As manufacturing facilities increasingly move to automation and advanced manufacturing practices, there is less slack in the system for failures and unplanned downtime. Factories must be ready to operate whenever production requires.

Modern remote-monitoring solutions provide valuable insights into critical thermal processes while securely connecting thermal-processing equipment to the cloud. Benefits include comprehensive performance monitoring and making critical asset data available anytime, anywhere, on any smart device.

Operating Challenges

In a competitive business climate, production and process systems have to deliver value by operating in the smartest, most efficient manner possible. There is a growing need for plant owners/operators to minimize unplanned downtime and improve productivity, making uptime essential.

In industrial thermal-processing equipment such as boilers, ovens and furnaces, information that is vital to efficiency and reliability often is trapped at the equipment level. Unless a worker is already at the equipment, it is impossible to use that data respond to upsets and alarms. At times, by the time you get a worker in front of the equipment, it could be too late.

Maintenance technicians frequently are required to travel to thermal-processing equipment to troubleshoot and diagnose problems. They do not always know the tools or parts that are required until they are on-site. This can result in multiple return trips to address an asset issue.

Moreover, the retirement of engineers, operators and technicians familiar with industrial process heating is creating a shortage of proven know-how. There are fewer combustion specialists across the industry, and the remaining plant personnel are responsible for more tasks than ever before.

Operations and maintenance management have a problem really knowing what is going on at production sites. And, it is increasingly difficult for them to make a true determination of asset health across multiple facilities.

Need to Make Data Visible

Most maintenance managers are well acquainted with the panic of handling a critical thermal-process failure and investigating potential causes after the fact. In many cases, the issues may require repairs and may involve unplanned downtime. In order to unleash greater productivity, industrial operations of all sizes are looking for ways to improve the visibility of asset and production issues.

Experience has shown that unplanned downtime at these facilities can result in tens of thousands of dollars in lost revenue per hour. (Many facilities significantly underestimate their total downtime costs.) Shutdowns also can lead to substantial response-and-recovery costs, labor and overhead costs, and customer service impact.

remote monitoring

Data available using a mobile app for remote monitoring include fuel consumption, flame-signal strength, flow rate, temperature and historical data over time.

What plant personnel really need is an effective way to view and share data before they get to the equipment. This includes mobility tools enabling them to receive real-time alerts when operating parameters exceed limits. They can use historical data to track when and why issues occurred.

Solutions for Remote Monitoring

A remote-monitoring solution enables organizations to closely monitor the operation of thermal processes, seeing real-time and trending data, and getting alerts when key parameters are outside normal limits. Users can maximize their thermal intelligence quotient by connecting everyone from management to maintenance with insights that drive smarter decisions. They can stop waiting for faults and failures that can lead to shutdowns. Remote monitoring can allow personnel to get ahead of trouble and maximize uptime.

A software-based monitoring tool provides remote access for key personnel responsible for multiple pieces of thermal-processing equipment. Data available using a mobile app include:

  • Fuel consumption.
  • Flame-signal strength.
  • O2 percentage.
  • Flow rate.
  • Pressure.
  • Temperature.
  • Historical data over time.

The visualization of current operating values in both text and graphic form ensures there is a comprehensive overview of the thermal-processing assets. It also provides convenient and cost-effective remote monitoring.

How the Technology Works

As part of an efficient and secure remote-monitoring approach, plant combustion equipment management systems and edge devices such as digital controllers and relay modules communicate key parameters and alerts to cellular gateways. These, in turn, transfer the data to a secure cloud platform built on well-established technology. SMS text notifications then are passed to smart devices via a mobile app when process problems occur.

SMS text notifications

Via the cloud, SMS text notifications are passed to smart devices such as tablets and smartphones when process problems occur.

With this solution, plant personnel can see current alerts and status information for all connected thermal-processing equipment. They also can get a detailed view of all current system parameters on a smart phone or tablet. Templates within the mobile app allow them to drill down to see additional data.

