BALTIMORE — You wear a wrist band to check your fitness level, or a smartphone to make sure you locked the door when you leave for vacation. Well, Conrad Bessemer is putting sensors on Novatec Inc.'s auxiliary equipment — “wearables” for machinery that measure things like vibration, sound and heat, to warn in advance that it's time for preventive maintenance.
Novatec is the first licensee of a startup company called Prophecy Sensorlytics in Columbia, Md. Novatec has the exclusive rights for Prophecy machine-wearable sensors that monitor functions of drying, conveyor and downstream equipment. The companies worked together to develop industrial applications for the sensors.
At NPE 2015, Novatec will show the new sensors on a pump and a central dryer at Booth W3742.
Novatec is adding the Prophecy sensors to its auxiliary equipment, at no extra charge. The price of wireless sensors has come down and the analysis capability — through the “cloud” — is inexpensive today.
Call it Big Data for a vacuum pump, a gearbox, a motor. The Internet of Things comes to your plastics factory!
What do these sensors measure? Factors like vibration, sound, air and material flow or magnetic resonance — or all of them at the same time. The small wireless sensors fit magnetically onto the outside of a machine housing.
Novatec and Prophecy Sensorlytics determine the baseline for functions like level of vibration, sound and other variables that indicate the mechanical device is running properly. The sensor measures continuously, and clearly indicates when the variable changes out of a set range.
Bessemer, president and CEO of the Baltimore-based Novatec, said plastics processing machinery does a good job of measuring output of molded or extruded parts and material.
Auxiliary equipment can measure drying, or how much material goes into a loader.
He gives an example of an extruder:
“So an extruder would be measuring RPMs — it would tell you what the extruder screw speed was, and measure the temperature. But it doesn't tell you the condition of the gearbox. It doesn't tell you whether there's wear on the screw and barrel,” Bessemer said.
You might not figure out screw and barrel wear until you — or the customer — notice material is improperly mixed. A trained maintenance man might hear odd sounds coming from the gearbox, indicating it will fail.
Or maybe not.
Biplab Pal, Prophecy Sensorlytics' co-founder and chief technology officer, said sensors can detect changes in vibration of bearings in a pump or motor, and analyze if that means the oil is low or needs changing. Noise and vibration can indicate a clogged filter or line. Electromagnetic measurements can monitor a motor's power output.
Bessemer and Pal discussed the sensor technology in an interview at Novatec's headquarters.
Sensor use is exploding in cars and personal items. Pal said three factors have converged to dramatically bring down the cost, and open up broad industrial uses: The development of the single-chip silicone sensor, lower-cost networking through the cloud on distributed database, and the wireless revolution.
“You put them together and then it becomes reality. It's not one of them, it's all three together,” he said.
Novatec is on the ground floor of using the sensors for industrial machinery. But Bessemer thinks that is the future, just like cell phones and those exercise bracelets. Knowing that pumps, motors and other basic industrial processes — devices often ignored until they fail — are running as well as possible can help American competitiveness, he said.
“This will become pervasive and you won't even think about it,” he said. “It's just the way you should run a plant.”
And he can see the Prophecy sensors measure things on other types of machinery — such as tie-bar parallelism on an injection press. Or the big rooftop chiller you never look at. Or the pump on the railcar siding outside in the snow.
Adding sensors to a machine is the exact opposite of the run-to-failure mode.
In the near future, a plant manager could look at his computer screen and prioritize maintenance tasks. The mechanical functions would have a “brain” and be able to say it's time to change the oil or check for wear.
“That is a huge gain in productivity, and it makes you better able to compete in a global marketplace,” Bessemer said.