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Data analysis in flow control

22 October 2021

Connected devices play an increasingly important role across industry. In flow control, the asset of choice is intelligent the electric actuator, prized for efficiency, reliability, ease of use and, crucially, the ability to capture historical data. Nicola Curtis reports

PHYSICAL DEVICES that connect and exchange data with other equipment are referred to as belonging to the Internet of Things (IoT). Examples include technology that consumers now consider as part of everyday life, such as “smart” thermostats, lighting and home security systems, as well as the voice units we use to control them. Even devices like dishwashers, refrigerators and washing machines can now connect to the internet, bringing their “smart” credentials to what may be considered as mundane household objects.

But connected devices are not found only in the home. They play an important role in manufacturing, industry and in providing the key services which we all need. This is often known as the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and includes flow control devices across various kinds of industry. Increasingly, the flow control asset of choice are intelligent electric actuators, prized for their efficiency, reliability, ease of use and, crucially, for their ability to capture historical data.

What are actuators?

Flow control plays a key role within numerous industries, markets and applications. This includes operating within the varied manufacturing and production processes in oil, gas, water, power, chemical, industrial and process control applications. Effective flow control can improve efficiency and yield, reduce emissions, assure safety and minimise environmental impacts. Control of fluids in a safe and reliable manner requires specialist equipment, such as valve actuators. Actuators can be pneumatically, hydraulically or electrically powered. Once a control signal is received, an actuator moves a valve and enables the controlled flow of the associated liquid or gas. Automation of this kind reduces the need for manual operation and allows for a high degree of reliability, repeatability, safety, accuracy and efficiency. The type of valve actuator a site will have varies on specific requirements; they could be powered by electricity or compressed air, they could be part-turn or they may provide isolating or modulating control. The sheer variety of uses of actuators across differing applications means they are versatile, providing key services in a wide variety of industries that everyone benefits from them.

Intelligent electric actuators are often specified because of their efficiency and ease of use, offering reliable and repeatable control. Additionally, there is no need for the installation of an air supply, eliminating the dependence on compressed air that pneumatic actuators require. These type of actuators usually have a data log that are able to capture performance information. It is this data that links actuators to the IIoT to improve productivity and performance.

What data do actuators provide and how is it used?

As assets age and become obsolete, they need to be managed in a way that maximises their productivity while still in operation and plans for the end of their life cycle. Lifetime Management from Rotork is a service offering designed to seamlessly maintain and improve flow control assets, managing the inherent risks associated with advances in technology, component obsolescence and ageing equipment for customers. This is achieved through a combination of routine and predictive maintenance, inspections and testing of intelligent actuators, depending on customer requirements. Rationalisation of maintenance schedules in this way saves time and money, ensuring optimum performance and reduction or elimination of unplanned downtime.

An asset management programme such as Lifetime Management keeps your assets available, limiting the likelihood of failure, can prevent decline in performance and will reduce the risk of operational failure. An asset management maintenance strategy should look at the entire life cycle of an asset, contributing to the long-term reliability and viability of the assets on your site. The fixed cost from such a system means service budgets will be stable, without expensive unplanned work for replacement of assets.

Dave Godfrey, product manager - service & aftermarkets at Rotork said: “As service providers, we need to look at the entire life cycle of a product and understand the individual needs of the customer asset. Ultimately, this will relate in some way to how our customers can deliver the most optimal whole life cost from each of their assets. Once we understand customer requirements, options for the best way to keep assets continuously available can be discussed. This can stretch from a bespoke spares programme to site surveys, to regular intrusive maintenance and everything in between. These activities ensure maximised uptime, management of risk and of asset availability.”

A truly holistic asset management programme must look at the performance data of assets, linking flow control asset management to the IIoT. Intelligent electric actuators have a data log, which is the key component that captures the data on which life cycle decisions are made. The information within data logs is key in keeping sites working efficiently and reliably, with an appreciable understanding of each asset and its likelihood of failure. An asset management system that actively analyses this individual data and uses it to improve performance is one that will offer the best long-term operational stability for assets and the sites they operate on.

Godfrey said: “Probability of failure is far from linear. It is difficult to predict failures unless operators are correctly and accurately monitoring the performance of assets. The analysis of the data provides comprehensive insights into what actions need to be made to achieve the best performance possible. An asset management system that focuses on analytics enables smart, timely and data-driven decisions to be made.”

Rotork’s Intelligent Asset Management is the analytics branch of Lifetime Management. It is a cloud-based asset management system for intelligent actuators and the flow control equipment they operate, taking data from intelligent actuators including torque, vibration, temperature and event log information (such as partial stroke profile, maximum starts per hour and motor run time). There is a clear view of individual asset condition, age and life cycle status. It removes the need to manually review data, revealing trends over time as well as immediate concerns. Early detection of anomalies through analysis of performance can save costly repairs and allow for a holistic understanding of an entire site. Over time, aging assets will show a decline in performance or will suffer from an increase in the risk of operational failure. An asset management system that looks at the data and information from these assets allows operators to address these potential outcomes at an early stage.

Godfrey said: “An intelligent management system of assets that is driven by data means operators can understand individual operational characteristics of each asset, allowing tailored decisions on maintenance. This can lead to early failure prediction, reduced failure cost, scheduled maintenance that matches risk and reduced whole life costs.”

Flow control solutions provide an essential service to a wide variety of industries and markets. Innovative technology and the growth in the Industrial Internet of Things has allowed intelligent flow control devices to become connected devices, collecting and providing essential data to customers and operators. An asset management system that analyses this data and prescribes actions that should be taken allows for increased uptime, long-term operational stability and improved performance.

Nicola Curtis is technical copywriter for Rotork


Key Points

  • Effective flow control can improve efficiency and yield, reduce emissions, assure safety and minimise environmental impacts
  • Innovative technology and the growth in IoT has allowed intelligent flow control devices to become connected devices
  • An asset management programme can help prevent decline in performance and keep assets available, limiting likelihood of failure