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IIoT: Making sense of everything

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Picture of Meenal Datar

Meenal Datar

Membership specialist
NEON vibration sensor in situ

In 2021, the introduction of TWTG’s Vibration Sensor was warmly welcomed by the market. This year, TWTG will launch the Vibration Sensor Application onto their IIoT platform, SolidRed, and in doing so, unleash the potential far beyond the sensors’ base functionality. This is just the latest addition to the LoRaWAN-based solution that has forced a steady disruption in methods of monitoring oil and gas industry assets.

 

FINGERS CROSSED

Go back half a century, and maintenance of rotating equipment was undoubtedly an imprecise science. With little technology available to diagnose equipment externally, engineers leant on experience to evaluate when maintenance should occur. Regular visual inspections were essential, with a pair of engineers visiting the most critical or vulnerable equipment, sometimes up to a few times a day. More robust or possibly less vital equipment was inspected far less frequently, perhaps with weeks between visits. Outside of this routine, only a combination of bitter experience, and the estimated cost of failure, determined the strategy for the inspection and maintenance of components. Typically, two methodologies were employed.

For the most critical or costly equipment, a strategy of preventive maintenance required the scheduled breakdown of equipment for inspection and servicing. This method dramatically reduced the risk of failure and downtime. The downside was greater maintenance costs.

The second methodology was reactive maintenance – where non-critical or expendable equipment was literally run-until-failure. This approach avoided the costs of up-front maintenance but led to an unforeseen amount of unscheduled downtime and unbudgeted maintenance costs. It was and remains to be a strategy of fingers crossed.

Roll on a couple of decades, and the advent of new technologies enabled facilities to monitor components remotely. Engineers could monitor and assess equipment in real-time, from the luxury of their office. With technology built-in, these finely engineered solutions were designed to replace the original component entirely – but the incredibly high price-point ensured this was only viable for the most critical and valuable equipment.

Still today, the oil and gas industry largely employs this strategy to monitor all high-level equipment. While technology costs have reduced over the years, the precision engineering involved in these solutions hasn’t. Factor in the high installation costs and it is obvious to see why this type of solution still only covers the top 10% of assets. The result is, remarkably, that in 2022, most facilities across the globe still employ the traditional strategies of scheduled visual inspection and reactive and preventative maintenance for the remaining 90% of their assets.

 

BREAKING THE STATUS QUO

How TWTG breaks this status quo is twofold. First, the solution prioritises the development of retrofittable devices, meaning all NEON devices work without any need to replace existing equipment.

Secondly, with no heavy engineering involved, the individual price point is far lower because the NEON devices consist only of device electronics, housing, and any relevant fixing. In the case of vibration sensors, manufacturing the whole rotating part, with the sensor electronics incorporated, is technically very complex and, as such, one of the most expensive components to swap out.

So, a NEON sensor costing in the low hundreds rather than the high thousands means a modern facility can afford to monitor all of its assets – not just the top 10%. Via NEON, engineers can view 100% of their assets, either individually; or as part of a greater ecosystem, where device data merges to give deeper insight into the workings of a facility. What this means for the engineers is more certainty:

  • More certainty from regular status checks every 15 minutes; Should the pattern not be as expected, the whole data package can be analysed remotely via an intuitive dashboard, directing the engineers to any anomalies.
  • More certainty based on the tremendous amount of data availability. When viewing data from assets in conjunction with other assets on the network, engineers can glean invaluable insight from the relationships between seemingly unrelated components.
  • More certainty from interrogating data from previous incidents and patterns that have occurred in the past. By comparing new data to old, engineers can identify the events that happened before an earlier incident was triggered; and then utilise this formation to recognise this sequence should it occur again, thus stopping a reccurrence of the event.
NEON Vibration Sensor
Figure 2: NEON Vibration Sensor

A NEW DIRECTION

This move towards digitalisation in the oil and gas industry is not new. It has been discussed for years and is now an integral part of all companies planning for the future. However, only recently have the reduced cost of the necessary technology and its technical capability aligned so these visions have become possible.

