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Avoid downtimes, optimise energy consumption, and reduce maintenance costs: Predictive Maintenance promises great benefits to plant operators, based on regular monitoring of plant and machinery and analysis of the data obtained - in short, Condition Monitoring. Up to now, this has been a costly affair, economically viable only for large and expensive machines. For low-cost but very common components such as low-voltage motors, condition monitoring has been associated with excessive costs and expenditure.

At HANNOVER MESSE 2016, ABB presented a solution that will alter things. Tom Bertheau, ABB's Product Manager of Condition Monitoring for motor servicing, explains the key benefit: "The Smart Sensor is a combination of multiple sensors in a single cost-effective module that is very easy to install." The cost-effectiveness is achieved in two ways: "The Smart Sensor can be fitted very easily, both to new motors and retrofitted to motors that are already installed; and moreover, no cabling is required, either for power supply or for data transfer."

Low-voltage motors in the Internet of Things

The Smart Sensor system consists of two elements. Firstly, the sensor tag - a multi-sensor which captures not only conventional vibration data but also typical signals for rotating electrical machines such as magnetic field data. Thus the sensor tag provides data on operational parameters, such as vibrations, temperature or overloads, and determines the energy consumption with an accuracy of +/- 10 percent. The second element is a cloud-based software platform on ABB’s servers, which analyses the data, converts it into useable information and makes it available to terminal devices via a web-based client portal. This "Software as a Service" solution requires no further investment costs for a complex IT infrastructure.

In-depth plant monitoring with the Smart Sensor

The sensor tag can be fitted to a motor in just a few minutes, either in the factory or on motors that are already installed. All that is needed is to fix it mechanically to the motor, like a rating plate. "The sensor tag is equipped with a memory that can store captured data for about a month", explains Bertheau. "The data can be transmitted wirelessly from the sensor's memory, via smart-phone or via a gateway, to a cloud-based secure server. The machine operator can call up the operating parameters online."

This permits predictive maintenance of plant to a degree hitherto unattainable. "We had very positive feedback from the very first pilot applications," says Jonas Spoorendonk, ABB Germany's Local Business Unit Manager for Motors and Generators. "In particular this was due to the in-depth view of the plant. From an initial overview of the plant, you can drill down deeper into specific areas, even down to individual motors." This is a big step forward for a sector in which the maintenance routine has previously involved regular plant patrols and manual data capture.

New business models for maintenance

ABB's Smart Sensor solution will not only enable Condition Monitoring and Predictive Maintenance for low-voltage motors - the digitalization of such services also allows new business models. "For example, the plant operator can grant his service partner access to the data on his plant, so that the service partner can provide complete motor servicing. Because the data is stored in the Cloud, monitoring can be carried out from any location. For instance, a plant in China can be monitored by a service provider in India. The servicing itself, such as exchanging a defective motor, must of course still be carried out local to the plant", explains Bertheau. "Another business model could be that the service partner retrofits sensor tags to installed motors in order to be able to provide their services. OEMs could use the tags to obtain information from the motors and then integrate this into their overall solution, which includes monitoring of other plant components".