When young men and women leave home to make lives of their own, parents shed some tears and hope they've equipped them to take on the challenges they'll face. Sometimes, they end up back home for a spell, but for the most part they're out there, doing what they were born to do. And parents do their best to let them, secretly wishing they still could watch over them and protect them.
Machines emerge similarly. They're created by engineers who equip them with appropriate controls, motion components, connections and safety elements, and then they're released to industrial facilities, where they do what they were built to do.
One of the big differences between machines and progeny, aside from the fact that machines won't ever marry that loser son-in-law who can't hold a job, is we can't monitor the health of our sons and daughters on a real-time basis, but that is in fact possible with machines. Sensors allow us to keep watchful eyes on any number of conditions. And the opportunities to equip machinery with them keep increasing. Seven years ago, Contributing Editor Dan Hebert wrote about how far remote monitoring capabilities had come, and that technology curve continues to steepen.
One of the more interesting recent developments has been the quest to use the existing control system to facilitate condition monitoring and plan for maintenance of these machines. "Oh yeah," you say, "we've been doing that for years." It's quite possible that you have, on a limited scope. After all, service agreements are lucrative add-ons to machinery sales. If you're not watching and maintaining that machine, someone else surely will.
And it would be really simple to use that existing control system to measure almost anything with the proper sensing device. Most world-class manufacturers have recognized the financial benefits of avoiding equipment failures and optimizing system capacity. That's profitability. Most of these plants also have software—it might be CMMS, EAM or ERP—that's used to schedule maintenance on equipment. And that software doesn't talk with control systems. "Oh, but you can use a data historian," you say. That's true, but the big advantage of monitoring is the real-time, in-context analytics that are available.
The industrial market is a big one. That's why you're there. Asset management software vendors are vying for position just as forcefully as control vendors. When ABB acquired Ventyx in 2010, it led to some initial signs of integration, most notably at the Esperanza copper mine in Chile. But the bridge between control systems and asset management systems has been slow to build.
"We see reliability as a strategic business initiative that has major impact on plant safety, plant availability and ultimately enterprise profitability," said Jim Nyquist, group vice president at Emerson, when he formally introduced the company's latest acquisition, MRG, a well-known maintenance and reliability consultancy.
Call it convergence or integration, but the ability to use control-system sensors to monitor machines remotely in real time and schedule planned maintenance is coming. And machine builders will be able to care for their children in unforeseen ways.
On a final note, let me take a moment to salute Joe Feeley, who has retired. You all remember him as chief editor of Control Design. I will always remember him as one of my greatest publishing mentors. Here's to you, Joe.