Another tool is used specifically to make sure a failing part is replaced before it affects production. “Manage It monitors the condition of the parts and the life of the parts. It looks at wear and tear and manages that,” said Legg. “The OEMs have parts that can substitute for a part that goes bad so they can avoid an interruption in production.”
There is also a module used by the OEMs that looks at the overall health of the machine. “Analyze My Condition and Access My Machine oversee the machine’s condition and actually provide proactive testing of the mechatronics of the machine,” said Legg. “It gives the OEMs access and lets them monitor the machine remotely.”
In some instances, the plant’s staff takes on the responsibility of condition monitoring. “We work with a plant that supports more than 2,500 machines. They have a staff of seven employees that manage the condition monitoring,” said Legg. “When they started to monitor the machines, the solution rate to machine problems went from 32 percent to 55 percent. This streamlined their operations.”
This shows the read-outs that can be viewed on the condition of parts and machinery. When these graphs show the part slipping out of efficient range, an alarm will be sent to the user.
Mechatronics in the mix
The condition monitoring also includes testing of the mechanics and the electronics in the machines. Mechatronics now dominates plant automation, so the monitoring takes a mechatronics approach. “We can do stuff like circularity tests on the machine. We have tons of drives that are used, and we can check the mechanical condition of the machine tool,” said Legg. “It’s all mechatronics, electronics, and the mechanics moving together where the control meets the machine.”
The tests themselves can monitor a range of movement and equipment electronics. “The monitoring tools can be set up to do different tests. Most of the tests are focused on the mechatronics,” said Legg. “You can set this up on triggers that determine when the test will be run. It’s very configurable.” He noted that tests can also be initiated based on the actual condition of the part or the motor. “The machine or the motor can send a message when it’s time to do this or that test depending on condition,” said Legg. Conditions that trigger tests can include the sync of the motors or a particular temperature that exceeds a designated range. “The tool may ask you to re-fine-tune the axes drives,” he said.
Mindset to the future
Before condition monitoring was available, plants managed their machines and parts with planned maintenance and planned downtime. Smaller shops would just try to get by, running their machines until they broke. “This type of technology is not necessarily breakthrough technology, yet it’s still in its infancy,” said Legg. “It’s the mindset shift behind condition monitoring that’s important.” He noted that customers are looking at total cost of ownership. “If you’re looking for the long term, you look at the cost of the software versus the cost of the machine going down for hours or days,” said Legg. “What are the costs of downtime? With companies looking at the total cost of ownership, it’s driving the software adoption.”
Ultimately the benefit of condition monitoring is to optimize the life of the machine and its parts. The act of monitoring the part ends the common practice of replacing a perfectly good part. “General plant maintenance was just an arbitrary date,” said Legg. “Now you can fix a part or do that maintenance at the exact right time.”