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8 Game-Changing Tools to Monitor Equipment & Save Big on Downtime Costs

Michelle Ross

If it ain’t broken, don’t fix it can be bad advice, especially when it comes to cutting downtime costs in your facility. To save money, you must be proactive about monitoring your equipment. If you aren’t, either a part could break unexpectedly causing production delays or you could accidentally replace a good part too early costing you money.

Instead of running equipment till failure or over-replacing parts, some manufacturers are exploring new technologies that monitor and analyze the current condition of your equipment so you only have to make adjustments and updates when they’re needed. To carry out predictive maintenance (or condition-based maintenance), you will need sensors, cameras and other analytical devices to predict equipment failures. This upgrade can be costly and overwhelming, so taking the time to explore different options is critical. 

To get you started, here are 8 tools that we’ve found to help you collect data on your equipment and cut back on downtime costs.

FLIR: paper manufacturing + automotive applications + circuit board validation

Visual Monitoring

The traditional method of visual monitoring is walking around the facility floor to inspect equipment for cracks, corrosion, wear and tear, electrical errors, mechanical mishaps, etc. This is not an efficient way to check for problems. Having a skilled operator constantly on the floor is time-consuming and costly, and technicians don’t have x-ray vision to look inside machinery without taking it apart.

Here are 4 faster ways to visually monitor equipment:

  1. Video Calling can allow an operator, supervisor or expert to work remotely and check equipment from another location. Through high-definition cameras on smartphones using applications like Ario Connect, you can inspect all exterior facets of a piece of equipment while an onsite technician moves the camera around. Ario Connect is a two-way video calling app enhanced with augmented reality, where you can direct the technician by placing guidance arrows and symbols in space in real-time. 

  1. Thermal Imaging Cameras can detect which pieces of equipment are too hot and headed towards failure. FLIR, an infrared camera manufacturer, points out that power transformers, load tap changers, insulator bushings, standoff insulators, lightning arrestors, circuit breakers, mechanical disconnects, control cabinets and batteries often overheat before failing.

  1. X-Ray Cameras can reveal what’s happening inside equipment or products without having a technician take it apart. X-ray cameras can detect a broken piece, a missing part, a part in the wrong place and fluids that shouldn’t be there. Hamamatsu, a photonic device manufacturer, even makes x-ray cameras that spot defects in the internal structure of manufactured products moving down a conveyor built. 

Hamamatsu X-Ray CCD Camera

  1. Surveillance Cameras can discourage theft, catch evidence of break-ins and monitor workplace safety and activity by allowing managers to remotely supervise employee engagement with equipment. VideoSurveillance.Com goes into further detail with helpful pointers, camera suggestions and benefits of video surveillance.

Acoustic Monitoring

Back in the day, an operator would place their ear on a machine to listen. Was it humming smoothly? Or was it rattling? Were the rotating parts grinding? Was the cooling system on blast? That method is a little dangerous—you don’t want to lose an ear—and it’s not efficient. Nowadays, there are acoustic sensors that operate like microphones that you can mount directly on machines or across the room (structure-borne analysis vs. airborne analysis). 

Here are 2 easier ways to acoustically monitor equipment:

  1. Vibration Monitoring Devices can listen to the vibrations in both rotating equipment and non-rotating equipment to detect if anything is off. Fluke, a company that makes these devices along with other industrial tools, claims these devices can identify “imbalance, looseness, misalignment or bearing wear in equipment prior to failure.” For more details on vibration analysis equipment, take a look at Kittiwake Holroyd's writeup.

  1. Acoustic Emission Sensors can detect stress from fractures in equipment as opposed to monitoring vibrations. Besides discovering cracks in metal, concrete or mixed materials like fiberglass, these sensors can also identify leaks, register parts knocking and pick up friction. Integrity Diagnostics provides acoustic emissions solutions and gives a great introduction to acoustic emissions. Marposs, a precision equipment supplier, goes into greater detail about acoustic sensors specifically for grinders that do grinding-wheel noise checks, collision checks and air gap checks to see if anything needs to be fixed before serious damage occurs.

Marposs Acoustic Emission Sensor

Other Monitoring Options

New ways to maintain equipment are always in the works. Here are 2 up-and-coming ways to monitor equipment.

  1. Chemical Composition Sensors can analyze machine oil and study the chemical makeup in lubricant for anything abnormal. The Industry 4.0 Blog lists chemical analysis as an option for predictive maintenance, but warns that this method is impractical since “sophisticated wear analysis based on particle concentration takes years to master.” If you don’t want to send lubricant samples off to a diagnostics facility (off-line monitoring), Machinery Lubrication lists several on-line (pulls samples) and in-online (measures flow) products that check fluid for wear debris.

  1. Spectrum Analyzers can be used to measure electrical signals and can pick up on irregular electrical currents or voltage signals (see again The Industry 4.0 Blog). Viavi Solutions manufactures testing and monitoring equipment for networks, and they go into detail about the history, applications and types of spectrum analyzers.

There are many different types of sensors, cameras and analyzers. It’s important to compare options among competitors and decide if buying equipment monitoring devices is right for your team. Predictive maintenance isn’t an overnight change, and it might be out of reach for many manufacturers due to overhead costs. If that’s you, the Ario mobile app and Ario Connect video calling app are both tools that work with your company’s current equipment maintenance plan, no matter if operations are reactive, preventative or predictive. Ario supports your company as you pave your own realistic path towards more efficient operations.

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