Goodbye to errors
© Erik Isakson/Getty;
October 2020

Goodbye to errors

Downtimes are poison for business. All it takes is for one machine to stop and the entire supply chain comes to a grinding halt. The best strategy to prevent this is a smart early warning system. It’s called condition monitoring.

Today, more than ever, modern societies are dependent on technology and machines. We travel in cars and on buses and trains. We rely on the turbines of airplanes and on power grids. Combines harvest our grain crops and trucks deliver our food to refrigerated supermarkets. It’s easy to forget how much our life relies on machines – until they happen to fail. Care, maintenance and servicing are crucial. While companies rely on a certain amount of planned downtime to inspect machines for safety and necessary repairs, unplanned downtimes and sudden trouble can lead to enormous losses. They upend production plans, bring considerable costs and also result in loss of customer confidence. Developing and implementing suitable maintenance strategies is more important than ever – and the trend here is toward proactive maintenance.

Condition monitoring is just such a proactive tool: Sensors monitor units or individual components directly at the machine by measuring temperatures, rotational speeds or vibrations, for example. Algorithms analyze the data in real time and provide information about wear. This prevents or shortens downtimes, produces less scrap and reduces maintenance costs. Actually, condition monitoring is nothing new. In the 1960s, the first oil warning lights appeared in premium automobiles, and aviation nearly perfected the systems. Aircraft are equipped with thousands of sensors. In cruise flight conditions, pressure, rotational speed, oil and kerosene flow, vibrations and exhaust temperatures are measured on the engines. Operators can then draw conclusions about how much longer an engine might last and whether early signs of wear or defects are emerging. This pays off – after all, every hour of downtime on the ground costs an airline tens of thousands of dollars or euros.

Goodbye to errors
Analyzation in the cloud: The data captured by condition monitoring is processed by requisite algorithms – based on Schaeffler’s extensive know-how in condition monitoring of rolling bearings, developed over decades© Schaeffler
Transparency is key – industry-wide

In contrast, reality in the industrial world is different – still today. The cost and effort involved in integrating such solutions into production environments is often a hurdle to machine monitoring. In addition, setting up and operating these solutions requires in-depth know-how. Smaller and medium-size enterprises (SMEs), in particular, shy away from incurring the costs for condition monitoring. As a result, their use of condition monitoring is limited primarily to individual, process-critical machines. “In the process and automation industry, it’s not uncommon for up to 95 percent of equipment units to not be monitored at all or only through routine manual measurements, which occur at intervals of four to six months, for instance,” says Rauli Hantikainen, Senior Vice President Industry 4.0 at automotive and industrial supplier Schaeffler. In Germany alone, several million so-called brownfield machines lacking sensors and software interfaces are in operation. But this doesn’t have to be a showstopper.

Unplanned downtimes can be reliably avoided only when keeping an eye on the condition of all machines

Rauli Hantikainen, Senior Vice President Industry 4.0 at Schaeffler

Schaeffler has clearly identified the key strategic growth field of “Industry 4.0 Service Solutions” and, accordingly, launched OPTIME, an efficient and easy-to-use condition monitoring solution in an attractively priced segment. With its OPTIME solution of wireless, battery-operated vibration sensors, combined with digital services and analytics in the cloud, Schaeffler removes commonly known barriers. Whereas monitoring solutions for process-critical machines with variable operating conditions may cost tens – or even hundreds– of thousands of euros, OPTIME monitors at 30% of the cost compared to route-based or online measurement systems, making it economical even for smaller drive units and motors. By spending just a few cents per day, the customer can monitor up to ten times more machines than just a few years ago. “You can equip an entire plant with OPTIME, including all subsystems and ancillary components,” says Hantikainen. “We’ve designed the solution as a practical plug-and-play system: Users don’t need any in-house knowledge about condition monitoring.” The sensors are activated by means of near-field communication via the app, allocated to the machine and subsequently bolted to the equipment. Even with little or almost no training an employee can perform the task in just two to four minutes. All sensors autonomously connect to each other and – via the gateway – create an independent mesh network.

Millions of units could be managed in just one network, with enormous benefits for customers: no insertion of cables, no complex configuration, just plug-and-play using a smartphone. The data are available shortly after installation. In this way, a large number of machines and equipment can be reliably connected irrespective of their control units and without requiring hundreds of meters or yards of cable ducts or wireways and technical conversions. Naturally, there are exceptions, which Schaeffler investigates on-site together with the customer in order to apply other solutions. One of these is ProLink, a cable-bound condition monitoring system for up to 16 measuring points that captures and analyzes vibrations as well as other measurands.

