ABB’s Motors and Generators is on a mission to make its motors past and present not just IoT capable, but IoT operational by offering an easy to install retrofittable sensor known as the ABB Ability Smart Sensor. But, how exactly is this different from the idea of condition monitoring and predictive maintenance?
Jonas Spoorendonk, global product manager of the smart sensor, explains: “This is not doing anything that couldn’t be done before. It’s just doing it cheaper, better and making it simpler to install.
“This sensor works with any old and new motor, large or small motor, variable or constant motor. It acts like an industrial Fitbit that you put on an electric motor. We’re able to take measurements with cheap and simple equipment, and calculate what that means for the health of the motor.”
Broadly speaking, the smart sensor is about optimising the operation of motors, monitoring efficiencies and minimising the risk of unplanned and unexpected downtime.
The wireless sensor is fitted via an adhesive putty that is stuffed between two heat vanes on a motor’s housing, upon which a wedged shaped bracket is inserted. Once in place, the sensor simply attaches to the bracket and can be turned on. It can be installed, up and running within 15 minutes.
Once attached, the sensor measures vibration, temperature and the motor’s magnetic field, making measurements once an hour for its design life of five years – more or less frequent measurements are possible though this correspondingly affects battery life.
That data is sent via Bluetooth to the cloud, where a number of parameters such as speed or energy consumption are calculated and stored for easy graphical comparison in a smart phone app or web portal.
Only raw data is stored in the sensor itself, meaning that the app and cloud are needed to analyse the data and calculate the various attributes and provide analytic insight such as a gradual decline in efficiency that might point to the need for a service or a vibration that indicates a looming failure.
“If you have an engineer walking around a factory doing weekly condition monitoring checks, for example, in between his checks he doesn’t know what happens,” says Spoorendonk. “But now you can have a measurement every hour and a trend curve showing historic data that you can access via the app. And you can see how a trend is developing and if there is anything odd happening.
“This is not replacing the maintenance professional, but it is doing things to make them more efficient, gain better insight and allow early warning into future problems.”
Engineers just need to get within a few metres and connect via a smartphone or tablet to the sensor to pick up the data. Many people are using the sensor as an early warning system with safety, downtime reductions and energy saving noted as the typical benefits.
“If you shift from reactive to proactive maintenance,” says Spoorendonk, “you can reduce maintenance by as much as 70%, extend motor lifetime by as much as 30% and cut energy consumption by up to 10%.”
The sensors work under a ‘traffic light system’, so green is operating normally, amber indicates there could be a problem, and red means there is a problem.
“Early warning systems help you mitigate risk,” says Spoorendonk. “Imagine having a flight recorder on equipment.
“We put this on motors and we can also put it on pumps. We can even monitor the transportation during delivery. If you have a warranty case, it is there as a flight recorder. Was it dropped, for example, during delivery? You can just pull out that data.”
ABB is selling the ABB Ability Smart Sensor as a retrofit kit for around £300, which buys a sensor, the pieces needed to mount it on your existing motor and a two-year subscription to ABB’s web portal and smartphone app that provides the analytics and meaningful insight. After two years, users have the option to extend subscription to the app and web portal.
However, one question this does throw up is a common worry for those doing more digitally, who owns the data? It’s an IoT minefield but ABB want to keep its solution as simple as possible.
“You buy the sensor and receive it,” says Spoorendonk. “When you receive equipment, it is shipped in flight mode. You activate it and commission it on the motor if it’s a retrofit, for example. In that moment, the smart sensor is only sharing data with you. You have the control. You then decide who to share that with.
“If you are not the end user, I’d imagine the end user will have an opinion on that as well. And they might want visibility of that data too. Maybe they want to share the data with us so we can help, but it is up to you what you share and with who.”
Security and storage
The data is stored on the ABB Ability cloud, which in turn is based on Microsoft Azure. Then, the communication between the sensor and the phone is encrypted and the communication between the phone and the cloud is the same. The cyber security, according to ABB, is as good as it gets.
“The scalability is nice here,” says Spoorendonk. “You don’t need to tear down a factory and rebuild it. You can get IoT and start with just one motor. And if you like it add five more. Then add 50 more, or 500, but at some point it becomes cumbersome to go around with a mobile phone and collect data from each individual sensor so you then get a gateway or router hanging on the wall with Bluetooth. Then you don’t need to collect it yourself.”