IoT system to monitor performance of water pumps

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Southern Africa’s Franklin Electric, a pumps and motor multinational is conducting a large-scale live equipment monitoring test trial of Internet of Things (IoT) system to analyze the conditions of pumps that are part of a water reticulation system.

The company is exploring how it can use its engineers’ knowledge of its pumps, accumulated over decades, to better operate the pumps and provide better visibility, forecasting and maintenance planning for clients, says Franklin Electric contracts and engineering manager Danie Henning.

The pumps are typically remotely located, which makes servicing them time-consuming. IoT technologies, such as the company’s remote equipment monitoring trial, can ensure that equipment runs more efficiently, with less disruption, fewer breakdowns and at lower cost.

“We are using a range of sensors on the equipment we are monitoring, including vibration and temperature sensors. The data enable us to build up a baseline of the typical operations of the pumps and then, by comparing the readings with historical data, we can determine how accurately we can predict wear and potentially predict failures.”

Owing to the function of the pumps – to provide drinking water – maintenance and repairs must ideally be carried out during appropriate maintenance windows to reduce or eliminate any interruption to supply.

“Sometimes errors are minor – even something as mundane as a loose bolt or nut – and can be repaired easily. Other times, the errors are more serious or technical. “Knowing which errors are the likely causes of changes to readings we receive from the sensors helps us and the client to manage maintenance staff and costs, as well as to easily repair minor faults and plan more effectively to deal with more serious faults.”

Specifically, the company can stop the pump before it breaks down to limit and reduce or even eliminate serious damage to equipment, which reduces operating and maintenance costs and improves the life of the pump.

The system also allows the company to track field staff, recording the time of arrival and the time spent on site. Although the option for video surveillance is available, it is not being tested and will be evaluated in future.

“We are considering broadening our IoT pilot to a few other sites to gain more experience and optimise system performance.”

However, a significant consideration in IoT projects is data ownership, its use and sharing, as “there must be thorough negotiations between the parties in terms of data use and ownership”, highlights Henning.

While IoT is expected to provide significant value for the engineering industry, it also presents an opportunity for equipment manufacturers and engineering companies to boost their revenue streams; however, price is paramount to these considerations.

“Industry is still characterizing IoT technology and testing what the most suitable uses and appropriate pricing structures should be,” he concludes.