The past twenty years have brought rapid advancements in the ability to monitor the performance of hydraulic systems. The days of a simple analog gauge and flow meter that could be plumbed into a system have been replaced by live monitoring and instant alerts. The cost and complexity of monitoring components has been reduced to the point that there is a compelling argument to include these components in all hydraulic systems. In the past ten years, monitoring capabilities have changes dramatically over six key areas:
1. Wireless Connectivity
The range and quality of wireless signals have developed to the point that they are reliable for diagnostics. Technicians can now monitor pressure flow temperature and vibration without breaking into system plumbing, reducing the labor and tools required to troubleshoot a system. Risk of contamination via open hoses and ports is also greatly reduced.
2. Hand-Held Diagnostic Tools
Traditionally, diagnostic tools employed to monitor hydraulic system conditions were both expensive and bulky. Today, tools are much smaller, cost less and more readings are gathered from sensors mounted into the system. Technicians can also read many monitoring systems on their smart phones, through apps that have been developed to display sensor readings in easy-to-use dashboards.
3. Economical Transducer Systems
Monitoring systems require that sensors be installed directly within hydraulic systems. In the past, these sensors were costly and would not be left in the system. Technicians would plumb sensors into systems only when troubleshooting was required. Today, the price of sensors has been reduced dramatically – to the point that sensors are often plumbed into several system areas in order to measure differential pressures, temperatures and flows. By building these sensors into equipment, end users are able to better monitor operations without disrupting machinery.
4. Display and Warning Systems
While alarms and shut-off switches are not new to the fluid power industry, the amount of data expected to be provided by warning systems is. Production floor displays are expected to be able to broadcast hydraulic system performance regularly, allowing technicians to perform predictive equipment maintenance. Plant Managers have also come to expect email alerts when their equipment shows signs of trouble.
5. Troubleshooting Programs
The sheer amount of data that is monitored and displayed allows OEMs to build diagnostic programming into their equipment. Because the cost of sensors has reduced dramatically, manufacturers can afford to install enough sensors that allow for troubleshooting programs that can be monitored by less experienced technicians. These programs can be as simple as ones that receive information from flow indicators on relief valve return lines, determining that relief has been adjusted below compensator settings and overheating the unit. Examples such as this one show the incredible value of being able to monitor and present multiple system variables to machine operators.
6. Web-Based Communications
Equipment manufacturers expect to be able to receive alarms when a system is falling out of its operating parameters. Alarms can now be transmitted to remote maintenance personnel or the system OEM, who may provide support simply based on the data received from the monitoring system. This is a dramatic change from the field service calls that once required a technician to fly across the country to identify the root cause of a failure.
In summary, all of these advancements allow users to monitor their equipment and fix problems before they have to shut down a machine. These advantages can only be realized if the entire system is designed with these capabilities in mind, ensuring that critical sensing points are built into the system and monitoring tools are specified correctly. Once the monitoring system is in place, the system is finally able to speak for itself.
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