Smart sensing transformation

Published:  02 January, 2018

PWE looks at how the arrival of smart sensing technology is set to transform the maintenance of low voltage (LV) motors.

Studies show that a good proactive maintenance regime can lead to a 30% improvement in equipment lifetime compared to reactive maintenance. Yet some 90% of low voltage motors are maintained reactively, with failure usually detected by a change in noise level. This is because plant operators argue that the cost of proactive maintenance is greater than the saving in longer equipment life.

Yet research shows that if motors are proactively looked after, then downtime can be reduced by up to 70%. The arrival of smart sensing technology is set to transform the maintenance of low voltage (LV) motors.

Reactive maintenance

From the moment a motor fails the cost of lost production and the damage to a company’s reputation starts ticking away. You may have a spare motor on site, which needs to be located in the warehouse and transported to the application. Lifting gear may be needed to remove the damaged motor and lower in the replacement. All of which takes technicians to lift the motor, disconnect it and wire it in place. This could take the best part of one day.

What if the motor failure caused damage to the load? Further repair work may be needed which takes additional time to rectify.

Proactive maintenance

Now imagine knowing that a motor is about to fail and being able to schedule the downtime. You can arrange for the lifting gear to be in place, book the maintenance team in advance and plan the closure of the application. With everything aligned, a typical low voltage motor could be up and running within a couple of hours.

Proactive maintenance can reduce the plant's own stock of spare motors and spare parts. While some process industries would not risk the external supply chain for its critical motors, the spare motor stock holding can be significantly reduced in many cases. For instance, the majority of low voltage motors are available from a manufacturer’s stock with two-week delivery, including any modification and transportation to the customer’s premises. Most production motors are available within four to eight weeks.

ABB’s Dave Hawley says his company’s Ability Smart Sensor for motors picks up data on vibration, temperature and other parameters, which it relays, via a secure, cloud-based server, to the end user’s smartphone or laptop. The analysed data is displayed in the form of simple traffic lights: green – motor is fine, yellow – a service is needed, red – imminent failure is likely.

This means the operator has ample time to prepare for the motor’s failure – or to take steps to prevent it happening. The operator can order new spares from the manufacturer instead of using spare parts stored on site.


Consider an application with a downtime cost of only £100 per hour. Reducing the downtime from 24 hours to just 2 hours gives a saving of £2200. And that is for just one motor. For a plant with 100 motors, a rule of thumb indicates that motors need replacing between five to 10 times per year. The entire investment in the condition monitoring solution could pay for itself the first time you avoid a major incident.

Some applications in critical process industries can lose tens of thousands of pounds per hour through downtime. It is cost effective, therefore, for these types of applications to implement predictive maintenance regimes. However, for some 95 percent of all low voltage motor applications it has been prohibitively expensive to monitor their daily performance. That is until now!

Reducing personnel costs

Smart sensors enable operators to check on the condition of a motor remotely and determine if there is a need to despatch a technician. This facility has considerable cost-saving benefits.

With the hourly rate for a technician typically between £50 to £100, just a couple of avoided call-outs could see the investment in smart sensing technology payback easily within the first year of operation.

For those sites with a large installed base of motors, or remote locations, such as a wastewater piping network, knowing the status of a motor in advance of sending a technician will also avoid incurring any transportation costs.

Furthermore, maintenance based on a smart sensor will lead to significant time savings compared to traditional schedule-based maintenance. These savings will be further optimised if the smart sensor is used in conjunction with sophisticated maintenance planning software

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