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Wireless sensors: No physical contact with operating machinery

Digital technology reduces worker exposure to safety risks.

November 5, 2020   by Frederic Baudart

Wireless 3561 FC vibration sensor provides continuous monitoring of rotating equipment. PHOTO: FLUKE

Technological advances are changing the maintenance and reliability landscape in numerous ways. Reducing maintenance personnel’s exposure to risks is one of the most beneficial changes.

Wireless sensors reduce the need to have contact with machinery as it’s operating, or with assets in dangerous or hard-to-access areas.

Keeping employees healthy and safe has far-reaching benefits. Safe workplaces see higher productivity and lower turnover.

“Many companies have developed sophisticated injury prevention programs to reduce injuries and ill-health related to the physical environment of the workplace,” according to Workplace Safety & Prevention Services, a not-for-profit focused on health and safety in Ontario workplaces. “The result for these employers is lower workers’ compensation costs and a healthier bottom line.”

Federal, provincial and territorial labour ministers have been working together to streamline and reconcile workplace health and safety standards with the goal of promoting regulatory cooperation across Canada. Their efforts cover everything from the contents of first aid kits to fall protection equipment and exposure limits for hazardous airborne substances.

From sudden hazards, such as falls or working in confined spaces, to those that build up over time such as breathing in harmful substances, there are many ways maintenance workers could be put at risk on the job.

“Occupational hazards can be divided into two categories: safety and health.

Exposure to hazards

Workers have benefited from advances in both technology and training as businesses have sought to mitigate the hazards workers face.

The industrial internet of things (IIoT) reduces exposure to dangerous situations. Installing interconnected IIoT devices such as wireless sensors on equipment reduces a number of hazards. Routine measurements – often relying on handheld tools, working with live equipment, or taking routes through dangerous areas – leave maintenance workers facing a number of risks.

Wireless sensors make it possible for workers to take measurements remotely. Not only that, they send data to the cloud, which is accessed wherever there’s an internet connection. And the sensors are typically small devices that measure immediately and last for years.

Equipment failures also expose maintenance workers to risky situations. When assets break down, they can – among other things – overheat or spill harmful chemicals. But reliability teams following condition-based maintenance methods can act before it’s too late. When an asset’s performance starts to slip or it operates outside parameters, reliability professionals identify the issue and solve it before the asset becomes unsafe. When unexpected downtime is minimized and asset maintenance actions are planned in advance, teams are less likely to rush and make mistakes caused by urgency.

To stay on top of an asset’s condition, what should be monitored? Vibration and temperature data are two obvious candidates. Vibration is an effective indicator of the four most common types of mechanical failures: misalignment, looseness, bearing wear and imbalance.

The severity of an asset’s vibration or its surface temperature will allow maintenance teams to spot anomalies, gain insight into root causes and schedule actions for a time when they won’t interrupt production. As data is aggregated over time, teams learn from historical performance to spot and solve issues faster.

Power problems cause premature wear in machinery. Measuring and aggregating current, voltage, frequency and energy consumption means maintenance teams quickly spot fluctuations that damage equipment.

To leverage data, sensors need to work in conjunction with software. The right software will automate the collection, storage and organization of data, but also assets, work orders and more.

With everything in one place, teams see and act on priorities while minimizing failures and downtime. In addition, some software solutions send push notifications to internet-connected devices when an asset begins operating outside thresholds.

When real-time and historical data are accessible to workers, there is less need for them to spend time in dangerous environments taking measurements.

Actions based on the real-time condition of rather than on a calendar results in assets lasting longer and failing less. Workers are safer when there’s no urgency.

Frederic Baudart is lead SME manager for Fluke Corp., which manufactures electronic test tools, biomedical equipment and networking solutions. Visit www.fluke.com/en-ca.


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