The complexity of plants is both a curse and a blessing, but above all a constant challenge: if the failure of part A leads to the downtime of an entire plant today, part B can also lead to a downtime tomorrow. And all this is unplanned and above all unpredictable? No, of course not. The solution is obvious - but it is not: install enough sensors in the plant and there will be no more failures. It is a little more creative...
The solution is a combination of predictive maintenance, condition monitoring and technical audits. Why? All components of a machine fulfil a function, otherwise they would not be part of the system. Thus, each of these components has the potential to lead to a standstill of the entire plant. So depending on where a component is installed, how critical the component is to the function of the plant and how likely a failure is, you need a way to determine whether the component is still OK and, more importantly, for how long. When selecting a monitoring method, the decisive criteria are simply cost, benefit and flexibility of use. A combination of the three options mentioned above is the best choice - seen over the entire system.
Concrete examples from everyday life
Condition monitoring: Permanently installed sensors are already a much-used standard today. However, the condition of certain components can sometimes also be assessed with the naked eye. Example: filters. If they are dirty and thus in an obviously poor condition, this can be easily detected with regular "fitness checks" by maintenance or production personnel. So there is no need to install a permanent sensor.
Technical audits: However, the condition of many components cannot be determined with the naked eye. In these cases, more technology and experienced auditors are needed. For example, micro-cracks in tanks can be detected with ultrasound even before the crack leads to an impairment of the function. Technical audits can also help in checking the infrastructure. The electrical infrastructure (including that of the machine itself) can be checked by experienced technical auditors using thermal imaging cameras, for example. In this way, unplanned failures of the electronics can be prevented.
Predictive maintenance: By using these technologies, the remaining service life of important plant components can be determined. This means that the replacement of these parts can be planned very precisely: An unplanned failure is thus reliably prevented in good time before a failure occurs. Replacing too early saves budget. Roller bearings, for example, are such frequently installed, important components for which monitoring technology based on ultrasound and artificial intelligence is already available. By means of mobile and intelligent measuring devices, their remaining service life is determined without the installation of permanent sensors - this is effective and efficient.
It is obvious that an intelligent combination of all three monitoring and control options is the ideal case. So why hesitate? The smooth operation of a plant under these conditions leads to predictable processes and - you save a lot of money. So it's worth thinking about it.
Author: DI Mag. Markus Loinig