Author Archive | Jane Alexander


1:03 pm
September 23, 2016
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Fluke Acquires eMaint Enterprises

screen-shot-2016-09-23-at-7-50-07-amFluke Corp. (Everett, WA) has announced the acquisition of eMaint Enterprises LLC (Marlton, NJ), a leader in computerized maintenance management software (CMMS). Details of the transaction haven’t been disclosed.

screen-shot-2016-09-23-at-7-40-08-ameMaint’s software platform is used by more than 50,000 maintenance professionals in 55 countries and multiple markets, including food processing, manufacturing, fleet, services, and government, among others.

Fluke’s comprehensive line of handheld test tools and portable sensors are used by service and maintenance technicians, electricians, and plant engineers around the world. eMaint’s web-based, Software as a Service (SaaS) solution can be accessed on PCs, smartphones, tablets, and other browser-based devices.

According to the two companies, Fluke tools, software, and data expertise together with eMaint’s SaaS offering represents a critical convergence of maintenance solutions that ensure uptime and maximize return on assets for end users throughout industry.




1:35 pm
September 19, 2016
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Clear Up Your HOA Confusion

switching button control panelFor plant-floor personnel, the HOA (Hand-Off-Auto) switch represents one of the most misunderstood components of an industrial-control system. The problem is exacerbated by the fact that a site often employs multiple switches in different areas of the plant to control a single field device. According to Josh Niemi, P.E., of Normal, IL-based SCADAware Inc.  (, this is a recipe for confusion: If one switch is in the Hand position and the other is in the Auto position, how is the device going to be controlled?

The problem increases, he wrote in a Feb. 2016 blog post, when a PLC or SCADA system is involved. Does Auto translate as “controlled by the SCADA system?” If so, what term should be used if the SCADA system allows personnel to manually set a fixed PLC output to control the field device rather than allowing the PLC itself to automatically set the output?

Niemi believes this lingering confusion may stem from use of the single term HOA. Using the terms Location of Control and Mode of Control, he suggested, could help clear it up.

randmThe inherent problem with the term HOA, according to Niemi, is that it combines Location of Control (the designation for hand/manual operation) with Mode of Control (the designation for automated operation) on the same switch. In older DCS (Distributed Control System) technology, this may not have been much of a problem because here may have only been a single device switch (there weren’t multiple ways to control it) and the term Hand meant Location of Control and Mode of Control. With the larger, more complex systems in use today, however, this old-school approach doesn’t work.

Distinguishing between Location of Control and Mode of Control, Niemi noted, leads to control switches that can accommodate a wide range of systems. For example, if a control switch is being used to select between controlling directly at a device or by a remote PLC or SCADA system, an LOR switch (Local-Off-Remote) or HOR switch (Hand-Off-Remote) would probably be best. But if the control switch toggles between an operator-adjustable output and a variable output based on a process condition, an MOA switch (Manual-Off-Auto) would be the better fit.

Regardless of a plant’s chosen control system(s), the most important thing to avoid is multiple switches with redundant labeling (multiple HOR switches, or mixing Location and Mode terminology on the same switch, such as a Manual-Off-Remote or Local-Off-Auto switch). Unless a very specific application demands redundant switches or mixed-terminology switches, Niemi emphasizes that it’s better to avoid them altogether.

Find Niemi’s complete blog post with detailed examples on understanding HOAs at MT

—Jane Alexander, Managing Editor

Location of Control refers to the place from which a motor or other field device is being operated. Location nomenclature includes:

  • Hand: Device is operated directly at the starter.
  • Local: Device is operated by Start/Stop contacts near the motor.
  • Remote: Device is operated by a PLC or other device at a distance away from the process.
  • Off: No location control is allowed.

Mode of Control refers to the control strategy used to operate a device. Mode nomenclature includes:

  • Auto: Device is controlled based on a set of process conditions.
  • Manual: Device is controlled by fixed operator input.
  • Off: Device is still energized but control is currently disabled.