Examples from the Schaeffler world

Sector: Cement manufacturing
Finnsementti decided to use Schaeffler OPTIME during its search for a condition monitoring solution.

Sector: Drinking water production
A Schaeffler customer purifies up to 200 million liters (53 million gallons) of water per day. It’s filtered, chlorinated, ozonized and biologically activated. The customer was looking for a smart condition monitoring system in order to prevent failures of its 15 pumping stations. The Schaeffler solution monitors the most important units with 84 sensors and thus supports reliable water supply to the region.

Sector: Facility engineering
Assisted by Schaeffler, Engie Cofely, a major European facility management services provider (3,000 employees) switched from decentralized, temporary monitoring to permanent, centrally controlled condition monitoring, initially of its own facilities. Routine walkthroughs with long distances between buildings to inspect critical equipment are no longer necessary. Utilized in customer buildings, several million euros per year could be saved in this way.

Sector: Wood industry
Some 240,000 cubic meters (8.5 million cubic feet) of sawn lumber per year are produced by the Norra Timber sawmill in Kåge, Sweden. Especially the saws have to run without interruptions for the business to be profitable. Unplanned downtime will quickly cause costs of several thousand euros. That’s why the fact that not a single unexpected failure has occurred since the rollout of a condition monitoring solution from Schaeffler is all the more gratifying.

Goodbye to errors© Schaeffler
“Monitoring fever” – with a pay-off

With OPTIME, Schaeffler emphasizes scalability: Monitoring can be implemented in an exemplary pilot project and its operational economy demonstrated. Based on this, the subsequent approach can be scaled and rolled out across the entire plant or even across locations. Rauli Hantikainen relates the situation of a customer who originally wanted to install 150 sensors. When the installation of the sensors proved to be so simple and uncomplicated, the customer decided to install as many as 300 within three days. A “monitoring fever” had broken out at the plant. And on day four, an impending downtime was prevented thanks to the newfound ability to quickly identify and thoroughly eliminate the trouble sources. “Condition monitoring detects damage to the respective components weeks ahead of time, identifies and prioritizes the critical machines in the app and issues specific recommendations for actions,” explains Dr. Philipp Jussen, Head of SaaS & Digital Services at Schaeffler. The recyclable disposable sensors with a battery life of approximately five years provide relevant vibration and temperature readings six times a day as well as other key performance indicators (KPIs) to Schaeffler’s IoT hub.

Goodbye to errors
The data captured by condition monitoring are analyzed in a cloud. Schaeffler has developed requisite algorithms based on decades-long know-how in condition monitoring of rolling bearings© Schaeffler

Data analysis is performed in the cloud. “Our algorithms are based on decades-long development of physical models and experience gained in condition monitoring of rolling bearings,” Jussen adds. “Merely gathering data is not enough. The way in which data are interpreted is crucial. This requires suitable algorithms.” Even at this juncture, many different types of algorithms are interlinked to form a complex kind of analytics, including artificial intelligence. Schaeffler is continuously pursuing the further development of such analytics. After all, the application is intended to make the jobs of maintenance crews easier and to ensure timely and cost-efficient planning of maintenance work, manpower and spare parts procurement. For its own Industry 4.0 business unit, Schaeffler targets to create a significant installed base with lead customer by the end of 2020.

Schaeffler’s monitoring solution
Goodbye to errors© Schaeffler

In addition to the sensors (1), the innovative OPTIME system consists of a gateway (2) and an app (3) for visualizing the results. With plug & work, the condition monitoring system is configured with a few clicks in a matter of minutes and suitable for early detection of damage on a wide variety of machines. The wireless vibration sensors communicate in an autonomous and highly energy-efficient mesh network. The analysis results are presented in an easy-to-understand display on diverse screens for the respective user groups.

This is how OPTIME works
Oliver Jesgulke
Author Oliver Jesgulke
The pursuit of efficiency has also spread to personal lifestyle choices. For some time now, people have been trying to meticulously monitor and control their bodies, like one of Oliver Jesgulke’s friends. Adopting a preventive lifestyle from morning to night? That’s not a good choice for the author, who’d rather enjoy a private downtime here and there.