• By Bill Lydon
  • Talk to Me

By Bill Lydon, InTech, Chief Editor

The continuing mantra is more data, big data, analytics, artificial intelligence, machine learning, and other suggestions, but are you squandering existing data today?

Attending many presentations at conferences and industry events about the cloud, big data, and analytics has brought to mind ways to use existing data that I was taught in the 1980s as an application engineer at a company sensitive to performance, energy, and maintenance. Certainly, there is value in the wide range of new sensing, analytics, and software technologies, but it may be worth considering what can be done with the data available in your system today. A question to explore is: What insights can you gain from information already in your systems?

These are some simple things I was taught that may not be obvious to new application engineers. They can typically be implemented in existing controllers, human-machine interface (HMI), or supervisory control and data acquisition:

Minimal start time/minimal stop time monitoring

Determine if a motor is short cycling to alarm or warn that there is a problem developing with the equipment that needs attention. This can indicate an issue that can be addressed before big problems develop and equipment totally fails to ensure that operations run efficiently. There are a wide range of applications, such as short cycling pumping systems, air compressors, and refrigeration compressors. These can lead to an understanding of root causes, such as dirty heat exchangers, sticky valves, and process issues.

Run-time and cycles monitoring

Actual equipment run-time hours can be easily monitored in a programmable logic controller, controller, or HMI to schedule maintenance, rather than simply using calendar time. Similar to run time, actual machine cycles in production machinery can be used to schedule maintenance instead of calendar time.

Run-time and cycle monitoring result in maintenance labor savings. Having three levels of alarms provides an even better way to schedule maintenance. The first alarm can be used before critical run time or cycles are exceeded, allowing time to schedule preventative maintenance. The second alarm can be set as a "yellow light" warning that preventative maintenance should be performed. The third alarm indicates that it is imperative to perform preventative maintenance.

Analog rate of change alarm

Rapid rate of change is an indicator of problems in many types of equipment, for example, monitoring when a water tank level is falling too rapidly.

Flow rate change monitor

Monitoring the rate of change can be used to identify problems, for example, an unusual rate of change used as an alarm for a pipe break. The flow rate in plant air compressor systems when production is down can indicate leaks in the piping systems.


In many systems, the sensors are already on a unit or process to calculate load input versus load output. With these values, efficiency can be calculated. Changes in this value can be used as a general indicator to check equipment for problems when efficiency drops.

Leveraging existing sensors can provide a great deal of valuable information. Continually ask: What insights can you gain from information already in your systems that can yield benefits?

There are exciting opportunities with new technologies, including analytics, but it makes sense to leverage existing sensors and data. Figuring this out is why industrial automation professionals are valuable to their employers.

Reader Feedback

We want to hear from you! Please send us your comments and questions about this topic to InTechmagazine@isa.org.

Like This Article?

Subscribe Now!

About The Authors

Bill Lydon is an InTech contributing editor with more than 25 years of industry experience. He regularly provides news reports, observations, and insights here and on Automation.com