Oil and gas operators understand the importance of digitalisation. They are pushing the demand, and accordingly, driving the innovation of increasingly sophisticated and technologically advanced IIoT solutions within their industry. They understand that data can liberate them from the traditional methodology, which causes considerable waste in time, money, and resources. Data will enable them to make informed decisions and considerably hone their business in terms of effectiveness and efficiency. Operations will become increasingly less routine driven. Day-to-events will become more agile and less reactive.

The cost of unscheduled maintenance and downtime has a significant effect on the profitability of a facility. A single hour of unscheduled downtime can negate weeks, possibly months of advantage from multiple other activities designed to increase efficiency or save costs.

 

HOW THE NEON VIBRATION SENSOR APPLICATION TRANSFORMS USE CASES

The vibration sensor works by detecting irregularities in the usual behaviour patterns of equipment, thereby identifying possible bearing faults on pumps, motors or other rotating equipment early. In its basic form, the NEON Vibration Sensor can relay primary sensor information, such as acceleration and velocity, to anywhere the engineer should choose. However, should the engineer want to make better use of this data or possibly combine it with further data to achieve greater insight, this can only be achieved when combined with the Vibration Sensor Application on SolidRed, and it’s here where the vibration sensor’s raw data is transformed into tangible, workable information.

The solution analyses the data in two ways. Firstly, looking for new anomalies in data from the rotating unit and alerting an engineer to any potential problem. So, for instance – the beginning of a bearing fault gives an engineer sufficient notice to plan the necessary maintenance at a time that suits them best, thus, avoiding any unwarranted downtime.

The second layer of analysis is where the Vibration Sensor Application displays its intelligence –  by analysing the complete network of sensors as a single entity and comparing real-time and historical data, the Vibration Sensor Application can recognise the fingerprints of previous events and prewarn engineers well in advance, enabling planned maintenance or replacement during scheduled downtime.

The SolidRed platform delivers full Fast Fourier Transform (FFT) functionality which can be utilised, exported elsewhere, made visual and most importantly, acted upon.

An engineer has access to a unique dashboard with detailed vibration analysis, allowing them to diagnose the device without leaving their desk. A waterfall feature visualises and compares changes in the spectrum over time. A perfect tool to spot slow rising peaks indicating possible wear or damage, that without this waterfall feature would be challenging to spot.

The platform uses simple use case-based scenarios to aid configuration, and unlike any other solution, engineers can configure existing sensors or add further ones without involving the IT or infrastructure specialist to upload the LoRa message. Customisable role management means the right people access the features they need,  keeping the functionality, facts and information firmly in the user’s realm and capability.

Moving beyond its pure functionality, TWTG is proud to point out that unlike most other technological platforms in the sector, it has no vendor lock-in, which means easy integration with most IoT platforms and any other LoRaWAN network.

 

Figure 3: NEON VB during test set-up: Comparison with standard vibration sensor

TECHNOLOGICAL MOTIVATION

Lastly, it’s important to mention investing in technology as a motivator for the future. We’ve noted that routine equipment inspection is an arduous and time-consuming task, and it’s precisely this type of mundane work that can bring monotony and demotivation to an engineer’s job.

The rapid emergence of IIoT has brought technology and engineering crashing together over the last decade. It’s concerning for companies, but their experienced engineers are now an in-demand commodity, not only in the oil and gas industry but beyond, and as a consequence, retention of their experience and knowledge has become a significant issue.

The introduction of new technologies, whilst simultaneously reducing tedious and routine tasks for experienced, but seemingly underutilised engineers, will help retain their services. Inspired engineers want to be challenged by their profession – that’s why they choose it.

There is no doubt, in the next few years, the addition, development and innovation of leading-edge technologies to existing and future facilities will become a key determinator and motivator to encourage young, ambitious engineers to join our industry while persuading the slightly wiser and more experienced ones to stay.

For more information:

Nadine Herrwerth, Managing Director at TWTG will be speaking at this year’s StocExpo, alongside Sophie Winter,, Rotating Equipment Engineer at Shell. Their presentation will be at 2.30pm on 24th May. Find out more and register now: StocExpo conference programme day 2 | StocExpo

www.twtg.io

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