Going Digital and Future-Proofing Electrical Assets

Digitalization of electrical assets

The unstoppable march of Industry 4.0, Big Data, and the Internet of Things pushes organizations to accumulate the essential data they need to perform at the highest level. McKinsey estimates that IOT has the potential to unlock an economic value somewhere between US$5.5 to $12.6 trillion by 2030. But what does this mean for electrical asset managers, and how can they respond to the call to upgrade systems in an increasingly complex and globalizing world with supply chain challenges?

This article explores the concept of condition monitoring for organizations and how it can help electrical personnel take steps to digitize critical electrical components to become more future-proofed. We'll uncover how thermal sensors play a vital role in monitoring crucial electrical infrastructure, where the advantages of the technology extend far beyond the extraction of essential data.

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Thermal sensors are one of the keys to digitizing electrical infrastructure

Thermal sensors are a key part of the jigsaw in digitizing electrical infrastructure. Condition monitoring sensor installation enables electrical engineers to improve system design in many ways that help future-proof electrical infrastructure.

Key benefits of thermal monitoring sensors:

  • Significant OPEX cost savings
  • Maximize uptime: reduce power outages
  • Increase personnel safety

The advantages of thermal sensors are numerous and benefit organizations by increasing safety, reducing maintenance expenditure, and ensuring equipment is digital-ready. Those considering upgrading to monitoring assets should begin with a clear understanding of the critical difference between online and offline monitoring.

We cover this topic in greater detail in our guide to condition monitoring for electrical infrastructure. But first, let’s look at the difference, and then the essential role power plays in business today.

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The fundamental challenges of periodic electrical inspection:
  • Icon 1. Periodic inspection is merely a snapshot and has no guarantee of asset health post-inspection
  • Icon 2. The accuracy of data created is highly dependent on the quality of camera and operator and thus not of uniform quality
  • Icon 3. Without continuity of asset health data, there is nothing to evaluate

Awareness of the benefits of thermal condition monitoring technology is growing, and becoming more frequently used to monitor mission-critical electrical infrastructure. 

Essential electrical assets are used across a wide range of industries:

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Oil and gas

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Mining

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Data centers

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Water and waste water

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Food and beverage

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Retail logistics

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Critical infrastructure

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Manufacturing

Let's briefly cover fundamental challenges 1 and 2 from above, then focus on point 3, and what it means for businesses looking to digitally transform electrical infrastructure.

2. Data accuracy - garbage in, garbage out

An IBM programmer and instructor named George Fuechsel is credited for coining the term ‘garbage in, garbage out’, or GIGO, as it is now referred to. Fuechsel is said to have used the term as a succinct way to remind students how computers simply process the information provided to them.

GIGO is sometimes used to refer to situations in the analog world when a faulty decision is made as a result of incomplete information.

Let’s bring this back to what GIGO means when assessing the health of critical electrical assets. Suppose Mike Jones from The Clever ScanCo carries out an inspection using his infrared (IR) thermal camera brand A in February, then returns to perform a similar inspection in October using camera brand C.

Sure, he’s done everything by the book, but Mike faces a number of potential challenges to produce a repeatable and robust data set. Sadly, the consistency of that data lies beyond Mike’s control due to the nature of what is considered the de facto industry standard approach.

The quality of the information produced from a handheld IR camera inspection is highly dependent on some key factors:

  • Camera quality and settings
  • Operator proficiency
  • Process repeatability

Physical, atmospheric, and situational factors will inevitably have an effect on the quality of the data derived from such an exercise and vary from inspection to inspection, thus data consistency will be compromised. Therefore, the data output from periodic thermal inspections does not provide an accurate and repeatable set of asset health data due to the high number of variables which exist (GIGO).

As a result, this is not data which meets the core digitization requirement of uniform quality and upon which the organisation can proceed with 100% confidence as part of their digitization of electrical infrastructure.

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The difference between online and offline condition monitoring:

1. Online condition monitoring is defined as a continuous or predictive type of process. This type of monitoring is best suited to electrical assets or infrastructure critical to business productivity.

2. Offline condition monitoring refers to a process that is occasional or periodic. This approach will likely form part of a planned maintenance schedule when concessions can be made to power down or allow mechanical access to infrastructure.

Electricity as a critical business utility

Electrical power is a vital utility for almost all businesses. With the rivalry between competitors high on strategic agendas, gaining a competitive advantage is typically a primary objective.

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When working on electrical system designs, particularly low- and medium-voltage electrical equipment, it is essential to develop innovative and resilient ways to deliver the most valuable, cost-effective products and services.

Benefits of thermal monitoring for business:

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Increases reliability and resilience of electrical power systems

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Digitizes the way that electrical equipment is monitored and maintained

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Delivers maintenance cost advantages over thermography

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Provides greater return on investment for the organization

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Significantly extends the life of aging infrastructure

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Future-proofs new builds with IIoT-ready sensors

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Reduces the need to place personnel in places of risk

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Guaranteed 24/7 protection of critical assets

The use of even greater levels of power, specifically electricity is fundamental to driving growth. Consider this against an increasing level of comprehensive and disruptive transformation of electric power driven by a combination of technological innovation and institutional upheaval. The rise of technological innovation, cloud services, and data facilities are placing increasingly high demands on electrical power infrastructure across the planet.

Walt Patterson of Chatham House argues: "The world is undergoing a dramatic electricity transition, and the global struggle for power over this transformed electric system is set to profoundly shape our future."

With this in mind, businesses and organizations across the planet must take responsibility for being as efficient as humanly - and digitally - possible as we strive to reduce wasted resources and maximize efficiencies.

Thermography-inspection

Challenges with periodic thermal inspection:

  • Only presents a snapshot in time
  • Potential failures between inspections
  • Data quality incompatible for digitization
  • Ongoing inspection costs over asset lifetime

Digitizing Electrical Infrastructure

Digitization is accelerating the requirement to connect critical equipment and machinery to the internet in order to remotely acquire condition data for subsequent analysis. This is a vital component of the concept referred to as the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT).

Digitization is defined as the connection of electrical and mechanical infrastructure and machinery to the internet to facilitate the acquisition of condition data for subsequent analysis.

IIoT is not to be confused with the Internet of Things, or IoT, which refers to the billions of devices that are connected to the internet, each performing the task of gathering and sharing data. Whilst similar principles are applicable to both IoT and IIoT as each utilizes the function of digital connectivity and the cloud to share data, the IOT is largely focused on general, or even home use. The IIoT is more focused on connecting and digitizing industrial infrastructure and systems to create the data to boost productivity and deliver more efficient practices.

Connection to the IIoT provides significant commercial benefits. It can grant users a competitive edge in areas such as cost reduction, increased productivity, and standardization of best-performing equipment, as well as a host of other advantages.

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Discover how condition monitoring improves asset reliability across different industries...

Periodic infrared electrical inspections: how flawed are they?

Indeed, this a controversial question, but compared periodic inspection to modern continuous monitoring, the idea of carrying out an annual inspection of an asset designed to function 24 hours a day, seven days a week, seems more than a little inadequate in an age of digital-first approaches in business. 

Considering the demands on organizations to provide continuous services in an always-on world, periodically inspecting electrical assets to identify potential problems has several shortcomings in validating an electrical component's health.

However, to appreciate the true value of the data that can be produced by thermal monitoring, we have to revisit the fundamental challenges of periodic electrical inspection.

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