Powelectrics Blog

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Working Together on Factories of the Future

As a proud Mancunian it was a pleasure for me to attend the Industry 4.0 summit held at the GMEX centre. It seemed very appropriate, with Manchester having been at the centre of the industrial revolution, having the first industrial canal, the first steam passenger railway and being the birthplace of atomic physics, the computer and, more recently, where graphene was first isolated.

The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is changing the modern factory. Often termed as Industry 4.0, smarter factories will use less energy, require fewer people and have increased throughput. 

There were some highly innovative products being showcased and it was great to meet so many like-minded people. The event reinforced my view that the factories of the future will need affordable and accurate data from connected sensors and that, in order to succeed, us like-minded individuals will need to work together.

There are many different environments and applications. One sensor will not suits all applications. One telemetry device / gateway / hub / router / communications method cannot fulfil every need. Not every platform / portal will give the customer what they need.

We are open to work with others. Powelectrics see ourselves at the heart of the Connected Sensor Community. Let's talk!


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Industry 4.0

The fourth generation of the industrial revolution, or Industry 4.0 has begun and it's excititng to be at the heart of it. Factories are getting smarter as data from machines enables faults to be predicted and efficiences made. It's important that organisations can benefit from this new technology without risking their existing infrastructure or interrupting production.

First of all mechanisation took place - over 250 years ago the cotton industry was revolutionised as the Spinning Jenny and the Water Frame increased productivity. Electricity then enabled further developments and more recently we saw factory automation and computerisation get introduced. All the time productivity has increased, processes have become more efficient and quality has improved (well... mostly it has improved).

This next phase of industrial revolution, being named Industry 4.0, or manufacturing 4.0 is making factories smarter. It interlaces M2M and the Industrial Internet of Things (IIOT) and introduces the need for more data about the machines and processes.

Thanks to Powelectrics it is possible to introduce Industry 4.0 production and make your factory smarter without interfering with existing infrastructure, manufacturing and very often without interrupting production. The benefits are huge and the risks are small. Solutions are proven, easy to deploy and easy to manage thanks to the way we put them together. 

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Remote Condition Monitoring

Keeping you factories running 24/7 with a skeleton maintenance team is no easy task but proven technology and Planned Preventative Maintenance (PPM) is here to help.

Industrial Internet of Things (IIOT) solutions from Powelectrics are getting used more and more for Remote Condition Monitoring (RCM), helping our clients get an early indication of asset failure. By taking signals from sensors and transmitting them by various methods we can give users the ability to view the data securely via web browsers, collect the data via API’s and receive email alarms.

Sensors are low in cost and easy to fit and using devices such our Powelectrics Metrons this data is made available remotely through secure platforms. This cost effective approach enables assets to be monitored in 'real time' between periodic inspections and opens up the application of Remote Condition Monitoring and Planned Preventative Maintenance (PPM) to assets that have perhaps not justified the expense previously incurred.

Measurements such as temperature and ‘average vibration,’ when monitored over a period of time act as a guide. Its then possible to understand the data - for example we can look for upward trends in the temperature when the device is running. Alarms can be sent, historical data viewed and issues avoided by implementing Planned Preventative Maintenance (PPM) based on the data.

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Practical understanding leads to advanced architecture

At Powelectrics our solutions have been based on practical understanding and thanks to our application knowledge has led to us having a portfolio that enables us to deploy our solutions into a wide range of industries in many different ways.

By understanding how sensors work and how standard machine interfaces are presented then we are able to quickly and easily get data flowing with limited technical input from our clients. For example, rather than build a telemetry device that with a built in sensor, we can work with any sensor be it cheap or expensive, contact or non contact, ATEX or not, for big tanks or small tanks, underground or overground.The same goes for temperature and pressure and flow and many more parameters.

It doesn't stop there - the flexibility we have extends to how the data is presented, interfaced and delivered. From a quick email alert to customised web site, from excel imports via a macro to a bespoke data feed, or if you have a PC or Mac, a smartphone or a tablet.

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Accuracy, Repeatability & Stability - what really matters..?

Earlier this week we fitted a couple of level sensors to some pretty large kerosene tanks, each containing 200,000 litres. The sensors have an accuracy of 0.5% and then the telemetry device we use to connect these sensors to our internet platform have the same. There will be errors in the calibration as well, such as measuring the tank and the specific gravity of the product (we are using pressure sensors and therefore the density matters). It's pretty fair to assume then that you'd expect the system to be 1% or more out, so about 2,000 litres.

I looked at some data earlier as we are recording data every hour so we can see how much the readings vary over time. This was easy for me to do even though the tanks are more than 100 miles away from me as we have internet connected sensors so I could jump online and see the readings securely via our web portal. Over 48 hours we saw a change of just 321 litres, or 0.16% of the tanks capacity, so what does this mean..?

First we need to understand the different terms you often hear associated to the performance of instrumentation and sensors:

Repeatability deals with how consistent a particular sensor is against itself. It describes the ability of a sensor to provide the same result, under the same circumstances, over and over again.

Stability deals with the degree to which sensor characteristics remain constant over time. Stability is also known as drift, can be due to components aging or a decrease in sensitivity of components.
Accuracy relates to the uncertainty relative to a reference.During calibration, measurements are compared to a reference and accuracy is determined by performing a general expanded uncertainty analysis.

So what we have with this tank level monitoring system is excellent repeatability. In order to determine the accuracy then we would need to calibrate against a known source. Not easy but regular comparisons against a flowmeter either putting product into or out of the tank can give this. You then need to consider the calibration of the flowmeter, which opens up a whole new can of worms.

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Telemetry, space & time

 Watching ‘Martian’ last night with the wonderful Matt Damon reminded me of when I first heard about telemetry. I was in an instrumentation and communications lecture as part of my degree and we were looking at different modulation techniques. As I was studying Physics it was appropriate to look at relevant examples, and as the place I was studying at had a strong Astro-physics department then getting data back from space probes, rockets and satellites was the subject of the lecture. The telemetry word appears quite a bit in ‘Martian’ and not only was the movie fantastic but it also got me thinking about how telemetry has changed over time. More specifically over the time I’ve been involved with it and none more so though now, with the internet of things (for the industrial internet of things) showing signs of exploding.

Instrumentation and sensing has always fascinated me and no more so than now as the data we are gathering is being chewed and mixed with other data to deliver incredible benefits. Several months ago we introduced a plug in for Microsoft Excel meaning clients could get ‘live’ and historical data from our platform and start to analyse it themselves. They could look for trends and patterns, relationships between parameters across different devices. We see this as an important first stage in implementing an IOT solution.

We are also seeing far more collaboration as we work with more sensor suppliers and more IOT software solution platforms. As the IOT develops we will all need each other, just as Matt Damon needed his fellow astronauts in the end.