Can the IoT Power Motor Health and Efficiency?

by | Apr 18, 2016

motorsABB Motors and Generators’ Tom Bertheau describes smart sensor platforms that the company is deploying quite simply: They are, he said, “fitbits for motors.”

The parallel to fitbits — wearable devices that monitor the amount of energy expended during exercise or daily activities — seems apt. Both are made possible by the Internet of Things (IoT), which has the potential to impact a virtually endless list of issues. Motors are one of them. By monitoring motor performance, ABB says it can do two things: It can assess the health of the device – and step in before a problem causes a stoppage – and better manage the energy they are using. It also claims that the sensors can be installed in minutes to already deployed motors and slapped onto new equipment.

The idea is to insert intelligence where it did not exist before, Bertheau said. “In the end what we are doing with this solution is converting an historically quite dumb piece of equipment — a rotating machine consisting of steel, a little bit of insulation and a little bit of copper – and transforming it to today’s smart world by enabling it to talk by attaching this piece of equipment and connecting to IoT services and people [who manage the systems].”

The company claims that the new platform will save organizations 10 percent on energy, increase motor life by 30 percent and cut unplanned down time by 70 percent. There is no way to validate these estimates, however.

Data produced by the sensors data can be accessed in a couple of ways. The most simple – and the one that is likely to be used by smaller companies – is simply through a smartphone app. Android and iOS versions will be available. Bigger companies, Bertheau said, will install a gateway in the facility that aggregates data from all the motors equipped with sensors. That data can be accessed in the cloud. It will can be used by building management systems and energy management systems via application programming interfaces (APIs) that can interconnect disparate databases and applications.

The sensors provide rigorous oversight on two levels, Bertheau said. “We differentiate between operating parameters including energy consumption, loading of the motors, operating surface temperatures, frequencies and RPMs,” Bertheau said. “A second set of parameters looks at the health of the device: Do I have problems with the rotor? Do I have an air gap eccentricity problem with the rotor or the shaft? Do I have a problem with the cooling? Do I problem with vibration?” Bertheau said that information on nascent problems can lead the company to schedule repairs at the best time and avoid downtime caused by equipment failure.

ABB has performed alpha tests in Europe on motors controlled under International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) standards and currently is running three beta tests featuring National Electrical Manufacturers’ Association (NEMA) standards that are common in the United States. The three 20-motor tests are in the food and beverage industry. Bertheau would not provide further details.

The plan is to introduce the product later this year. There will be versions for pre-installation in the factory and retrofits for motors already in the field, Bertheau said. Installation in the field consists simply of attaching the sensor to the side of the motor and, he said, takes mere minutes.

The IoT often is seen as a way to make procedures that already are done flow a bit easier. That’s so: But is offers benefits that aren’t generally available in a non-IoT world. The sensors from ABB may be an example of that. Bertheau said that the constant flow of data can help a company plan for the future. In some cases, he said, a motor is undersized for the job it is given. This raises the possibility that it will experience more problems and that its lifespan will be shorter.

Over time, data revealing what is happening in both cases – motors that are too weak and motors that are too strong – can help the organization save money.

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