How IIoT impacts tool and sensor functionality

On the front lines of the cloud’s maintenance disruption.
By Alex Desselle, Fluke May 4, 2018

The Accelix suite of solutions meets maintenance professionals where they are in their maintenance journeys. Courtesy: Fluke Digital SystemsMost often, for change to occur, disruption precedes it. This is certainly true of the Industrial Internet of Things’ (IIoT) impact on the industrial world.

Until recently, this ongoing industrial revolution primarily impacted operations personnel. However, as cloud-based technologies become more cost-effective, maintenance teams are turning to the cloud to help them work smarter, including when it comes to the implementation of predictive strategies.

The days of taking measurements with a handheld meter, recording the data on a clipboard, and, at the end of the day, entering the results into a database are almost over.

Fluke Corp. is known for accurate, durable handheld devices. For the foreseeable future, maintenance teams will need these tools to perform route-based testing and root-cause analysis on assets. However, with IIoT advances, these virtually indispensable tools, as well as other emergent technologies, will be used in smarter ways. 

Functional transition

In 2014, Fluke launched Fluke Connect (FC) and entered the realm of software-as-a-service (SaaS). Using a Wi-Fi or cellular connection, cloud-based software allows data acquired from handheld tools or wireless sensors to be aggregated automatically in one place. The data is used for comparison and analysis. This simple step revolutionizes how plants and other facilities perform maintenance. This is a direct result of increasing IIoT usage and popularity.

What end users want is a kind of "Facebook" for their assets, and the FC App displays and organizes by asset. Instead of tracking friends, personnel see an organized display of assets and audit trails for them. At the end of the day, what’s revealed is everything that has transpired in regard to the asset during its time in the facility.

Maintenance professionals want this Facebook for equipment so as to execute predictive maintenance strategies based on measurements taken related to asset health. The asset management function can then anticipate when to perform maintenance. Generally, technicians expect to see measurements from supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA), stand-alone tools, and semi-fixed or fixed sensors.

Launching this kind of functionality or capability can lead to earthquake-like disruptive change. One way this type of earthquake occurs is based on rising tensions between alternative views of the future. Instead of two tectonic plates rubbing against each other, two different conceptions of the future grate, one against the other.

At Fluke, two views were relevant to future product development. One view was the company should focus on its core hardware strength. The competing view was the company should, while making best use of its hardware expertise and capabilities, envision a software option. Tension existed between these two viewpoints, and questions arose over which strategy was best. Ultimately, Fluke did both.

Today, tools wirelessly connect to the cloud, so technicians never need to write anything down. Other functionality organizes and displays measurements for the maintenance team by asset. Maintenance and plant managers can see which assets are operating within specifications and which are not.

Moreover, the entire maintenance team needs to know the health of the assets it’s responsible for. With a mobile application and hand tool, this is eminently doable. Data also can be periodically uploaded to a conveniently located PC. The result is accurate data, filed away based on each asset, which is required for good decision support. 

Software centricity

Cloud-connected handheld tools and semi-fixed and fixed sensors can simplify data collection. Courtesy: Fluke Digital SystemsTo be a software-centric company, more was needed. The resulting solutions were aimed at supporting maintenance personnel by allowing them to work smarter, quicker, and more effectively. The goal was and continues to be making preventive and predictive maintenance easier.

Many handheld device users also have computerized maintenance management system (CMMS) in their facilities. Companies engaged in maintaining motors, pumps, or other widely utilized assets often have a CMMS or work-order management system. In transitioning to an IIoT-enabled world, maintenance managers or planners comfortable with their current applications environment may object to a changing paradigm and want to continue to use the existing work-order management system to store data.

Because of this, Fluke purchased eMaint, a CMMS provider, and later SCHAD, which integrates data to enterprise asset management (EAM) and CMMS, as well as providing a mobile interface. Fluke also entered the realm of fixed and semi-fixed sensor manufacturing with solutions that feed data into an integrated system. This new software and sensor business unit became the Accelix ecosystem.

The solution suite stores and classifies data based on assets, and integrates data from sensors and handheld tools into any existing CMMS or EAM system. However, what if a maintenance manager has different software for different tools and systems already: perhaps a thermal imager or power quality sensor? Each application involves different software applications. They are many brands of CMMS or EAM. How can a manager or scheduler access all the data they need all in one place?

The ecosystem already is compatible with all the tools and sensors. It is compatible with thermal imagers, vibration sensors, and insulation testers. It is compatible with a CMMS from Accelix or with SCHAD integration. In fact, the system can be compatible with any EAM or CMMS; with third-party tools and sensors; with assets with built-in sensors; and with control/management systems, such as supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA), building management, and other control and operations systems. All this data can be accessed from a PC or with a connected smart device. 

Simplifying maintenance planning

The addition of a sensor- and software-focused suite of solutions allows maintenance professionals to assess where they are in their maintenance journey. When facilities move from reactive to proactive strategies, they typically are not staffed, and the budget may not exist, to include every asset in a preventive or predictive program. They cannot add the sensors needed to monitor an entire plant and may not have the technicians to perform preventive routes on all assets.

Instead, plants and other facilities execute strategies that combine the preventive, predictive, and reactive, especially where criticality and costs lean toward this last method. The benefits of a CMMS integrated with tools, sensors (including third-party sensors), assets, and operating systems are clear. Thus equipped, a plant can use condition monitoring data to plan maintenance tasks—preventive, predictive, prescriptive, and even reactive, in emergency scenarios.

Of course, having insight into the immediate future is beneficial, but good planning is more important than anything. If facilities and plants can predict a potential problem, but don’t have the capacity and organization to schedule upkeep and maintenance, problem prediction isn’t much help. A CMMS with asset health data integrated and visible helps facilities plan maintenance tasks, wherever they are in the maintenance journey, from reactive to proactive.

The ideal result of the journey is having technologies that predict bad outcomes ahead of time and that can diagnose what maintenance personnel need to do to prevent asset failure. The future will take things one step further when diagnostics and analyses will help end users along on their continuing journey to prescriptive strategies and activities.

Alex Desselle is a product application specialist with Fluke Digital Systems and Accelix. With more than 30 years of experience, Desselle has been a lead field engineer, project manager, and subject matter expert in the oil and gas, chemical, and manufacturing industries. For more information about Fluke Accelix, visit accelix.com.

This article appears in the IIoT for Engineers supplement for Control Engineering and Plant Engineering

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