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Connected compressors

25 October, 2016

Smart Machines & Factories spoke to Stef Lievens, business line manager for Compressor Technique Service Operations at Atlas Copco Compressors UK about his company’s compressor data monitoring solution.

Being able to identify a problem, before it occurs, may not be life-saving for a machine as it may be for humans. Yet for a company, a potential full-scale equipment failure would have a considerable impact and cause serious disruptions in productivity and planning.

Condition monitoring is one of the most immediate applications of the IoT, as the combination of hardware and software enables real-time diagnostics and transmitting of information to the relevant workshop or maintenance manager both with immediate alerts and with a timeline of potential trends of performance changes.

The objective of such smart monitoring is to identify and solve performance or efficiency issues before they evolve into a full-scale equipment failure. Its benefits amount to considerable savings in energy and running costs, while optimising productivity and minimising downtime.

Stef Lievens, business line manager for Compressor Technique Service Operations at Atlas Copco Compressors UK explained how his company’s SmartLink technology offers remote monitoring of compressor installations through a centralised system: “It enables the identification of functional problems, both immediate and upcoming, even in a worldwide network of compressors, and often enables the company to alert its customers even before they are aware themselves.”

Two paths

The on-site servicing of compressor systems has traditionally followed two paths; the proactive route undertaken on a regulated basis, whereby users take out service contracts to ensure regular planned visits from a service technician, or alternatively taking appropriate action only when an unforeseen problem requires an immediate intervention. This latter scenario means the plant operator has to keep a continuous eye on running hours and performance parameters, calling for service when needed. If left too late there is an inherent risk of excessive energy consumption and possible mechanical breakdown.

“The maintenance schedule of a compressor depends on many factors”, Lievens explains: “We have to take into account the ambience temperature, the number of running hours, the state of the bearings, the age of the oil and other variables. With SmartLink we don’t have to rely on estimates, we collect direct data, which enables us to determine the ideal moment of the servicing”.

Data monitoring

SmartLink is a data monitoring programme developed by Atlas Copco for compressors that intelligently gathers, compares and analyses data to help compressed air users increase maintenance and service efficiency.

One of the purposes of this monitoring is to alert for existing and potential problems, which helps the customer to intervene with preventive maintenance and optimise uptime.

The technology also helps customers optimise their energy consumption. The energy efficiency of a compressor depends on how the installation is set up according to the needs of the production. The most common cause of energy waste, explains Lievens is through leaks which the customer is not aware of. SmartLink provides energy reports, which help customers review their settings.

He explains: “Often customers do not realise that the energy consumption at night or during weekends, is practically the same as during production. This is because the machines may not be shut down properly for example. We analyse the SmartLink data together with our customers in order to find the best options, and ensure that their installations are running always on the best energy efficient levels as possible”.

The SmartLink solution is divided into three options: service, uptime and energy. The service option enables the user to easily schedule maintenance visits as they have an overview of machine data and the time left before a service is due. The second option, uptime, allows the end user to be informed by email or SMS message if there is a problem with the compressed air production. Without this safeguard the user has to be alerted for warnings on the compressor system but even daily checkups do not offer 100% security. Based on the SmartLink information, the necessary actions can be taken to avoid the risk of a breakdown, and it is possible to visit the website at any time to see the actual warning/shutdown status of the machines as well as a history of previous notifications. The final option, energy, enables the continuous monitoring and analysis of the performance and energy efficiency of a compressor installation.

Remote condition monitoring

Remote condition monitoring is an example of IoT technology that is having an impact, however as Lievens highlights it is with the addition of control that the full potential of the IoT can be realised in the future.

One definition, of the IoT is that it ‘allows objects to be sensed and controlled remotely across existing network infrastructure, creating opportunities for more direct integration between the physical world and computer-based systems, and resulting in improved efficiency, accuracy and economic benefit’.

Lievens says vast volumes of data can be securely stored in the Cloud and analysed for patterns and trends in order to optimise future performance. The eventual goal is progression towards full remote or automated control, based on the machine-acquired data – and with the IoT evolving rapidly, that’s not too far off.

This, he explains, has all been made possible because processors have become more powerful, devices are becoming smarter, and mobile connectivity has become faster and affordable. The Internet of Things is benefiting the manufacturing and industrial world by enabling faster communication and enhanced plant automation.

As more devices become linked to the Internet, plant managers are able to see performance metrics and other crucial data in real time, keeping an eye on operations and communicating via smart phone, tablet or laptop from any location. Research suggests that globally, at the current pace of the technology take up, there could be 25 billion connected devices by the year 2020.

The IoT changes data into actionable information. It enables a constant stream of performance data to provide real-time insights on production processes. Big data provides an infrastructure for transparency in the manufacturing industry and acts as the input into predictive tools and preventive strategies, unravelling uncertainties such as inconsistent component performance and availability.

Predictive manufacturing, as an applicable approach toward near-zero downtime and transparency, requires vast amounts of data and advanced prediction tools for a systematic process of data into useful information.

A conceptual framework of predictive manufacturing begins with data acquisition that can be sourced via remote monitoring devices.

Industry 4.0

The culmination of these advances is fully embraced in the concept of Industry 4.0, which is about fully integrated industry − intelligent digital networking and integration of industrial systems and processes. The strategy focuses on creating cyber-physical systems, the communication technologies, software, sensors and processors that have the potential to communicate and interact with each other in an intelligent way to gain competitive edge. An essential component of this interactive process can be a remote monitoring programme such as that provided by SmartLink.

For further information please visit: www.atlascopco.co.uk

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