By Gunnar Zank, Global Product Manager, ABB
Continuous monitoring not only keeps production processes up and running, but gives you time and space to do other important tasks.
Reducing maintenance costs and preventing downtime in industrial processes is a constant priority for manufacturers. While some system providers are still in the initial phases of a digital transformation, there are already solutions available for electrical systems today.
In its simplest form, monitoring the condition of electrical equipment is a pre-emptive way to carry out maintenance. While there will always be a need for maintenance teams, the evolution of digitalisation and digital switchgear is shifting the focus. Today, it is all about using integrated solutions to provide actionable information that helps prevent downtime and ensure smooth operations within an industrial plant.
Using a simple analogy, it’s a bit like going to the gym regularly. The more you exercise, the more in tune you become with your body. You can sense when aches and pains might turn into something more debilitating and impact the amount of training you can do in the future. Now, add a smart watch to monitor and record your physical performance. The smart watch helps to identify and highlight areas for improvement with data that not only helps you avoid reaching pain levels but also increases your performance.
In the same way, condition monitoring is all about continuously carrying out checks – not hourly, daily or weekly – but constantly recording any changes at any time. This allows you to understand the equipment’s condition so that changes in its performance are identified before it becomes a major problem that causes a system failure. It also allows you to identify areas of underperformance that offers a possibility, for example, to expand the electrical system or reduce costs in equipment that may have been overrated.
When it comes to electrical distribution of energy, digital switchgear takes monitoring to a new level, using the information collected to analyze performance data like current levels, temperature, operating cycles and load levels in such a way that plant and maintenance managers can use it effectively to improve reliability and reduce maintenance costs. All this can be done without the need for maintenance personnel to conduct regular checks.
So, how does this work?
Traditional switchgear provides very little data or information and its maintenance is based on a time schedule that may affect plant process operation, as it may require shutdown and additional personnel to perform regular maintenance. This can lead to incredibly high annual maintenance costs, which for small to medium-sized electrical systems could reach US$100,000 per year.
Modern digital switchgear however gives greater visibility of not only current and voltage, but also power, power loss, temperatures, operating cycles and many other measured or calculated data too. It’s only when all these facts are recorded and analysed together in a solution such as ABB Ability™ Condition Monitoring for electrical systems, that plant operators can reap the total rewards and understand how the electrical system is truly performing and when and where maintenance is required.
If we think about the gym, when running on a treadmill you can monitor your heart rate, you can sense when your muscles are getting tired, and you know when to reduce your speed. In the same way that this ‘manual’ analysis of your condition takes place in the gym, it also takes place in traditional electrical systems. However, connect the smart watch with the treadmill and the training program gets adjusted based on actual measurements and calculations. The same is true with digitalisation of electrical systems with its integrated continual analysing process.
An online condition monitoring solution compares the correct data to previous trends and other relevant information to allow operators to optimise and reduce maintenance that in turn will have a positive effect on plant lifetime costs. While it is not possible to eliminate the switchgear maintenance entirely, it is possible to reduce switchgear operation and maintenance costs by ten to 30 percent, especially if a costly production shutdown can be avoided or delayed.
With predictive maintenance, plant operator and maintenance managers can now step away from simple threshold monitoring and time-based maintenance activities and let the digital systems do their work. Using digital technology in switchgear, such as ABB Ability™ solutions with on-site data collection and condition monitoring capabilities, the necessary visibility and knowledge it is possible to identify the “aches and pains” before they become an issue. It is a powerful new way to keep maintenance costs low and your operation healthy and in peak condition, allowing you to focus on other important tasks.
ABB Ability™ is ABB’s unified, cross-industry, digital offering, which enables customers to increase productivity and lower costs.
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