Suite solutions

To keep pace with the drive to reduce downtime and improve safety, specialist monitoring software looks set to play an ever-increasing role in many manufacturing and process operations. Colin Carter reports.


Production plant operators are aware that more downtime equals less product and less profit — a simple equation that can have enormous consequences in large-scale processes such as the chemicals or oil and gas industries.

Once maintenance engineers and technicians manually checked a plant’s critical instruments and components — such as pumps, filters and heat exchangers — to see if they were in a condition that meant they were likely to fail. In common with many other tasks, computers and smart instruments connected by intelligent field networks have replaced much of this manual effort.

Manufacturers are bringing smarter devices to market with associated software packages. ABB, for example, has recently launched a suite of field validation and in-situ verification tools for the company’s electromagnetic flowmeters. In-built software assesses whether MagMaster or AquaMaster flowmeters have been installed and are working properly.

The Windows-based package that comes with it can download data for more rigorous analysis and report if required, in addition to analysing faults.

Switzerland’s Burckhardt, manufacturer of compressors across many industries, has produced Prognost — a dedicated software suite for the condition monitoring of its compressors. The company claims this is unique because it analyses data in real-time using pattern recognition techniques to compare live data with a library of condition experience data.

Prognost is claimed to ensure any reciprocating compressor monitored by this system can be shut down quickly and reliably with virtually no risk of false trips.

Artesis Technology Systems produces condition monitoring and diagnostic software for use with its motor and plant condition monitors that can be purchased as off-the-shelf solutions. The monitor is designed for use with turbines and can monitor variables such as misalignment, imbalance, bearing faults and short-circuits.

Amot has produced its XTS-W bearing condition monitoring suite — specifically for monitoring bearings in large two-stroke diesel engines. This combines information from sensors in the main engine, crank-pin and cross-head bearings to enable planned maintenance of bearings before unplanned downtime becomes a reality.

Engineering machine component and bearings manufacturer SKF has produced a package called the SKF Machine suite, integrating inspection, vibration and surveillance data from arrays of portable and online devices and systems to monitor the condition of machinery around a plant or process.

The system can share data around an organisation in a simple format and is designed to be easily expandable as machines need change. It also provides a cost-effective system for managing inspection and maintenance information. The suite has been used by BMW at its car engine plant in Steyr, Austria, and at the Volvo and Opel GM Powertrain plant in Vienna.

Remote diagnostics are also at the heart of Festo’s CPX Web Monitor software package. Data is automatically collected, processed and stored locally by a Festo terminal controller and transmitted to the internet via an ethernet-equipped web server. Monitoring of plant data such as individual pneumatic valve condition monitoring, pressure, temperature and i/o status monitoring and power supply condition monitoring can all be carried out via internet-equipped phones and PDAs, as well as from standalone PCs.

Invensys has put much effort into integrating condition monitoring software with other data sources and systems — and can form an integral part of its InFusion enterprise control system. The latest version features real-time and history-based condition monitoring of a plant, taking data from any intelligent instrument. The software supports Microsoft BizTalk integration with enterprise systems — Microsoft and SAP, for example — and again supports remote web viewing of plant data.

As an example of the kind of implementation of such systems, the company has won a multi-million dollar automation contract to provide an integrated system, to include a condition monitoring element, at the Laffan Refinery, being built at Ras Laffan city in Qatar.

There are also extremely specialised areas where condition monitoring software saves downtime. For example, Oceaneering’s Inspection and NDT division produces a suite called the Asset Condition Evaluation Tool (ACET) for use in the oil and gas industries. This is designed to manage the effects of corrosion, plant integrity and inspection processes. The software determines the optimum inspection frequency using a risk assessment module and can carry out inspections using dedicated modules such as the gauge interface module.

Corrosion monitoring is also a high priority for risk-based inspection (rbi) specialist Visions Enterprise, using a module which is part of its enterprise system. The company’s software systems incorporate automatic forecasting elements that logs, processes and displays data on component condition, flags areas where maintenance or replacement of plant fixtures is required and develops an inspection schedule so that inspector’s time is used as efficiently as possible.

As well as the cost of downtime, safety is also an issue for the implementation of condition monitoring systems. In the rail industry, for example, the consequences of failure can cost lives. Condition monitoring software plays its role as part of an overall asset management system — as in the recent order from ADT Rail Systems, a part of Siemens Transportation Systems, for licences for Tascomp Prodigy Scada (Supervisory Control And Data Acquisition) software.

This contains a significant condition monitoring element, undertaking monitoring of points, level crossings and power and event management.

Condition monitoring is now big business and can form a significant proportion of many large-scale plant upgrades or new-build contract value.

Earlier this year, for example, Emerson Process Management announced it had won a $1.7m (£880,000) contract to provide performance analysis of processes and equipment at Atlantic LNG’s plant in Trinidad & Tobago. The award will cover the provision of Emerson reliability personnel who will identify performance degradations, implement proactive maintenance and identify asset performance changes to ensure the plant operates at maximum efficiency.

Another large-scale chemical plant operator, Lyondell, has also recently signed a large contract for a licence to use ExperTune’s PlanTriage Performance Supervision software at 25 of its plants worldwide. The software will be used to monitor real-time data from plant-wide control systems and will cover condition monitoring of instruments and valves, as well as plant tuning and optimisation.

As can be seen, condition monitoring software is an important part of many manufacturing and process operations. And, as the drive to reduce downtime and improve safety continues, its use seems sure to increase.