vibration-analysis-hand-heldThe connected factory drums up images of fully automated, high tech, integrated plant with barely a human in sight.

That doesn’t quite chime with scenes of people walking round plants and plugging hand held devices into various pieces of equipment.

So, what is the future of CBM (Condition Based Monitoring or Maintenance) in our digital factories? Will we still need to stand beside our plant and plug in portable vibration analysis kit? Or take thermographic images with hand held cameras?

Let’s start with the need for CBM.

Will there still be a need for Condition Based Monitoring?                                             

Our factories of the future will still contain equipment that moves or is powered electrically. This means certain components will be subject to wear and if left to run without intervention, will eventually breakdown.

CBM is one strand of predictive maintenance. It typically uses equipment based diagnostics to monitor and diagnose conditions of both moving and static equipment. You may already use, or be familiar with, techniques such as vibration analysis, tribology, thermography or acoustic analysis.

When the condition being monitored reaches a determined level a repair or replacement is carried out.

Compared to preventative maintenance time based interventions, CBM allows you to get the most life possible out of your components.

So unless we invent materials that will never wear out, we will still have a need for CBM techniques. The next question is what will those techniques be?

Will Condition Based Monitoring change?

History suggests it will. CBM techniques have actually been around longer than we may think. But as our equipment has developed so have the techniques we use to monitor it.

The first industrial revolution bought us steam locomotives and with it the CBM technique of wheel tapping.

easter-european-wheeltapperWheeltappers were employed to walk along the train and tap each wheel with a long-handled hammer. A wheel with flaws or cracks doesn’t make the same ring as an undamaged one!

Now at the start of the fourth industrial revolution, steam has been replaced by diesel and electric, the wheel design has changed and wheeltappers have been replaced by ultrasonic testing. (Except on a few eastern European railways!)

So what’s next?

The falling cost and size of sensors, coupled with developments in wireless technology, is making it more realistic for sensors to be permanently located. Look how different this wireless vibration analysis sensor is to the hand held device pictured earlier.

wireless-sensor_vPermanently mounted sensors mean a greater amount of data is collected, which results in a more detailed and accurate analysis.

Initially this data has been analysed by software in plant based PC’s. However the growth in cloud based technologies and the Internet of Things is now enabling analysis of extremely large volumes of data across multiple plants.

So we are now entering an era of data driven CBM where a whole host of predictive analytics packages are available. And cost is not the barrier it once was. You can start small with just a few sensors and scale over time by adding more.

Data can be monitored live in house as well as sent direct for remote analysis. Information on the best time for interventions to prevent failures and minimise downtime is returned to the plant.

In short, maintenance teams can use the enhanced analytical capability provided by the new technologies to boost the power of CBM and their Computerised Maintenance Management Systems.

You could argue that CBM will become more relevant in our digital factories as we strive to improve output and efficiency, meet changing customer demands and increasing our profit margins.

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