Maximum machine uptime is the ultimate objective of modern manufacturing. That’s why we cover topics such as simplified mechanicals, standardized controls, vibration analysis, and remote diagnostics. These are thoroughbred technology applications that industrial machine builders everywhere rely on to help improve their machines.
Diagnostic sensors and predictive software are a growing part of these approaches to increasing uptime. After all, it’s far better to fix problems when they’re small and easily serviced than it is to fix a machine in the field after it begins acting up or breaks, and then holds up a customer’s production line.
In fact, the field evidence of this strategy is finally out there. We found machine builders using built-in diagnostics, and also discovered that the necessary hardware and software is getting downright cheap. You may soon realize that you can’t afford not to build diagnostics into your machines.
Diagnostics at Work
FLSmidth, a builder of cement machinery in Bethlehem, Pa., had been plagued by users calling its support technicians for troubleshooting advice. These customers didn’t have staff capable of troubleshooting electrical and electronic problems, so FLSmidth’s technicians were spending two to four hours per call helping customers identify their problems.
As a result, the company partnered with Rockwell Automation to develop a new pneumatic transport system with more built-in diagnostic capabilities. The HMI terminal (See Figure 1 below) has diagnostic screens and alarms that describe exactly what’s wrong when a problem arises. Typical problems the system finds are motor-trip conditions, valve-coil failures, blown fuses, power-supply failures, and so on. Customers can fix most of these problems themselves.
If a problem is more complex, however, engineers at FLSmidth can remotely access the system’s network, though they don’t have to do this very often. “The system works so well that we have minimal customer support calls,” says Larry Supon, electrical engineering and design group leader at FLSmidth. “But, when we do get a call, we can log on remotely, and immediately help our customer identify why the system faulted. This helps us deliver improved technical support, and means our customers can save hundreds or even thousands of dollars in the event of an electrical problem.”