Modern continuous monitoring technologies are streamlining maintenance programs and improving plant operations.

While revolutionary technology changes have transformed the world of health care, entertainment and retail, the industrial marketplace has also been impacted by the digital era. The Internet of Things (IoT) is a hot topic most people have heard of—but what does it actually mean?

Image 1. Machine health monitor app screen shows the health of the pumps in the background.Image 1. Machine health monitor app screen shows the health of the pumps in the background. (Images courtesy of ITT PRO Services)

In industry, the IoT concept is commonly referred to as the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). This technological overhaul has created innovative technologies to enhance and reshape industrial processes, offering longer equipment life, increased return on investment and improved safety on the plant floor. Much like a health monitoring device that sits on a person's wrist, detecting irregular heart rates, sleeping patterns and other health concerns, equipment health monitoring systems can alert users about the health of their machines.

Now, plant managers and employees can be proactive about signs of equipment failure instead of surprised when equipment breaks unexpectedly. They can gather data on equipment performance before it causes downtime, incurs extra costs or affects employee safety.

These monitoring systems are specifically shaping the future of the pump industry. The IIoT has brought innovative capabilities such as proactive pump maintenance, reduced downtime and costs, and detailed analytics—a phenomenon also known as smart pumping.

What Is Smart Pumping?

For decades, the pump industry has been slowly converting from taking a reactive approach to pump and equipment failures to embracing a proactive strategy to dealing with detectable problems. Smart pumping and the IIoT are speeding that transition. Unlike conventional pumping systems that require manual maintenance and checkups on pump performance, smart pumping uses computer technology and sensors to operate, control and protect pumps and their systems. Smart pumping technology offers early detection and real-time diagnostic processes to troubleshoot equipment failures and unusual operating conditions.

Common causes of equipment failure include continuous operation below minimum flow; dry-running caused primarily by closed suction valves; insufficient net positive suction head available (NPSHA) causing cavitation; and heat buildup and subsequent liquid vaporization resulting from a closed discharge valve. Smart pumping systems and monitoring technologies can protect against and offer early warning signs for these and other conditions.

This modern system tracks any changes in equipment health without manual intervention. By tracking vibration levels, temperature, run-time hours and battery life, these predictive maintenance devices provide real-time updates about equipment health and collect data that plant managers can use for the future.

As most industry professionals are aware, excessive vibration can quickly cause wear and decrease pump equipment life. If a breakdown occurs as a result of improper operating conditions, plant managers will have a continuous record of high vibration or temperature levels and will be able to examine why the breakdown occurred. This shift in the industry has significantly reduced pump operating costs and life-cycle costs. Predictive maintenance programs can reduce overall maintenance costs by up to 30 percent and eliminate breakdowns by 70 percent.

When most companies manage hundreds and sometimes thousands of machines, effectively collecting and analyzing data can be difficult. This challenge can limit the ability of plant operators to monitor their equipment continuously and in real time, causing a reactive approach to equipment monitoring.

Using a proactive approach, on the other hand, significantly reduces downtime, extraneous costs and safety concerns in any pump-operating facility, no matter the amount of equipment. In the past, the number and types of machines that were continuously or periodically monitored were limited. In a smaller organization where people wear multiple hats, the proactive approach of monitoring is ideal because it can quickly be deployed to as many machines as necessary. Self-diagnostic features that detect pump failures give users the time to schedule maintenance and prioritize a problematic piece of equipment before a breakdown or the next visit from a pump specialist.

Make the Data Meaningful

As aspects of smart pumping, such as sensor technology, become more advanced and economized, multiple sensors are being incorporated into predictive maintenance devices.

Image 2. Machine health monitor installed on a pump Image 2. Machine health monitor installed on a pump

As an example, consider the advances in technology for the personal health industry. Traditionally, health monitoring equipment that offers detailed diagnostic capabilities has not been portable or capable of continuous monitoring. The IoT has brought new wearable medical technologies that can continuously track heart and body health, alerting users of a problem before it is too late.

To illustrate, a doctor may check a patient's blood pressure once a year at an annual physical. These checkups will indicate if the patient's blood pressure has gone up or down since the last visit. But it cannot tell how that person's blood pressure reacts to major impactful moments, such as stress at work or personal challenges. Checking blood pressure once a year can reveal if a major problem is present, but it cannot point to the hidden damages that could be happening throughout the day or week.

Much like the personal health industry, plant managers can use smart pumping and the IoT to aid in equipment health maintenance. Typically, every four to eight weeks, a contracted vibration analyst will gather a detailed resolution reading of a plant's equipment, but this leaves a gap in equipment monitoring. These checks can generally tell when something is beginning to go wrong or is wrong at the moment, but they do not offer a continuous record of performance. With these new and innovative pump monitoring devices, plant managers can perform simple, daily equipment checks and stay informed about their machine health between checkups from a specialist.

This evolution is not measured by how many sensors a plant can package in a single device but by how intuitive, meaningful and actionable the data is. Monitoring technology can offer records of performance curves, technical data and bill of materials. If and when an equipment failure occurs, a plant manager can evaluate the data tracked through a monitoring device, look at the time of failure and determine the root cause of the problem. Using these data trends long term can enable users to prioritize pieces of equipment and call a specialist when the equipment health monitor alerts of an issue.

What Does the Future Hold?

By making operations safer, faster and more efficient, data trends taken from smart pumping systems can be used for further industry growth. As the IoT expands in every industry, a clear shift in the way businesses are transacted and services are provided will occur. From streaming music to making travel reservations online to arranging a ride through an app, many industries are shifting to a mobile user experience. As these technologies develop, the pump industry must recognize a shift in the traditional service model and rise to these technological advances.

Any successful maintenance program requires several layers of support, including top-level management, reliability, maintenance, engineering and operations.

As the industry begins to experience a large turnover of highly skilled and knowledgeable talent, the IoT can help fill the skills gap created by personnel leaving the plant.

Intuitive, actionable information from equipment health monitors can be used to help buffer the influx of workers who may not know the industry as well as seasoned professionals. The pump industry can leverage this emerging technology to ease that transition. With more time available after streamlining inspection and maintenance practices, industrial plants can incorporate more innovative pumping solutions to move the industry even further forward.

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