11 August 2009

Condition monitoring software made easy

Condition monitoring systems monitor machines remotely all the time. Sensors mounted on the equipment feed continuous measurements back to a control box, which records and stores the data, and if an error occurs, the system alerts the operator.

This way it is easy to find out if the oil pressure in the hydraulic system is too high. Or, what is the current condition of the rotor blades on that wind turbine plant. It is important for the people who operate facilities and machines to be able to answer this sort of question at any given time, because malfunctions and failures can prove to be costly. Unplanned downtime is the enemy.

Before a condition monitoring system does go live, it must adapt to the specific facility it is to monitor. This requires laborious manual programming work, which can often cost in excess of over $140,000 (€100,000).

Things may prove a lot simpler and less costly in the future, however, researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Experimental Software Engineering IESE in Kaiserslautern, Germany, have developed a condition monitoring system for Lösi GmbH, which can adapt to various facilities without the need for manual programming.

"We've developed our own configuration language that is specially tailored to (condition monitoring) systems," said project leader Dr. Mario Trapp. "You don't need any programming expertise to work with the language-it's a straightforward process for the engineer to set up the operating software using the 'drag and drop' function."

The user sees the available tools in icon form on the screen, clicks on the ones he wants, and simply drags them to where he wants them. If the user wants to include a pressure sensor in the operating software, he selects the appropriate icon and sets pressure threshold values. An options menu allows him to control how the system should react if they exceed these values. Depending on how serious the error is, the control box can load deviating measurements into a central database, or else inform the facility operator via SMS. Emergency shutdown of the facility is a further option they can configure in. Once everything has been set up, a code generator automatically programs the corresponding control box.

"Our (condition monitoring) system is every bit as powerful as solutions which require manual programming, but it's significantly more cost-effective. Clients can potentially make five-figure savings," Trapp said. Even after it has gone live, if the user wants to add new sensors, he can alter the condition monitoring software at any time. With conventional systems, by contrast, the client would have to bring the manufacturer back in to do this.

For related information, go to www.isa.org/sensors.