Josh Z. Niemi, P.E., is a senior engineer with SCADAware Inc., Normal, IL. For more information about industrial-control topics, contact him at or visit


2:02 pm
September 15, 2016
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Handle Bearings With Care

1609rmcbearings01pModern rolling contact bearings, when installed and lubricated properly, can outlast the machines in which they function. In practice, though, less than 10% of all rolling-element bearings reach their full design life. As for the others, 30% of premature failures can be attributed to incorrect installation or damage done during (or prior to) installation. Continue Reading →


1:51 pm
September 15, 2016
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On The Floor: Panelists Describe Payoff From Predictive Tools

By Jane Alexander, Managing Editor

At Maintenance Technology, the topic of predictive tools is always hot. More precisely, our staff is always eager to hear how readers and their staffs (and, in the case of consultants/suppliers, their clients/customers) are leveraging these technologies in plants and facilities. For an update based on our Reader Panelists’ individual perspectives, we posed the following questions.

— What predictive tools/technologies are these sites using most, and where, why, and how?

— What’s the return on investment (ROI)?

— What predictive tools might be on the sites’ wish lists for future use?

— Edited for brevity and clarity, here are several responses.

Maintenance Engineer, Process Industry, Midwest…

We typically keep an IR (infrared) gun (for equipment hotspots), ultrasonic ears (for leaks and precision lubrication), and a vibration pen-type device (for quick checks and validation of in-situ devices) on hand. We’ve been relying on outside expertise for full vibration analysis and oil analysis programs, but are starting to develop some in-house competency. No one at our sites has yet been certified on these technologies.

To date, we haven’t really quantified any savings, but we do have scattered reports of early detections leading to planned shutdown and correction. The numbers may not be tallied, but theoretically we’ve “saved” by reducing unplanned outages.

Wireless machine-health technologies (vibe, temp) are on trial at one of our facilities. If successful, we may branch them out.

Maintenance & Reliability Specialist, Engineering Services, South…

We utilize numerous vibration routes and have a level-1, three level-2, and two level-3 vibration specialists on staff. We also have motor testing with five craftsmen trained and qualified on the different devices in use. We have one craftsman trained as a level-1 for ultrasound testing, and two IR level-2 technicians.

Our group captures every find and, utilizing an algorithm approved by both our customer and our leadership, provides a cost avoidance for each. This number is showing a very solid ROI, and our customer is pleased.

Regarding wish lists, we’ve recently begun adding real-time overall vibration monitoring to our predictive-maintenance (PdM) toolbox and expect that to grow to Delta P for filters and, possibly, real-time oil health. We also have begun using a rules-based software program that consolidates data from our vibration routes, on-line vibration data, and CMMS.

Plant Engineer, Institutional Facilities, Midwest…

Since our budget crisis we’ve been only able to use our existing trend logs and visual inspections. We, do, however, have all types of instruments to help us.

Our return on investment [from predictive technologies] is fewer equipment breakdowns than in the past. And, the time it takes to troubleshoot uncommon problems has been cut by more than half.

Industry Consultant, West…

Vibration analysis, ultrasonic testing, oil analysis, and IR are my clients’ most-used PdM tools. The technology vendors usually provide the training.  Seldom do techs receive advanced training, leading to plants feeling that potential ROI from the tools was overinflated to make the sale. (As a side note, I believe the most underutilized tools are the five senses of personnel who are in contact with very expensive equipment every day.)

Personally, it’s difficult to quantify predictive-technology ROI with my clients. They don’t track the saves that these tools generate, and tribal memory seems skewed in favor of a higher save rate than I actually see in their plants.

Most of my clients have wish lists. Usually, their only reason for not buying every tool available is lack of funds. It’s rare for maintenance teams to compile documentation to establish the business case for equipment purchases.

Facility Superintendent, Scientific Institution, West…

Our facility relies on several different types of PdM technologies: fluid analysis, IR, ultrasound and ultrasonic testing. Fluid analysis has become a staple with our gearboxes and glycol-cooling systems. We typically take oil samples bi-annually to ensure proper viscosity, test for contaminants, and look for bearing wear. Secondly, testing our glycol fluids has proven extremely valuable. It tells us if the freeze point is correct and gives us direction for adding inhibitors or correcting fluid pH. Not all testing is perfectly accurate, though. We once received a glycol fluid-analysis report indicating acceptable foaming levels when, in fact, they were causing circulation pumps to cavitate.

