Lean, Mean Machines

Machine monitoring is a growth area for sensors and especially wireless sensors, so I was very interested to read this article posted on Ferret.com.au, an Australian technology Web site.

Apparently, a group of companies and universities is banding together on a Europe-wide project—called Dynamic Decisions in Maintenance or DYNAMITE—to develop sensors to predict when machinery is about to fail. Now, the concept of predictive maintenance isn't new. Several companies supply condition-based monitoring sensors or systems, so what makes this effort different?

Fix it Before it Breaks
First, look at the list of participants. That's an impressive collection of industrial and academic/research entities, which should tell you how very important this topic is. The push is to streamline manufacturing processes as much as possible and that means shifting from preventive maintenance to predictive maintenance. An article in South African Mining News, cites a recent survey performed by Rockwell Automation in conjunction with Maintenance Technology magazine. In the survey, respondents said they spent 40% of their time on reactive tasks and only 15% on predictive ones. The goal is to shift those numbers to 12% reactive and 33% predictive.

Second, look at the combination of technologies they're interested in using: wireless telemetry, smart tags with intelligent local history, and online instrumentation combined with very robust sensors that can be installed inside the machinery that may fail, be it a gearbox, engine, or door mechanism.

We're already seeing growth in wireless condition-based monitoring. Likewise, the wider use of RFID tags to track parts (and accompany them with historical data) as they make their way through the manufacturing process. And the ability to control or query a device using a Web browser has moved from rare to ubiquitous.

I can' tell if this group is just duplicating existing efforts or trying to tie these technologies together to create a more unified, multifaceted system. I do know that I look forward to seeing what they come up with, and not just because they have a catchy acronym.