix it if it is planned versus waiting for it to break. If you have ever run out of gas, or had a blowout due to a worn tire, you know what I mean. Even with AAA, it's still going to throw a major wrench into your road trip plans or your ability to meet a customer order on time.
Both automobiles and manufacturing equipment have become increasingly more Hi-Tech, and in turn become less serviceable by the average Joe in their shop. On some automobiles, for example, you have to practically pull the engine to replace the oil filter. Manufacturing has also followed suit by building automation and incredible high speed processes that often make even the most basic maintenance a more specialized task. That's not to say that if you see an oil leak under the machine or car, you shouldn't investigate or get it serviced.
The Next Evolution of Condition Monitoring
So you may be thinking with everything going so Hi-Tech, what is the next evolution of condition monitoring. For manufacturing, it comes in the form of sensors. The IoT space is full of sensors capable of monitoring nearly every aspect of a manufacturing process.
- Temperature / Thermography
- Flow / Pressure
- Vision Systems
- Sound / Ultrasonic
These are just a few of the more popular conditions commonly monitored in manufacturing. Let's dig a bit deeper into these to really capture the value and benefits from each.
Temperature - There are many methods of capturing temperature from Thermographic Cameras, Thermocouples, to basic Thermostats on a wall monitoring the environment of a room. These all can provide critical data to ensure your process stays at the optimal temperature to produce a quality product. Often temperature is used to measure supporting assets such as pumps and motors, as failure can often be very costly and sometimes lead to major downtime events.
Flow - Flow meters are often used to monitor the volume of typically liquid or air required to operate the facility or asset. High speed equipment is now engineered so precisely that often the air pressure required to support the process needs to not only be consistent in its pressure but also in volume as well.
Vibration - This one falls into the common bucket of PDM (Product Data Management) and other Predictive maintenance tools and is often leveraged in rotating equipment, such as motors, to identify early failures. Vibration is easy to feel if you have ever driven a car with a tire out of balance. It can be easily felt as it resonates through the steering wheel. The same thing happens in manufacturing. Vibration analysis sensors allow you to remotely monitor these parameters. Remote monitoring allows you to sleep at night, which many of us have struggled to do when we haven't been able to physically enter our plants. Not only does this allow you to sleep at night, it allows you to sleep better, knowing that if a problem arises, it can notify you and escalate the issue to systems like L2L's CloudDispatch for resolution.
Vision Systems - This is another form of condition monitoring typically used to ensure the product meets the specifications as well as to ensure all the parts and pieces are in the correct place. Vision systems have revolutionized the ability to not pass defects downstream by building processes in-stream to reject and quarantine anything that doesn't meet the highest standards as defined. Vision systems have also reduced some of the more mundane inspection jobs allowing workers to focus on more value added activities.
Sound / Ultrasonic - Last, but not least, ultrasonic tools provide another condition monitoring method often utilized in the pneumatic systems of facilities to identify leaks. It has other applications as well, but this is the most common method to help stabilize the air system delivery. This is also an effective cost savings approach.
There are also many more condition monitoring methods and sensors used in manufacturing than those listed above.
Human or Artificial Intelligence in Condition Monitoring?
So, will these solutions ever completely take the place of the operator or human element of condition monitoring? Personally, I don't think so. Sure, the car can tell me that my right front tire dropped 1 PSI, but it's unlikely that auto manufacturers will put a vision system in the wheel wells to see if you have a nail in your tire. I'm sure they could, but the cost often outweighs the benefit to the consumer or process. The human being with our keen senses will continue to be a key part in parallel with the technology I've outlined above.
From our experience, the technology is leveraged most often in areas where there is no operator present, such as facilities and support equipment.
At L2L, we recommend a dual pronged approach to condition monitoring. We believe in optimizing technology as well as the human element based on past data and risk assessment. This has proven to allow customers to achieve world class operational efficiencies while leveraging emerging technologies in areas that support the investment.
For more information about how to enhance condition monitoring in your plant, contact us by clicking here for a free demo.