IR, a newer tool for our team, has proven its value. Unfortunately, training provided by the manufacturer wasn’t in depth. Most of our knowledge has come through on-the-job usage. We’ve leveraged this technology to uncover a range of problems. A routine IR inspection of our main building transformer room, for example, found a loose splice on one phase of our electrical main. Gone unnoticed, it might have single-phased the building, causing serious downtime or numerous equipment failures.

Ultrasonic testing is our newest tool. It provides data that benchmarks and tracks bearing health and makes our lubrication program more efficient by reducing man-hours and material use. It’s also paid for itself by locating small compressed air leaks that would otherwise have gone undetected. To properly use this tool and its software, it was imperative [for personnel] to attend a week-long training class provided by the manufacturer.

We use ultrasound to detect fatigue and cracks in large wheel shafts. It allows our technicians to trend log anomalies within the shaft that point to fatigue and impending failure. By trend logging, we can determine when to schedule shaft replacement and eliminate breakdowns.

Lubrication Consultant, Southwest…

I’m referring to a large process operation that had a long-standing, trained, certified, and successful vibration group. [Working there], I was eventually asked to start a lubrication program for the entire facility and try to ramp up rotating-equipment reliability. Becoming the site’s lubrication specialist/engineer, I attended training and obtained several certifications.

In time, we bought and started a lubrication laboratory and began pulling oil samples [from equipment] and testing them and any lubricants delivered to the site. In addition, we provided training necessary for many employees to achieve their own certifications in the lubrication field. Improvements in the rotating equipment were unbelievable.

We also bought and are continuing to use thermal imaging at the site.

[Basing this statement on personal experience], if sites would use these three tools, i.e., vibration analysis, lubrication analysis, and thermal imaging, they will capture great rewards in rotating-equipment reliability and save significant money. The key is to buy and keep up with the most modern equipment available. Technologies change more rapidly than most people think.

Finally, [plants should] provide much more professional training, for everyone. Sites will get more for their money from training than anything else. Keeping personnel trained and certified will always pay off. MT

About the MT Reader Panel

The Maintenance Technology Reader Panel includes approximately 100 working industrial-maintenance practitioners and consultants who have volunteered to answer monthly questions prepared by our editorial staff. Panelist identities are not revealed and their responses are not necessarily projectable. Note that our panel welcomes new members. To be considered, email your name and contact information to with “Reader Panel” in the subject line. All panelists are automatically included in an annual cash-prize drawing after one year of active participation.


3:47 pm
September 14, 2016
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Schneider Electric Details Cloud-Based Process-Engineering Software Platform and Optimization Solution for Oil & Gas Sector

screen-shot-2016-09-13-at-8-24-48-pmSchneider Electric Software’s three-day Process Industries Excellence Conference is taking place in Pasadena, CA, this week. News coming out of the busy conference (which is the Lake Forest, CA-based company’s 2016 SimSci Users Group event) has included information on two major product releases.

The first announcement detailed the upcoming rollout of SimSci Online, a cloud software platform for the company’s process design, simulation, training, and optimization offerings. According to the company, with this release, SimSci Online becomes the first process design and engineering software to be delivered as a service.

The second announcement highlighted the availability of Unit Performance Suite for the Oil & Gas industry. The company says this software suite is the first in the industry to package closed-loop, real-time optimization with monitoring and workflow in a single solution for refineries.

About SimSci Online
Schneider Electric’s SimSci Online is aimed at end users that are deploying and managing multiple versions of software applications in high-demand environments, including process engineering departments and engineering firms, and the power-gen, oil and gas, chemicals, and mining, metals, and minerals (MMM) industries. For smaller operations in these sectors, annual simulation-software licensing fees can become cost prohibitive.

SimSci Online changes the game by providing access to the same high-quality simulation software as its on-premise version. All that’s required is an Internet connection. Customers are charged only for usage time. Benefits and capabilities include, among others:

  • Increased accessibility anywhere and anytime with an Internet connection.
  • Enhanced availability with no system maintenance requirements from the client side, and highly scalable to allow for additional users on demand.
  • Lower cost of ownership through elimination of IT-maintenance overhead, yet still ensuring that the latest version is always available to meet customers’ needs.

