A very significant factor compounding the challenge of increasing efficiency is the global footprint of many manufacturers. This requires them to optimize production on multiple lines spanning different sites in different countries. Because they need to be close to demand points and sources of raw material, larger manufacturers may have, for instance, a presence in 35 countries with a number of individual plants in each country. Each plant also has different production lines, so to enable proper resource planning, they need a robust platform that optimizes manufacturing processes and reduces costs.
The end goal for many of these companies is to create smarter process equipment through digitalisation – machines that can self-diagnose, self-correct and communicate with over-arching plant control systems. The benefits of networked machinery are clear: increased productivity.
Digitalisation is an essential value driver
The digitalisation of manufacturing is transforming the operations, processes, and energy footprint of factories and the management of manufacturing supply chains, just as it is also changing how products are designed, fabricated, used, and serviced. An important value driver is the impact of the Internet of Things (IoT) in facilitating predictive and preventive factory equipment maintenance, specifically via remote condition monitoring. New cloud-based services make the benefits of condition monitoring available at minimal installation cost. This type of monitoring provides rich data - that enables fully informed decision making - to be collected from equipment such as extruders, mixers and mechanical shafts.
Once machines are interconnected and managed by IoT sensors and actuators, it is possible to improve asset utilisation significantly by eliminating many of the human and machine errors that reduce productivity. An important development in this area is the new generation of low-cost, wireless smart sensors that can be directly attached to motors, bearings, pumps and gearing. These smart sensors pick up data on the changing vibration patterns, temperature and other parameters, information that can be used to gain meaningful insights on the condition and performance of the equipment. The collected data is sent via the cloud for analysis, enabling users to identify inefficiencies within their system and to reduce risks related to operation and maintenance.
Remote condition monitoring helps to monitor critical health and operating parameters in real-time. This means users can identify issues before they become problems, so maintenance can be planned before a failure occurs, reducing downtime. Predictive maintenance is especially important to prevent unplanned downtime of critical machinery that can lead to a ‘ripple effect,’ where other equipment down the production line also malfunctions, causing further disruption. It is therefore advisable to identify all critical equipment and adopt appropriate monitoring systems, such as smart sensors. This also allows manufacturers to improve their production scheduling to provide greater flexibility to meet changing customer requirements such as smaller production runs.
Smart sensors can also uncover potential for energy savings by monitoring the energy consumption of motors. Adding variable speed drives (VSDs) to control high-efficiency motors will also increase energy savings. Traditionally, motors in factories run at full speed when they don’t always need to, wasting precious energy. Using VSDs allows for more control over a motor and adjusts the speed or torque according to the factory’s actual needs. This means the motor only draws the power needed to perform the task, reducing waste. Adding VSDs can unlock energy savings to its full potential – with a strong chance to reduce energy consumption between 20 to 60 percent.
The digital powertrain is the next step
The next step in digitalisation is condition monitoring for entire powertrains. This provides a customizable, scalable approach that connects the various drives, motors, mounted bearings, pumps and gearing used in critical process equipment.
Each asset in the powertrain sends data to the cloud, which is then analysed and presented in the form of simple, actionable information that can be viewed in a single unified portal. This information not only allows manufacturers to predict when maintenance is required, but it gives them a broad picture of the unique influence components have on one another. The solution allows them to improve the performance, reliability and efficiency of their powertrain components which in turn improves system optimisation. Engineers who are not specialised across all of the processes on large sites benefit too, as they get a detailed understanding of their equipment.