Remote services can improve drive maintenance planning

03 May 2017

Control Engineering Europe reports on how increasing use of the Internet of Things (IoT) concept by a drives manufacturer is offering advantages for its customers – including improved data analysis, increased productivity and enhanced reliability.

In many industrial applications – such as pumps or fans – which are powered by a drive/motor combination, it is the drive that controls the operation and even in larger systems, where an automation system or PLC is controlling the drive, it is still possible to gain important indicators about the operation of the motor and the application from the drive.

Information from ABB’s intelligent drives, for example, is able to  provide early indication of potential operational problems, helping operators to minimise costly breakdowns. ABB has developed a service offering to help achieve this. “Initially there are two variations of the services – Remote Support and the more advanced Remote Condition Monitoring,” explained Jaana Kivela, ABB’s product manager for Remote Services.

A reactive solution
“The first service we began with is Remote Support, which is really a reactive service,” continued Kivela.  “It’s reactive because we only get involved when an operator has some concerns and actively asks us to check out the situation.” This could, for example, be when a drive is sending a fault message. Under the program, ABB collects data continuously from the drives covered, and as soon as there is a possible fault, the monitoring system starts sending greater amounts of data to facilitate more thorough analysis and faster problem resolution.

“The actual service delivery only starts when the customer contacts us when they think they have a problem,” he said.  “This ensures that we don’t start working on something that isn’t actually a problem for the customer. For example, they could have been testing something in their system that caused the drive to send the alarm. This means that we are using our expert drives knowledge in a very targeted manner, and only when necessary.”

The real benefit is that the lag time between a fault alarm and the resolution of the problem is minimised. This fast response time means that the operator might avoid a breakdown altogether, or if there is an actual failure, the downtime will probably be much shorter. Because the service works remotely customers know that no matter where the drive is located, they will be able to quickly solve any issues.

Being more proactive
The next logical step was the creation of another service – Remote Condition Monitoring – which offers a more comprehensive proactive solution which require. ABB to actively monitor the drives. Based on an assessment on what is ‘normal’ operation of the drive it is possible to achieve a good estimation of the condition of the device, and make accurate maintenance recommendations. Looking out for early indications of possible faults is also part of this service.

“Ideally we want to spot problems before anything happens, to prevent breakdowns,” said Kivela. “We do not guarantee we can do that 100%, but there is a good opportunity to spot issues in advance. This is true both for ABB and the operator. We provide a portal that customers can use themselves to access live data, to see how the drive is operating and to look at the drive history via the visualisations available on different parameters.”

The first pilot installation of the Remote Support service was carried out at the giant SSAB steel factory in Raahe on the west coast of Finland. The main aim for this pilot project was to increase the reliability of the drives and motors by looking deeper into the data generated by the drives. This involved setting up the Remote Service system which would allow ABB’s drive experts to look at the drive data from a distance and, when necessary, analyse possible problems in the drive application. 

In the very early stages of the trial a possible breakdown was avoided. During the trial an alarm on the critical coke elevator operation was noticed. The combined SSAB and ABB teams worked together to avert what could have been a major problem.
Ari Korkala, an electrical maintenance planner at the SSAB steel mill, explains: “In the coking plant we have what is called the dry quenching stage where an elevator lifts a bucket of hot coke into the dry quenching chamber. The elevators are crucial and if there is a malfunction, the whole process stops because nothing can be lifted. In addition, the coke is very hot, at about 1050°C, so that if it stops somewhere in between, it could cause a fire in the electrical rooms or elsewhere.”

This event was actually outside the original scope of the Remote Support service. It was a proactive problem resolution and later led ABB to develop the more comprehensive and predictive Remote Condition Monitoring service.

The pilot project team observed that one of the drives was giving frequent alarms. Putting the system immediately to the test, data from this drive was remotely analysed by ABB. A current imbalance was identified which indicated possible damage to power components, which could stop both the drive and the elevator.

Spotting a problem
“Thanks to the Remote Service, even though it was still in the pilot phase, we could spot this possible elevator problem at an early stage,” said Aki Heikkilä, an electrical maintenance supervisor at SSAB. “We were getting alarms and ABB saw indications that the drive was acting abnormally and might become faulty. We went to check it and, upon examination, we confirmed that some drive components needed replacing. Happily, we can plan this work before there was any production disturbance or unplanned downtime.”

Timo Vierimaa, production manager at the SSAB coking plant, is pleased with the new system. “Motors and drives play an important role in our processes, not only in terms of production reliability and quality, but also regarding occupational safety for our people. During this pilot we realised that remote support could give us some very important benefits for our future. For me, I think this use of modern new technology and new systems in condition monitoring is a trend that will only increase in the future.”

Numerous other pilot trials were carried out with the Remote Services systems. These include applications as diverse as mining, automotive and shipping. So far Remote Services have shown significant potential not just in highly critical operations, but eventually, on all drives.

The SSAB experience has helped to prove the value of Remote Support as a reactive service to support users with fault analysis and resolution when a problem is identified. It also led to the creation of the more comprehensive Remote Condition Monitoring service increasing the chances of predicting possible failures in advance.

By using drive data in this manner, facilitated by the IoT, users and industrial operations can obtain a variety of new benefits by accessing information that is already available. Among these benefits are fast fault notification, rapid response and analysis and, most importantly, an opportunity to reduce unplanned downtime and the major costs associated with breakdowns.

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