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Smarter condition monitoring

01 November 2010

Researchers at the University of Portsmouth’s Institute of Industrial Research (IIR) have come up with what they describe as a ‘virtual’ engineer – a predictive maintenance system that makes use of artificial intelligence techniques. Like most automated condition monitoring systems, the Portsmouth offering also uses accelerometers and other types of sensor to monitor bearing vibration signatures, temperatures and the like, alerting maintenance crews when any excursions from the norm are detected.

However, Portsmouth IIR head, David Brown says the differentiator that sets his team’s efforts apart from the rest is the fact that this condition monitoring system is adaptive – and that’s down to the clever use of artificial intelligence software. “During the process of monitoring a machine, the software literally learns more about how it works, which parts are becoming worn and anything else that could potentially cause mechanical failure,” says Dr Brown. “Human beings are highly intelligent and a good engineer might sometimes spot if something is about to break but this system will help speed up the time it takes to fix.”

Stork Food & Dairy Systems (SFDS), which supplies process equipment to the food, beverage and pharmaceuticals industries, is currently working alongside the IIR under the terms of a government administered Knowledge Transfer Partnership to conduct trials of the IIR system. SFDS’s Axel Berg says many of his customers are now calling for ‘zero fault level’ machines. “Until now it’s been impossible to guarantee that level of customer service,” he says, “but this new diagnostic system looks set to change all that by taking away the risk.”

To learn more about the IIR at Portsmouth and its work with artificial intelligence click here.

A business in motion
Market researcher, IMS is predicting a recovery for the motion controls sector this year, with revenues increasing 15.1 per cent over the somewhat depressed levels of 2009. Leading motion control suppliers responding to IMS’ latest survey are clearly in agreement that 2009 was a very bad year for the industry as revenues plummeted by around a quarter. Despite the confidence reflected in the IMS survey, however, the market will recover slowly, only regaining its 2008 levels by 2012.

Semiconductor manufacture and electronics assembly are leading the upturn for the motion controls sector. Increased demand for semiconductors during the first half of 2010 has had a positive impact on the companies that supply machines to this market – companies that saw their orders virtually halved in 2009.

The upturn is also picked up by industry sector analyst, ARC Advisory Group, which predicts ‘moderate’ growth for general motion control equipment. The emerging economies in Asia are continuing to make investments in automation, thanks to domestic demand for production machinery, and ARC senior analyst, Himanshu Shah believes this will sustain the motion control business until the global machinery market begins to recover.

But while the worst now seems to be past, new order activity is sluggish at best. ARC says it will have to pick up significantly for a complete recovery in the automation market. The emerging economies of China, India and other Asian countries might offer something akin to a light at the end of the tunnel for most automation suppliers but general motion control suppliers have a relatively small share of this market and it not going to offset the really significant declines in the advanced economies.

Les Hunt

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