Digital Technology in Manufacturing

It seems like only yesterday that business people had to pull over to a pay phone, stop by the fax machine to load up an order form, or even mail a letter to get things done. In the last 10 to 15 years, things have drastically changed in this level of conducting business, collecting data and working with today's computer technology.All of us are now strapped with a device that can receive e-mails, texts and even place video calls. This technology has brought us much closer to communicating with each other and allows us to share data far more quickly than ever before.

Now we enter another dimension of cloud data sharing and computing using portable devices. Unlike the past, we are now able to send data off to a cloud so other personnel can view the data in real time. This demonstrates many advantages, especially when applied to predictive maintenance. For example, a maintenance professional is collecting data from asset to asset and finds something drastically wrong that needs immediate attention. With today's technology,there are more options at one’s fingertips than ever before. If the maintenance professional is collecting data from an Internet-connected device,the information can be sent to the cloud with an alert attached so that people monitoring will get the alarm. The data also can be sent instantaneously via e-mail or text to a decisionmaker for immediate action.

In the past, no matter how the professional was collecting the data, he or she would have to complete the entire route before coming back to a computer to upload the data to send or do further analysis. With this scenario, many times an emergency is forgotten or other urgencies take precedence. Unless the maintenance professional actually leaves a post and stops what he or she is doing to alert a subordinate or decision maker, this emergency rarely ever gets action.

This example is just a drop in the bucket of what we are all experiencing in our digital lives. Fifteen years ago, if you wanted to send a picture of your kids to your mother out of state, you would have had to lick a stamp and send it. Now, we take the picture, type a few of the first few letters of an e-mail or text address and hit send. Wow, what a world we live in!And this technology is catching up with industry and predictive maintenance, too!

The modern day tablets are very powerful computers. We’re all fascinated with the ability to absorb content on these wonderful devices, but it gets forgotten that tablets also can be used to collect data and get work done. They arevery portable and virtually always connected to the Internet. Thousands of companies have adopted these tablets for use in filling out purchase orders, forms and many other daily tasks by workers collecting data.

One of the most insightful things that leading companies have realized is that most people already knowhow to use the operating system, so there is no learning curve to work with today's tablets and smartphones.

Taking this technologyto the next level, imagine the ability to add sensors and tools to these tablet devices. Many companies are realizing the advantages of this much understood tablet operating system and adding complex sensors and tools to the equation.

Vibration Analysis

Vibration analysis is one of the leading measurements taken in the predictive maintenance community for equipment reliability. It has proven itself over and over again to be a reliable device fordetecting unbalance, misalignment, bent shafts, eccentric rotors, sheaves, resonance, mechanical looseness, oil whirl, bearing failures, gear mesh,motor problems and more. Most modern analyzers also have balancing capability to correct vibration on the spot.More importantly, data collectors are designed to trend data overtime to know exactly when failures will occur.

Infrared Thermography

Infrared thermography is used to measure temperature to determine the machine’s operating condition and detect thermal anomalies and areas that are hotter or colder than they should be. Infrared practices can be used to detect problems in electrical switchgear, gearboxes, electrical substations, transmissions, circuit breaker panels, motors, bearings, steam lines and other important industrial components. This technology also aids in letting maintenance know when important assets are going to fail.

Motor Condition Analysis

Circuit analysis and power readings of the motor windings and motor rotor can provide important information about the running condition and general health of a motor.

Precision Balancing

Another vital instrument used to solve equipment vibration and premature failure, precision balancing can be performed on machines made for balancing. It has been a very popular practiceconducting it in the field using very expensive equipment. This equipment is normally very hard to use and requires many hours of training.

Precision Laser Alignment and Leveling

Yet another tool found in a maintenance professional’s toolbox is a device to level and align equipment with precision. Again, hours of training and expense are added for each toolset.

As tablets gain in popularity, companies are adopting ways to use their simplicity, portability and connectivityfor everyday business tasks. For example, theyare currently being used to collect credit card information, perform bar code scans, take and send photos, create custom reports for field engineers and even as navigation recorders for pilots.

The Future

Now imagine the ability to attach complex and precision sensors. This opens many more possibilities than ever before.“Why?” you may ask. What is the difference between using a dedicated electronic measuring device versus using a tablet, laptop or notebook computer, or smartphone for analysis? There are several advantages to using a tablet, computer, or smartphone, including:

  1. More features, includinge-mails, photos, notes, phone calls, texts, video conferencing, Internet searches for information, storage and viewing of important asset manuals and blueprints, maps and much more.
  2. Ease of use of a common operating system.
  3. Multiple sensors and applications on one platform/device.
  4. Portability and durability with the available cases.
  5. Wireless connection to servers, cloud and Internet, with the ability to send out data wirelessly.
  6. Continually updated software for free.

These advantages clearly mark these devices as the platform of the future, not only for the sound reasons mentioned, but also due to the fact that the youth of today are using and learning on them in our educational systems.

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