The company will initially roll out SimSci Online as a platform to support cloud-based delivery of the process design and engineering portfolio. SimSci DYNSIM, a comprehensive, dynamic process simulator that enables process yield improvement and a reduction of capital investment costs, will be the first application launched. General availability of SimSci DYNSIM Online is planned for the end of 2016, with other applications to follow in 2017.

About Unit Performance Suite
According to Schneider Electric, its Unit Performance Suite can help sites better understand current operating performance and then identify future improvement in terms of operational efficiency, all without adding specialists to their organizations.

Built on closed-loop optimization driven by SimSci ROMeo, the easily configurable Unit Performance Suite offers a number of benefits and capabilities. Among them:

  • Real-time optimization (RTO) that reduces operations costs and improves refinery margins by optimizing operating conditions based on industry-leading ROMeo software
  • Intuitive dashboards to simplify how key parameters of process operation are monitored across the enterprise and ROMeo operations to achieve greater economic benefits; greater visibility can accelerate future performance improvement
  • Automated and standardized process workflows that improve collaboration for pricing changes, maintain data quality, and optimize software performance, among other parameters, to maximize the unit optimization benefit.

To learn more about the Unit Performance Suite, CLICK HERE. 

Editor’s Note: For information on upcoming Schneider Electric Software events (including conferences and Webinars), CLICK HERE.



7:41 pm
September 12, 2016
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SSR or EMR? Select the Right Relay

Solid-state and electromechanical relays are not necessarily interchangeable. Evaluate your application before deciding which to use.

Solid-state and electromechanical relays are not necessarily interchangeable. Evaluate your application before deciding which to use.

randmSolid-state relays (SSRs) are replacing electromechanical relays (EMRs) in many applications across industry. There are several reasons why, including their long life, low noise, compact size, lack of moving parts, and total absence of arcing. These advantages make SSRs a popular choice for applications involving repetitive operations or fast turn-on/turn-off times, or in areas that require minimal electrical noise.

So, what types of SSR or EMR relays are right for the various applications in your plant? Automation professionals at Opto 22 (, in Temecula, CA, provide some selection guidelines.

Use SSRs in applications that require:

Repetitive operation cycles. Such applications include lights and electric heaters. SSRs have no mechanical components to wear out and no failure mode related to the number of operation cycles.

Minimal electrical noise. SSRs greatly minimize electrical noise because they turn on and off when voltage is zero in the AC cycle. Conversely, most EMRs turn on and off at any point in the AC cycle, which means they can generate significant voltage spikes, causing electrical noise that can affect other devices in the area.

High-speed timing. SSR turn-on times are highly predictable, while times for a mechanical relay vary based on the nature of the device and the environment.

Consider EMRs in applications that require:

High starting loads. Such applications include motors and transformers. SSRs are more sensitive to voltage transients than EMRs. If a relay gets hit hard enough a sufficient number of times, even SSRs with good transient protection will degrade or fail. This makes SSRs less ideal for driving highly inductive electromechanical loads, such as some solenoids and motors.

Operation in high-temperature environments. SSRs become less efficient as the relay temperature rises. The current rating for an SSR is de-rated, or reduced, based on the ambient temperature. EMRs are not affected in the same way.

Zero leakage current. In the “off” state, an SSR will exhibit a small amount of leakage current—typically a few mA. Because EMRs are mechanical, they do not leak current. MT

Special SSR Concerns

According to Opto 22’s (Temecula, CA) automation experts, in the use of solid-state relays (SSRs), two factors inherent to semiconductor-based relays require special attention:

Leakage current. When in the “off” state, an SSR will exhibit a small amount of leakage current, typically a few mA. It’s slight, but this current can keep some loads from turning off, especially in high-impedance applications such as small solenoids or neon lamps, that have relatively small “hold in” currents. When SSRs that switch high voltages are electrically open, leakage current can still cause their circuits to produce potentially troublesome voltages on the outputs. These issues can usually be addressed by placing a power resistor, sized for 8 to 10 times the rated maximum leakage current for the SSR, in parallel with the load.

Operational-temperature limits. Semiconductor-based relays become less efficient as their temperature increases. Thus, the current rating for an SSR is de-rated, or reduced, based on the ambient temperature. Since SSRs also generate heat in the “on” position, heat management is vital.

—Jane Alexander, Managing Editor