With analysis and appropriate action, a modern monitoring system can have a payback period measured in months.
by Michael Risse

The Internet of Things (IoT) is changing the way pumps and related systems are monitored and maintained. Wired and wireless sensors are being added to pumps, motors, pipelines and other process equipment. Data from these sensors is sent via wired or wireless plant networks, or the internet, to control and monitoring systems.

This data is used to improve automated real-time control and help plant operators make decisions regarding operation and maintenance. It is also sent to data analysis software, which plant personnel can leverage to improve efficiency and diagnose equipment problems.

The terms Internet of Things, big data and Industry 4.0 are now ubiquitous. Advances in sensors, networks and software are making it easier and cheaper to acquire, send, store and analyze data. No matter the terminology, the objective is the same: better insight sooner.


Sensors are the starting point in the data collection process. They are attached to the “things” in the IoT—pumps, valves and other assets—and the cost of implementation and use is dropping rapidly, making it cheaper to acquire more data. Plant personnel were once limited to 4-20 milliamp (mA), Highway Addressable Remote Transducer (HART) or fieldbus to connect these sensors to control and monitoring systems and software. Today, however, they can use many different types of wired and wireless data connection methods, often employing multiple networks simultaneously in a single plant.

These sensors and connections enable new data from new sources to be accumulated quickly and inexpensively. Data can be transmitted directly to control systems and process historians through plant networks. This data can be sent via the internet to databases in the cloud, where it can be accessed by any web-connected device.

This means that the opportunities of IoT can be realized with or without the internet. The important part is collecting and analyzing the data, not the method of data transmission or the location of the data storage.

Internet of ThingsFigure 1. The Internet of Things involves collecting data from pumps and process systems, transmitting it through wired or wireless methods, analyzing it with software, and making it available to engineers via smartphones, tablets and computers (Courtesy of Seeq)

Instrumentation & IoT

Instrumentation and pump analysis software are allowing process plants to monitor pumps and detect problems long before a pump fails and shuts down a process. As recently as a few years ago, the expense of installing a dedicated online monitoring system kept these tools from being used on anything except the most critical pumps.

A wired system requires supporting infrastructure such as cables, power supplies, conduit, termination boxes and safety measures when used in hazardous areas. But because of the relative ease of adding online pump condition monitoring using wireless sensor technology, a plant can now incorporate online monitoring for all of its important pumps (see Figure 2).

Wireless transmittersFigure 2. Wireless transmitters eliminate the need for cables, conduit, power supplies and safety devices. This makes it easier and less expensive to acquire data from pumping systems. (Courtesy of Emerson Process Management)

Battery-powered transmitters require no signal or power wiring infrastructure, so they can be installed in locations far away from a process unit’s wired signal termination points. They also can operate safely for years in hazardous and other areas. Installation is simple—a typical wireless transmitter can be installed, configured and commissioned in a few hours, rather than the days or even weeks needed for its wired equivalent.

A pump monitoring system gathers data on temperature, pressure, level and other variables in real time and transmits it through a wireless mesh network to a gateway, which then sends it to the control room via an intranet, satellite or similar link. There, pump monitoring software analyzes data from dozens or hundreds of pumps and alerts operators when it finds potential problems. The IoT allows this technology to handle the huge amount of data and the storage and transmission of this information.

A complete pump health monitoring system can pay for itself in a matter of months. At one 250,000-barrels- per-day refinery, for example, pump monitoring systems were installed on 80 pumps throughout the complex. The annual savings was more than $1.2 million after implementation of the pump monitoring solution, resulting in a payback period of less than six months.

Wireless instrumentation makes it possible to monitor a wide variety of process systems that previously were too difficult or too expensive to track using wired components such as 4-20mA or fieldbus devices.

Data Delivers Value

Monitoring pumps and related equipment using IoT principles lowers costs by preventing unplanned downtime, which increases asset utilization and improves production planning. A facility can remotely monitor an asset without having to send an employee to each piece of equipment for data collection. In addition, only the right pumps and other assets are serviced based on predictive rather than planned or reactive maintenance.

IoT can also enable collaboration to increase plant expertise through shared asset performance insights. Specialty equipment manufacturers, for example, analyze their remote equipment via the internet and the cloud, and specialty software vendors can analyze the efficiency of an entire plant or even an entire enterprise.