IIoT’s effects on the motor industry

The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) can help companies realize a greater return on investment (ROI) for plant-floor motors, but companies need to know what they seek and want.

By Ivan Campos August 3, 2019

The adoption of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is growing as companies strive to become more intelligent, efficient, and sustainable through connected systems and continuous data exchange. This is evident in the motor market, as sales of sensors and other “smart” offerings have grown over the past three years.

For suppliers and customers, leveraging the IIoT has become more of a priority than purchasing and manufacturing more energy-efficient motors. Since improved motor efficiency can be attained through connecting industrial equipment and monitoring it, customers are beginning to see more value in doing so and leveraging existing infrastructure.

Sensors, predictive maintenance

Based on interviews conducted at the 2019 Hannover Messe, IHS Markit reported sensor manufacturers expect the market to grow at moderate-to-high levels over the next five years, with new orders for sensors coming from a mix of greenfield and brownfield investments. Although there is a big push by manufacturers to promote their IIoT offerings, motors with sensors preinstalled do not appear to be a huge focus for manufacturers this year.

In the global motor market, the application of IIoT is focused on implementing sensors for predictive maintenance and heightened system monitoring. Based on feedback from manufacturers, asset health monitoring is the key driver of sensor sales, while real-time remote monitoring is viewed as a nice-to-have feature lacking the same return on investment (ROI).

Asset health monitoring offers customers huge potential savings by limiting downtime, saving energy and reducing maintenance costs through predictive maintenance and condition monitoring. This is important for applications such as petroleum extraction, where a few hours of motor downtime could mean a loss of millions of dollars. In contrast, a motor that is 2% more efficient will result in thousands of dollars in savings over a year, and even with a more efficient motor there is no guarantee it will yield a quick return on investment (ROI) unless proper sizing and maintenance procedures are followed.

Facilitating technologies include sensors that read vibration and temperature changes, among other measurements. These sensors are either integrated into the motor or added onto the motor. The sensors then send those inputs through a wireless connection into a virtual console that end users can use to monitor motor’s health. Customers can use that information to prevent downtime by replacing or repairing motors before they break down. This saves valuable time because the end user would often have to identify the root of the problem in the environment without knowing if the issue is stemming from the motor or other component. After spending hours identifying the source, the time must be spent replacing or fixing the damaged motor.

Areas of focus: downtime, cost, risk

With the ability to anticipate a motor failure, customers can order a replacement ahead of time or schedule maintenance outside of production hours, saving time and money. The industries most likely to adopt these motor sensors tend to focus on reducing downtime as much as possible, have high costs of production, or operate in various remote or dangerous locations.

These characteristics are common within the oil and gas and power generation industries and are commonly implemented on mission-critical motors. The most common applications for sensors in motors are compressors and pumps. Motors with integrated sensors are also seeing significant growth in China within high-conversion, large-scale and specialty motors because there is demand for monitoring the environment in the cloud through smartphones or other mobile devices.

Given the growing importance of predictive maintenance, more machine builders are starting to outfit machines with sensors to enable remote monitoring software. Most motor suppliers follow one or more of the following three IIoT strategies:

  • Disruptive companies can offer a whole array of IIoT services along with their portfolio of factory automation.
  • Companies that can offer smart equipment but are not focused on developing in-house services may partner with other suppliers to offer a more complete solution.
  • Companies that see no need to embrace IIoT or other smart-manufacturing technologies will very likely continue to have no IIoT strategy within the next five years.

Top sensor manufacturers also are shifting roles from being hardware providers to providing sensor-data-analysis capabilities. This is how large global sensor manufacturers are differentiating themselves from the smaller/midsize competition, which is mostly focused on sensor hardware. After-sales predictive maintenance services produce revenue beyond product sales. Service providers can replace faulty components before damage occurs because of insights from monitoring a customer’s industrial environment.

The implied benefit is a supplier can become part of day-to-day customer operations and better understand application needs, thus making it harder for that customer to replace its provider. Familiarity can be as valuable as capability.

Although IIoT in the motor industry has seen increasing adoption and interest from end-users over the past few years, ongoing education is still needed on how customers can work with these technologies. Interviews with other motor suppliers at the 2019 Hannover Messe confirmed this vendor-driven IIoT landscape. Interviews also revealed node counts in motors and drives are increasing, while enablement rates remain flat. This means suppliers are designing drives with extra sensors and connectivity, yet customers are not using the features. While more customers are beginning to the see the value that IIoT technology brings into their environment, there is still a lot of hesitance in adopting the technology. When this technology first became a primary focus in the industry, it was thought cybersecurity concerns would hinder its development.

The IHS Markit IIoT Readiness Survey revealed, however, it is cultural issues, not cybersecurity, that are the most common obstacles to adopting IIoT. As an example, industrial automation companies struggle with legacy equipment and infrastructure incompatible with IIoT technology. By and large, if a company is able to use connected equipment and collect data, it is unlikely it possesses the resources to interpret the influx of data being collected. There is a serious lack of employee skills and knowledge, which is the most common challenge reported in the survey.

Currently, most sales of IIoT-enabled equipment are coming from early adopters, as many customers perceive significant risk in adopting a technology they feel has not been tested enough in real-world applications.

Another customer obstacle is the additional upfront cost that comes with adopting smart sensors.

Although the actual sensors are inexpensive, customers also face the cost of the monitoring services, which tend to come from third-party firms because most motor manufacturers do not offer an in-house service. Most sensors sold in 2018 for motors were separate from the initial sale of the motor. This sale often occurs when service teams are engaging with the customer and selling the sensor as an additional add-on during installations or motor repair.

IHS Markit’s Industrial Communication Intelligence Service estimates that 4.9% of motors were network-enabled in 2018, and less than 1% of motors were connected. The service predicts that sensor sales will continue to grow as more customers become aware of the benefits. There also will be an increase in motor sales with sensors pre-installed by 2020.

Ivan Campos, research analyst, IHS Markit. Edited by Chris Vavra, production editor, Control Engineering, CFE Media, cvavra@cfemedia.com.


Keywords: motors and drives, Industrial Internet of Things, IIoT

The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is playing a larger role in making motors smarter and efficient.

Sensors connected to the motors offer a great deal of information for users.

Workplace culture, rather than cybersecurity concerns, remains the largest obstacle toward IIoT adoption.


What benefits could the IIoT provide to motors on your plant floor?

Author Bio: Ivan Campos, research analyst, IHS Markit