Remote monitoring in its simplest form makes available digital information from one unit or a system to another at a different, or distant geographical location.
Remote Monitoring & Diagnostic (RMD) is the act of monitoring a given symptom, issue or problem from a distance and then taking necessary taking corrective (maintenance) actions. Instead of the subject being co-located with the person or system doing the diagnostics, with RMD, the subjects can be separated by physical distance. Important information is exchanged either through wire or wireless. When limiting to systems, a general accepted definition is: “To improve reliability of vital or capital-intensive installations and reduce the maintenance costs by avoiding unplanned maintenance, by monitoring the condition of the system remotely.” Remote monitoring is applicable in a wide range of industries like the oil and gas industry pharmaceutical, food and beverage, electricity transmission and distribution, rail networks, water and waste water. In industries where assets are located across large territories or in remote locations, remote monitoring and diagnostics helps to,
- Reduce deployment of labor and avoid travels
- Enhance speed of response
- Automate control from a centralized location, thereby enhancing scope of optimization
- Increases efficiency of plat/process, avoid unplanned down time
Unearthing remote monitoring
Remote monitoring has three entities as can be described using the figure 1.The first part of this is the equipment being monitored, the second is the communication channel (which includes the network and components) and the third is the monitoring station, which has a larger computing capacity and human interfaces. The site signals are transmitted from a remote location to an offshore location. The sites could be multiple or single and the control signal going back could also be single or multiple. One of the important applications of remote monitoring is the condition monitoring of industrial equipment like a high rpm pump or a heavy duty compressor. Take for example an upstream operations of Oil Company, the pumping and other related equipment are spread across large geographical distances. For reliable operations the equipment should be monitored on a periodic basis. The condition monitoring can be done remotely from a central location for all the networked equipment. The pumps have a vibration monitoring system and the vibration signals, the lube oil temperatures and pressure can be monitored form the central location, and only when there is a need can the operator or maintenance technician go to the equipment. The pumps have a vibration monitoring system and the vibration signals, the lube oil temperatures and pressure can be monitored form the central location, and only when there is a need, can the operator or maintenance technician go to the equipment. The other aspect of such a scenario is auditability of checks that need be done on the equipment and assets. A large percentage of equipment failures are related to human neglect and having remote monitoring increases the compliance to standard procedures. Communication is an important part of a remote monitoring setup. The communication is possible in different forms. The choice of mode of communication is dependent on setup to be established and the level of reliability needed. A wired network is required to push data to a central repository (could be cloud). Mobile monitoring system, which essentially communicates via GSM or a GPRS mobile technology. The choice of communication clearly depends on the type of application in order to achieve higher reliability. Usually a cost benefit analysis is done before such redundant networks are designed; however compliance to regulation is always considered as the highest priority.
When implementing a remote monitoring and diagnostics program, manufacturers should first determine what equipment to monitor based on their type of process and the role of that equipment in the process. The next determining factor is the type of information that needs to be collected, monitored, and analyzed. The following are few of the instances where remote monitoring can be implemented: –
- The number of sites the company wants to monitor.
- The accessibility of the sites and equipment to be monitored. Are isolated or hazardous locations involved?
- The size of the company. Are costs of hiring a full-time diagnostics expert justified? Or is it more cost effective to hire an outsourced remote monitoring service provider?
- The immediacy of action required for the equipment being monitored. How critical is the machinery to the manufacturing process?
- The cost of implementing and maintaining an in-house program. With outsourcing, upfront costs are generally lower. The smaller the company, the less likely it is to justify the cost of an internal program and equipment.
- The value of equipment. Outsourcing is ideal for monitoring critical equipment, especially those with fast failure rates or critical maintenance needs. Lubrication or bearing failure, for example, can critically damage a machine in just 30 minutes.
- The need to standardize diagnostics across more than one location. If a company uses separate groups to collect data, information may be difficult to integrate for company wide trending and analysis.
Scalable to organizations of almost any size, remote monitoring and diagnostic tools can be tailored to fit virtually any plant floor application that utilizes intelligent devices (e.g., controllers, drives, sensors). Whether a manufacturer needs periodic predictive maintenance, continuous evaluation of critical machinery or as-needed response, remote monitoring and diagnostic tools can provide quantifiable benefits. Few of the benefits include:
- Ability to significantly reduce operating costs, while improving system performance and reliability
- Costly after-hours alarm call-outs can often be avoided since a remote monitoring system will indicate the nature and degree of a problem
- Since data is continuously recorded, operators do not have to manually read and record meter readings on a daily basis.
- Operators do not have to keep track of hundreds of log sheets as any data recorded on the RMD can be downloaded and accessed at their convenience.
- RMD systems can often be accessed remotely through an Internet connect on your office computer or laptop, and even your cell phone or tablet.
These are some of the examples of remote monitoring in industry specific applications. While the essence of all these remote monitoring setups remains the same, the purpose varies and the benefits are multifold in some instances.
Oil & Gas Industry Take the example of upstream part of the oil and gas industry; it usually has several remote locations, which have a lot of potential for optimizing the manual activities done at the sites. Remote monitoring is the solution to achieve this. The parameters that are monitored are pump status, valve status, temperature, pressure, and levels (tank). The equipment’s that need be controlled are the pumps (motors) and valves in most of the cases. In the value chain of the industry the sites where refining is done have large pumps and compressors. They are typically heavy duty and high value assets. The breakdown of these equipment cause severe operational issues and huge loss to the organization. The pipeline temperature for example is very critical parameter and an overshoot of localized temperature in the pipeline can lead to accidents. The pipelines are spread across several miles and the only solution will be to monitor them from a remote centralized location for real-time response. Similarly the remote pumping station or a tank farm also needs monitoring for several process temperatures, pressures, tank levels and most importantly the LEL detectors, which are installed at various high-risk areas in the vicinity of the hydrocarbon handling equipment. The recent BP spillage fiasco is a testimony to the importance of this regulatory need.
Coal Industry With much of the low-lying fruit already picked with respect to global resources, the current generation of miners is facing the prospect of having to drill deeper in more remote areas while also processing ore bodies of lower concentrations. This often means having to operate in more dangerous situations while creating more waste. Remote monitoring can certainly help to overcome these difficulties by helping to navigate underground and collect and transmit complex sample analysis data. Remote monitoring technologies can help in automated aerial mapping alongside sophisticated new processing technologies to access mineral sands resources and uranium deposits. Other than monitoring extreme heat, dust, bad weather and high magnetic fields, remote monitoring can also help to ensure fraud prevention. Having been mined, coal is transported from the mine to a warehouse, and as with most items, it has value on the black market, therefore to ensure that the correct weight and products arrive at the warehouse, a method of checking is required. Thus, an efficient monitoring system with real time data vision transmission and alarm notice can help to keep a close watch the delivery of coal.
Transmission & Distribution Industry: A modern remote monitoring system is a strategic investment, which is a must-have for utilities of all sizes facing the challenges of the competitive market and increased levels of real time data exchange that comes with it.