Motoring toward greater efficiency

GE Global Research, Sensicast Systems and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute are to collaborate on a three-year, $6 million project to improve the efficiency of electric motors.

GE Global Research, Sensicast Systems, provider of wireless sensor networking products and solutions, and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) are to collaborate on a three-year, $6 million project for the United States Department of Energy.

The project aims to increase the overall energy efficiency of American industry by developing wireless sensor networks and systems to improve the efficiency of electric motors.

GE Global Research has been selected to lead the project to develop low-cost wireless sensor networks for industrial equipment monitoring. The first focus will be to analyse the efficiency of industrial motors, which use 65 percent of the total electricity consumed by US industry.

Sensicast is providing mesh-networking software that eliminates signal interference and integrates the wireless network into the existing plant network. RPI is developing physics-based models for analysis and lifetime prediction of the motors. The goal is to reduce the cost of owning motor monitoring systems, which should accelerate technology adoption and enable energy savings in motor systems throughout industry.

Wireless sensors will be installed on selected motors in a plant operation. The sensors will monitor parameters critical to each motor’s condition and efficiency based on a combination of measurements such as vibration, temperature and power quality. This data is then transmitted wirelessly to a computer that analyses the data from each sensor. Any potential problems are transmitted to plant personnel via phone, pager or e-mail as an advanced warning system. This will allow plant personnel to repair or replace motors before their efficiency drops or they fail entirely.

“Electric motor driven systems consume 23 percent of all electricity used in the United States – a truly staggering number. Working with GE and the Department of Energy to deploy smart wireless mesh networking technology for improving these motors’ energy efficiency is a real world example of technology making a significant difference,” said Paul Sereiko, CEO of Sensicast.

GE says there are two major advantages of the technology being developed for this program. The first is a robust, low power communications network that will operate in an industrial environment. This low power consumption enables the networks to operate for years on a single battery. The second advantage is the configurable, two-way communications network.

Many wireless systems can receive data, but they cannot send commands or confirmation back to the device. This system will have two-way communications, enabling the use of control applications. If a monitoring system is being used on a generator and has sent notification that it is running too hot, the monitoring personnel could issue wireless commands back to the generator for it to turn on its exhaust fan.