As data analytics and machine learning play an increasing role in industrial decision making, engineers and plant managers need to be confident their instruments are providing accurate measurements.
According to Yokogawa Australia and New Zealand Product Flow Manager Simon Lillie, this is crucial as the current experienced engineering workforce ages and more process decisions are automated.
Lillie said many operations in the food and beverage, mining, water and chemical industries rely on flowmeters to continuously track important parameters about the flow of liquids, gases and steam.
If this data is inaccurate, it can cause problems. For example, if the batching rate for food production is out, it can affect taste and consistency of the final product, or an incorrect dosing rate for flocculants in mining operations can affect particle size and mineral extraction.
“If you mess up some of those measurements, it can have big costs and downstream impacts on your process,” Lillie added.
And while technologies such as machine learning have the potential to reap benefits for process efficiency and monitoring, they need to be trained on accurate data to be effective.
“If you can’t trust the data coming into a machine, you can’t trust what comes out the other end. Then you’ve got an infinite loop: how can you trust anything?” Lillie said.
Keeping the faith
Modern flowmeters have built-in health check functions which let engineers and operators know their instruments are functioning correctly.
Lillie explained that flowmeters can run a series of onboard verification tests while installed in the process piping. These include testing magnetic, excitation and calculation circuits for magnetic flowmeters and drive, sensor and temperature circuits for Coriolis mass meters.
If verification fails, the flowmeter will indicate the area that caused the failure, so users can pinpoint the cause or contact the manufacturer for support.
“If the verification says you’ve got an issue with a flowmeter, you can immediately identify that and try to get around the problem,” said Lillie, adding that the tests are quick and simple to run and results can be printed out for maintenance logs if needed.
The onboard tests can also be used for predictive maintenance planning. For example, Coriolis mass flowmeters can do a tube health check which provides a trendline to predict when the instrument is likely to move out of specification. They can also provide diagnostic functions to identify issues such as corrosion or entrained gas.
Lillie encouraged engineers and plant operators to make use of flowmeter maintenance manager functions and diagnostics to ensure their instrument data is reliable and pick up issues before they affect downstream operations.
“Like a lot of other technologies we have, they sit in the background and people don’t really know they exist until they have to call on them,” he said.
Change in mindset
Lillie said industrial instruments have changed dramatically over 20 years, and will continue to evolve as more data is uploaded to cloud servers for analysis using the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT).
“There’s a lot you could do by modernising and checking what is available from the instruments, understanding what [data] you can get from them and where you can use that,” he added.
He said to get the best value out of these new instruments and analytic capabilities, engineers need to decide what they want to use their data for, and why. They can then work backwards to the kind of instruments they need.
“That’s a little bit of a change in mindset to many of us because we normally look at data and move forward from that point,” he explained.
“But if you go the other way, it will help lead you to the right decisions.”
Following Yokogawa Australia and New Zealand’s highly successful Co-innovation Forum series in the past, Yokogawa will be visiting five locations across Australia and two locations in New Zealand in 2019.
The Co-innovation Forums will feature presentations from international and local Yokogawa experts, as well as a panel of industry executives discussing technological challenges facing industries in Australia and New Zealand.
Registrations for the Sydney forum on 15 October, the Melbourne forum on 22 October and the Brisbane forum on 24 October are open. Save your seat to connect with leaders in the process and manufacturing industries.