Shooters test a catapult capacity selector valve calculator during flight operations to illustrate how IoT is changing maintenance
The Internet of Things (IoT) is a phrase we’re starting to hear more and more. As bandwidth and connectivity costs drop and apps to connect devices flourish, we’re bound to hear of many breakthroughs in the area of device-to-device or machine-to-machine (M2M) connectivity. Smart apps will surely fuel tremendous change and provide eye-popping capabilities.

What is the Internet of Things?

In very basic terms, connecting devices such as cell phones, sensors, washing machines, and even wearable electronics to the internet are examples of the Internet of Things. IoT enables people, electronic devices, and the Internet to communicate with each other for exceptional functionality. Gartner predicts that by 2020 there will be over 25 billion connected devices.

What’s the benefit of so many connected devices? When away from home, you can control household devices such as your oven, sprinkler system, and even security alarms remotely. On the roads and highways of the near future, automobiles will communicate with each other to prevent auto accidents. In our cities energy use and ever-scarcer water supplies will be regulated and controlled by IoT.

So how about on the manufacturing floor? Or for managing facilities and infrastructure? What will the IoT do there? Hard to say for certain, but there is a precursor that might give us some ideas: PLCs and SCADA systems.

The Internet of Things Supports Preventive Maintenance

PLCs and SCADA systems have been gathering actionable data for years. Unfortunately, many PLCs and SCADA systems generate and/or capture data that does not get utilized – but that’s a topic for another article. Perhaps the simplest example of these systems gathering data is using data from a runtime meter to schedule maintenance every X-number of hours. With M2M technology, networked devices exchange information and can take independent action without any manual human assistance. In many maintenance situations, machine systems can be self-diagnosing and self-adjusting. Besides saving time and expense, this technology can prevent emergencies.

Those last couple of sentences were a pretty big leap, from PLC data to M2M technology in which machines self-diagnose and self-adjust. Let’s look the evolution to utilizing IoT, with the example of a hydraulic system that should not drop below 250 gallons of fluid in the system.

  • Old School: Someone stops and looks at the gauge on the tank, whenever they think of it; that person might top it off if necessary, or might not.
  • Somewhat newer: Checking the level of the hydraulic fluid is made part of a lube route.
  • Newer still: The old gauge is replaced with a modern meter.
  • Semi-automation: The lube route is turned into a meter-reading PM route, and data is collected via a handheld device, aka mobile maintenance. With a wireless network, data entered into the handheld updates the CMMS program in real time, which automatically generates a work order to fill the system and check for leaks when a reading below 250 gallons is entered.
  • Full Automation: The meter on the hydraulic tank is networked and the data is entered into the CMMS program via PLC Integration software. Whenever the reading drops below 250 gallons a work order is automatically generated with no human intervention.
  • The IoT: Now the meter transmits wirelessly; it no longer requires attachment to a costly ethernet network/SCADA system. The CMMS program adds functionality to utilize data transmitted this way and the same automated work order process unfolds.

Now replace our rather low-tech hydraulic system example, and instead picture the most important processes in your facility with sensors talking to each other to make adjustments while running, and also talking to the CMMS program to aggregate maintenance data. Wirelessly. Real-time.

The Internet of Things and Your Business Data

The Internet of Things is the quiet revolution that’s interwoven the devices, sensors, cloud services, and data your business uses. You’ll be able to aggregate and analyze your data using real time data analysis software, and predict failure before it happens by identifying elusive patterns of failure. Ultimately this will lead to improved customer satisfaction.

When equipment failure occurs, data is gathered from multiple sources and analyzed in the cloud in real time and repair actions are recommended. All system operating conditions are included in analysis at the time of failure. These include:

  • data from the computerized maintenance management system (CMMS)
  • patterns of wear
  • operating data from equipment.

This information is presented to the technician for more effective decision-making and a fast resolution. Your software should be able to connect with IoT devices for easy and clear retrieval of relevant information.

This is especially helpful in remote situations, such as wind farms, power substations, and oil-drilling platforms. When these facilities are connected, they can generate their own work orders, with a list of actions needed to complete maintenance. Average repair time and cost of repairs are then greatly reduced.

Using the Internet of Things will allow maintenance managers to monitor machinery and equipment more closely with less effort by compiling all data in one easy place. The Internet of Things has already begun making the world we live in smarter and safer through better reporting and data collection.