Sensor technology and the Internet of Things

Paul Boughton

The Industrial Internet of Things is presenting process companies with ever more data about their processes. The challenge is to make the most of modern smart metering solutions, while extracting the genuinely useful plant information

As sensor technology becomes simpler, more diverse, easier to implement and more effective to deploy because of wireless technology, a vast amount of extra information is becoming available to plant operators. Known as the Industrial Internet of Things (IIOT) by some companies – and pervasive sensing by others - the challenge is how to handle this information in a way that will improve the entire lifecycle of an industrial plant. Big data analytics is the key here, enabling process companies to extract valuable business and operational information from all this smart data in a fast, secure way.

The strategy pursued by Emerson Process Management, one of the companies that prefers to use the ‘pervasive sensing’ description, combines its leadership in sensor and wireless technologies for industrial process facilities with its application expertise and data analytics to provide better and actionable data that extends beyond traditional process controls to other functions, such as site safety and energy management.

To this end it has just opened a new US$10 million (€9.2 million) Pervasive Sensing Centre of Excellence in Singapore to help industrial producers operate more efficiently, safely, reliably and profitably. It is the company’s first such centre.

Emerson will be working with the Singapore Economic Development Board (EDB) to provide pervasive sensing pilot projects, training and testing capabilities for companies, and to provide educational opportunities for college students, with an end objective of helping industrial companies become more energy efficient.

Explaining the rationale behind the company’s investment, Sabee Mitra, president of Emerson Process Management Asia pacific, said, “The process industries often don’t have the resources or expertise to adopt new technologies that are critical to keeping their plants up and running. Our Centre will create solutions that will help customers globally address these challenges and operate more efficiently and profitably.”

On the smart technology front, the company’s latest addition is an update to its AMS Suite: Machinery Health Manager software. The new CSI 6500 protection system communicates additional prediction data to allow users to make real-time decisions on operating their critical assets.

What’s new here is that users receive periodic parameter trends and spectrum/waveform data delivered at specific intervals. This data is particularly useful for determining the health of sleeve bearings on turbo machinery. This automated process for acquiring prediction data eliminates the need to connect to buffered outputs on the protection system and reduces the risk of inadvertently causing a machine trip.

In addition, waveform data from the CSI 6500 is now incorporated onto the circular polar plots available in AMS Machinery Manager v5.61, facilitating diagnosis of developing valve faults in reciprocating compressors.

AMS Machinery Manager integrates data from route-based, online, and wireless vibration solutions as well as third-party oil and infrared analysis data to provide a complete picture of machinery health.

ABB is another company focused on the diagnostic aspect of smart metering technology with the launch of a new package of remote services for gearless mill drives (GMDs). GMDbeat and GMDfit anticipate the behaviour of grinding assets – analysing the past and the present to predict the future by utilising system health checks, on-demand remote support and condition monitoring.

In the case of a critical machine condition a notification is still sent to ABB and the customer’s maintenance team. The incident is handled as a prioritised SupportLine case, even if no actual system failure occurs. So the two modules complement each other to ensure system availability and increase the overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) of the GMD system.

New from Honeywell Process Solution is a SmartLine guided wave radar level transmitter that increases the capabilities of smart field products – and shows how much more data can be gleaned from what has been traditionally regarded as a fairly basic field instrument. The latest addition to the company’s SmartLine industrial transmitter family, the new device can measure the level and volume of liquids inside processing tanks up to 160 feet in height.

In an example of the power of the latest smart metering solutions, the transmitter also includes the online Application Validation Tool. This allows customers to input technical data about their specific process tank and to validate that the correct level transmitter application is delivered to the site ready to install out of the box. This in turn helps facilities to manage costs by reducing inventory, speeding start-up and increasing user confidence that the correct sensor is being used in a particular application.

Meanwhile Rockwell Automation’s focus is on making it easier for users to access their plant performance metrics and data analytics on digital devices. VantagePoint mobile, part of the new FactoryTalk VantagePoint EMI v6.0 software, enables users to create displays and interact with data across any HTML5-compliant browser and mobile platforms, such as iOS and Android.

Users can now easily log in to the VantagePoint system and automatically view Web-based KPI content that is responsive to the device they are using – from smartphones to tablets to PCs. This is a significant change from the conventional, costly and time-consuming approaches that enable desktop or mobile access to manufacturing data. No user-specific configurations created by network administrators or IT staff are required, enabling manufacturers to quickly on-board more users and deliver value to increase productivity.

Sense of urgency drives industrial IOT strategy

Some estimates suggest that worldwide spending on the industrial internet – the combination of big data analytics with the internet of things – could top $500 billion (€461 billion) by 2020. As such it is producing huge opportunities for all companies in the process sector.

However, one of the most striking findings in Accenture’s Industrial Internet Insights Report for 2015 is the sense of urgency felt by respondents in implementing Industrial Internet solutions.

This is driven in part by the impact being felt at an industry level as well as the competitor level. For example, 84% of those surveyed indicated that the use of big data analytics ‘has the power to shift the competitive landscape for my industry’ within just the next year. 87% believe it will have that power within three years. 89% say that companies that do not adopt a big data analytics strategy in the next year risk losing market share and momentum.

Executives are looking over their shoulders at competitors as well, says the report. 74% said that their main competitors are leveraging big data analytics proficiencies to differentiate their capabilities with clients, investors and the media.

There is risk in not taking action now, according to surveyed executives. Asked to name their top two fears if they are unable to implement a big data strategy in the next few years, the number one answer was, “Our competitors will gain market share at our expense.”

The second most common answer was concern that investors will lose confidence in their company’s ability to grow.

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