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What is the future for connected compressors?

What is the future for connected compressors?

Anyone who has ever been stranded at the roadside with a stationary car would have to reluctantly acknowledge that a proactive maintenance plan is always better than a reactive remedy. However, finding the time and resources for regular servicing and health checks is not always simple. For production managers in an industrial environment, the dilemma is particularly acute, since the consequences of critical machinery failure not only include the time and cost associated with repairs but the grave prospect of production downtime.

Could the burgeoning Internet of Things (IoT) provide an answer? The IoT, which aims to add intelligence and connectivity to almost any device or machine, is envisioned by many as a transformative force for change in the manufacturing world, from the introduction of advanced robots in the workplace to smart components that communicate their own assembly instructions to the production line. This growing trend is reflected by the latest findings of the EEF, which predicts that manufacturing companies are planning to invest more in internet connected capital equipment over the next five years1.

The potential impact of IoT technology upon manufacturing in the future continues to be debated. However, one of the most immediate applications of the IoT is in the field of condition monitoring, where a combination of hardware and software is capable of conducting real-time diagnostics and transmitting findings to the relevant workshop or maintenance manager, either as an immediate alert or a timeline of performance trends that may indicate longer-term changes.

The objective of such smart monitoring is to identify and solve performance or efficiency issues before they evolve into a full-scale equipment failure.

In addition to supporting preventative maintenance, this stream of technology is helping plant managers optimise productivity and keep running costs down. Given such valuable benefits, it is little wonder that the onset of smart monitoring is reaching every corner of manufacturing practice, and the compressor room is no exception.

Remote monitoring of compressor and vacuum pump performance, with a system such as Atlas Copco’s SmartLink, enables functional problems to be identified in real-time and resolved swiftly to avoid lost or reduced productivity, to remedy poor performance and to maximise energy efficiency.

The on-site servicing of compressor systems has traditionally followed two paths; the proactive route undertaken on a regulated basis, whereby users take out service contracts to ensure regular planned visits from a service technician, or alternatively taking appropriate action only when an unforeseen problem requires an immediate intervention. This latter scenario means the plant operator has to keep a continuous eye on running hours and performance parameters, calling for service when needed. If left too late there is an inherent risk of excessive energy consumption and possible mechanical breakdown.

Offering an answer to this, SmartLink is a data monitoring programme for compressors that intelligently gathers, compares and analyses data to help compressed air users increase maintenance and service efficiency.

Making smart use of connectivity, data monitoring and business intelligence, SmartLink helps customers get a better view of their maintenance needs, maintain production uptime and improve their operating costs, wherever possible, by minimising energy consumption.

SmartLink works by monitoring indicators such as specific energy and compressed air pressure calculations so that immediate improvements can be made when needed. The results can then be used for energy monitoring procedures.

By combining the hardware monitoring unit with a customisable data monitoring programme, data is gathered, compared, and analysed; and, when required, warnings are sent out in order to prevent downtime and to allow local service providers to plan and prepare their interventions.

The SmartLink solution is divided into three options: Service, Uptime and Energy. SmartLink Service enables the user to easily schedule maintenance visits as they have an overview of machine data and the time left before a service is due. The second option, SmartLink Uptime allows the end user to be informed by email or SMS message if there is a problem with the compressed air production. Without this safeguard the user has to be alert for warnings on the compressor system but even daily checkups do not offer 100 per cent security. Based on the SmartLink information, the necessary actions can be taken to avoid the risk of a breakdown ? and it is possible to visit the website at any time to see the actual warning/shutdown status of the machines as well as a history of previous notifications. Finally, SmartLink Energy enables the continuous monitoring and analysis of the performance and energy efficiency of a compressor installation.

Remote condition monitoring is an example of fledgling IoT technology that is already having an impact. However, it is with the addition of control that the full potential of the IoT can be realised in the future.

One definition of the IoT is that it ╘allows objects to be sensed and controlled remotely across existing network infrastructure, creating opportunities for more direct integration between the physical world and computer-based systems, and resulting in improved efficiency, accuracy and economic benefit’.

Vast volumes of data can be securely stored in the Cloud and analysed for patterns and trends in order to optimise future performance. The eventual goal is progression towards full remote or automated control, based on the machine-acquired data - and with the IoT evolving rapidly, that’s not too far off.

This has all been made possible because processors have become more powerful, devices are becoming smarter, and mobile connectivity has become faster and affordable. The Internet of Things is benefiting the manufacturing and industrial world by enabling faster communication and enhanced plant automation.

As more devices become linked to the Internet, plant managers are able to see performance metrics and other crucial data in real time, keeping an eye on operations and communicating via smart phone, tablet or laptop from any location. Research suggests that globally, at the current pace of the technology take up, there could be 25 billion connected devices by the year 2020.

The IoT changes data into actionable information. It enables a constant stream of performance data to provide real-time insights on production processes. Big data provides an infrastructure for transparency in the manufacturing industry and acts as the input into predictive tools and preventive strategies, unravelling uncertainties such as inconsistent component performance and availability.

Predictive manufacturing, as an applicable approach toward near-zero downtime and transparency, requires vast amounts of data and advanced prediction tools for a systematic process of data into useful information.

A conceptual framework of predictive manufacturing begins with data acquisition that can be sourced via remote monitoring devices.

The culmination of these advances is fully embraced in the concept of Industry 4.0. Originating as an initiative of the German government to enhance manufacturing efficiency and flexibility by computerising traditional industries and processes, its ultimate goal and true potential is to transform factories from cost centres to profitable innovation centres, shifting from mass production to customised products.

Industry 4.0 is about fully integrated industry ? intelligent digital networking and integration of industrial systems and processes. The strategy focuses on creating cyber-physical systems, the communication technologies, software, sensors and processors that have the potential to communicate and interact with each other in an intelligent way to gain competitive edge. An essential component of this interactive process can be a remote monitoring programme such as that provided by SmartLink.

Looking to the future, there are greater opportunities for the IoT to enhance best practice in compressed air operations.

Remote monitoring, as a component of the larger IoT trend, provides the gateway to integrated industry - the concept that enables machines to communicate with each other and ultimately allows entire production lines to reconfigure themselves autonomously. As such, small-batch and one-off production in large scale plants becomes commercially viable - achieving the goal of transforming the factory from cost centre to profit centre.

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