Smarten up your motors: connect with the world of IIoT

Food plant managers can retrofit most motors with smart sensors to bring their plants into the digital age.

Monitoring motor conditions reduces unplanned downtime by up to 70%. PHOTO: ABB

The first home security system was born in 1969. It consisted of four peepholes and a camera that could be moved to look through any of them, and broadcast images to a monitor. Today we can stream and view a feed from home security cameras on mobile phones or tablets.

Food processing plant managers can add a similar level of connectivity by retrofitting most motors with smart sensors to bring their plants into the digital age.

Food processing is the largest manufacturing sector in most provinces, according to Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. BC and Alberta account for 21% of production, Ontario and Quebec about 65% and the remaining provinces 14%.

Many manufacturers are applying technologies enabled through the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). Gartner, the global information technology research firm, predicts that 25 billion devices will be IIoT-connected by 2020. Most food manufacturing and processing plants have motors powering essential equipment such as mixers, conveyors and packaging machines. But they’re just motors. They don’t play in the same league as other intelligent devices.

With years of service to go, it’s difficult for plant managers to justify replacing motors that work just to make an upgrade with smart features. But motors can connect to the IIoT without a complete overhaul.

Instead of investing in new, more intelligent/smart equipment, consider investing in sensors that provide similar functionality to connected devices. Smart sensors attach to almost any standard low-voltage induction motor.

For example, ABB’s Ability Smart Sensor attaches directly to the motor’s frame. Internal sensors collect vital data points (such as vibration, sound and temperature) and transmit the information via Bluetooth to the cloud through a smartphone or ABB gateway to a secure server. The data gives plant managers a complete picture – even on mobile devices – of how their motors are working, without carrying out dangerous hands-on monitoring. This facilitates condition-based or predictive maintenance rather than periodic maintenance.

Using a smart tool to monitor motor condition reduces unplanned downtime by up to 70%, which is especially important in the food and beverage industry where even a short period of downtime is extremely costly. Infrastructure failures cost up to $75,000 per hour and impact seasonally produced items such as sugar.

Greater awareness of any motor’s condition also leads to a better understanding of how an entire system is performing. For example, an overheated or burned out motor may indicate a problem elsewhere, such as a line moving too fast and producing waste. Eliminating the problem improves energy efficiency by up to 10%.

Motors, the heart of the food and beverage plant, don’t have to be left behind in the IIoT age. Just like a home security system connected to your phone, a smart sensor helps regular motors become an integral part of the data-rich factory, with all the benefits.

This article is an edited version of a contribution from ABB, a Swiss-Swedish multinational industrial products and services provider with Canadian headquarters in Montreal.

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