Companies can now realize the true potential of their process production facilities with the emergence of open standards-based field wireless infrastructure. This new technology supercharges predictive maintenance and overall predictive equipment health capabilities by lowering costs and increasing data collection.
It's important to differentiate between this new wireless capability and the way many companies have previously used wireless. Field workers have had remote access to corporate information such as computerized maintenance management systems, and vendor-specific wireless vibration monitoring has been available for 10 to 15 years. But, the standardsbased field wireless technology emerging today is an entirely different animal.
In the past, a plant could use a wireless sensor to monitor device vibration, but that capability couldn't be extended to other plant devices. It was device and vendor specific. This proprietary point-based wireless use in a plant would be analogous to the need for a different power source to run each electrical appliance within a home.
The new wireless infrastructure will allow the installation of sensors virtually throughout the plant on a broad range of devices produced by multiple vendors. Many assets that previously weren't touched by a data-retrieval network, including critical rotating equipment, can now be tapped for data. A user can start with a vibration transmitter, add a few pressure transmitters, then add temperature transmitters and continue to grow their network as new sensor types become available in the future.
Because installation costs are as much as 90% less with wireless, plant assets that once were prohibitive to monitor now can be outfitted to return real-time data, helping managers improve reliability-driven maintenance, production processes and overall asset management.
Some companies may be hesitant to try out this new infrastructure because of previous problems with wireless. These issues have been largely resolved. This new standards-based technology is easy to use, requires low power (battery life of 5 to 15 years), offers industrial-grade security and is reliable (greater than 99%). In addition, the cost to start with wireless on a small scale is nominal and fits easily within a standard maintenance budget.
The low installation cost of wireless makes it tempting for a company to get its feet wet. What's more attractive, however, is the bigger cost savings that will come over the life of the plant through improved predictive maintenance and better operational performance.
To take full advantage of these benefits, companies should view asset management as multiple components-not only the sensors and the network, but the applications and services to support them.
Plants may need assistance identifying business practices that should be changed to fully utilize wireless capabilities and to cope with pressing issues such as an aging workforce. For instance, once wireless monitoring points are added to devices, some operator rounds actually can be eliminated, reducing costs and yielding more consistent, higher quality data. A partner that is an expert in the field can help companies realize the full potential of this new technology and excel at asset optimization.