A remote-monitoring tool can enable users to view a quick snapshot of how each piece of equipment is performing. It allows personnel to monitor key parameters like fuel consumption and O2 levels to ensure the process is running optimally. They can see all active alarm states at a glance, get specific alerts, and know immediately when action needs to be taken. They also can track historical data by day, week or month to identify trends and opportunities for improvement. Datasets are customized based on the current control configuration and refresh in real-time (or as often as the user chooses) so they are always up to date.

Remote-monitoring

Remote-monitoring software securely connects users to assets across the globe from any web-connected device for a more reliable and cost-efficient operation.

Typical Plant Applications

When combustion equipment fails, the impact may be minimal — or it can mean hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost product or delayed production. Just the fact that the process must be shut down to repair equipment means lost revenue. So, when an asset is lost, it critical to know why it failed and how to prevent it in the future.

On a typical plant boiler, for example, an operator will notice a production problem and call maintenance. However, he cannot describe the possible causes of the issue. A maintenance technician has to finish a task before traveling 30 minutes from another part of the facility. The technician arrives and diagnoses the issue, but he may not have the right tools or parts to fix it. So, he must go back to the shop for the needed equipment before completing the repair. This scenario could result in at least three hours of unplanned downtime and associated costs.

process boiler

If a process boiler is connected to a remote-monitoring solution, the software alerts the maintenance and line supervisors automatically when the temperature is outside the temperature band. They can review current conditions and recent fault codes to help determine a probable cause for the failure.

If the same facility had an effective remote-monitoring solution, maintenance and line supervisors would have received a water-temperature alert. Then, they could review current conditions and recent fault codes to help determine a probable cause for the failure. Once identified, they could schedule a brief outage to make repairs — all in around 30 minutes’ time.

In another case, suppose a process plant has a critical asset that causes production bottlenecks when not running. Further, suppose the asset has been down for more than an hour, and the plant staff is struggling to identify the root cause of the outage. They are not able to describe the issue in enough detail for remote technical support. The nearest technical resource cannot be to the site for at least six hours.

If this facility had access to the remote-monitoring technology, a technician would be able to review recent data. By guiding the local team through issue diagnostics, the remote technician could help the on-site personnel make the necessary repairs in about half an hour.

Benefits for Process Operations

Getting the right information into the right hands via remote monitoring helps keep thermal processes running as safely and efficiently as possible. Troubleshooting is more effective because maintenance technicians arrive at the equipment with the correct tools to repair the problem. Furthermore, technical experts can more easily provide remote guidance and stay ahead of problems by identifying nuisance fault trends and potentially predicting impending failures.

Experience has shown that robust asset-monitoring tools can help drive unprecedented performance. They also support asset effectiveness and maximize equipment uptime. Workers can view system-wide data for each piece of connected thermal-processing equipment and share it up the management chain to enable better process decisions.

combustion equipment

When combustion equipment fails, the impact may be minimal — or it can mean hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost product or delayed production.

For industrial processes, a remote-monitoring capability allows maintenance departments to see fault information and observe patterns of issues over time. Without the need to perform local monitoring, technicians can proactively troubleshoot the problems that lead to process disruptions, unplanned downtime and lost profits. This includes the ability to diagnose issues from anywhere and arrive at the machine ready to make a fast repair, so production systems stay operational and optimized.

Lastly, the implementation of remote monitoring for thermal-processing systems makes combustion another crucial point in an overall connected-plant strategy. This helps to achieve a smarter and safer facility. The connected-plant approach allows organizations to see, analyze and improve the competency and productivity of their people, the efficiency of their processes, and the performance of their assets.

In conclusion, developments in remote monitoring free personnel from the burden of local equipment monitoring. Moreover, remote monitoring can help expand a facility’s thermal-processing potential to drive performance and productivity.

From the simplest application — viewing asset data on smart phone or laptop — to more sophisticated uses such as sending a text message when an alarm occurs, new cloud-based remote-monitoring solutions are revolutionizing the way process industry operations run and maintain their vital thermal-processing systems.