Reliable wireless monitoring for industry

Condition and energy monitoring of industrial assets by means of sensor systems has become widespread in recent years. Current systems are mostly wired, and thus installation can be difficult, inflexible, and costly. In addition, wired condition monitoring is not feasible in some cases (e.g., with moving parts), and harsh environments pose a threat for present technologies (vulnerable cables and connectors). Wireless condition monitoring is flexible but has challenges with respect to energy supply, dependability, and security. These challenges act as barriers for the optimal utilization of condition monitoring and hinder the exploitation of its hidden potentials.

The project “Condition and energy monitoring with wireless sensor networks for harsh industrial environments (OptiMon)” is dedicated to tackle these barriers. The objectives are to analyze and propose solutions to technical and economical barriers of wireless condition monitoring and to provide the requirements for more extensive projects, in which a system for industrial applications will be developed.

OptiMon includes primary and secondary research. We designed a questionnaire and conducted a survey with representatives of the condition monitoring industry (end-users, suppliers). Expert interviews allowed for the subsequent description of market conditions, economical feasibility, and industrial requirements. A technological state-of-the-art analysis provides a comprehensive overview of current technology concerning networking, sensor nodes architecture, energy harvesting, sensor fusion, and data analysis. We designed use cases for wireless condition monitoring applications. Considering economical and technological premises derived from the data, requirements for a novel sensor network enhancing condition monitoring and resource efficiency were specified. A SWOT analysis will enable us to prepare strategies.

Results of OptiMon provide insights in terms of research gaps and market conditions. To give some examples: The economic cost–benefit factor of conventional condition monitoring is still not apparent for end-users, and the interpretation of data is perceived as incomplete for decision making. Focusing on wireless systems and according to the gathered data, costs are the most important aspect followed by the limited time of operation (battery life), the integration into automation, missing protection from unauthorized access, and reliability. In general, the market for wireless condition monitoring is growing and assessment shows great potential, especially if the technological and economical drawbacks can be resolved.

Future solutions for condition monitoring should be energy self-sufficient as well as highly reliable in industrial environments and in the presence of co-existing wireless networks. They should be scalable in terms of the number of sensor nodes and apply (distributed) data analysis generating information that any maintenance personnel can use to derive maintenance measures. The integration of such a solution into existing factory automation systems must be seamless, and the costs of a wireless sensor networks must be at least in the same cost range as its wired counterpart.

Project partners are Messfeld GmbH, Campus 02 Fachhochschule der Wirtschaft, and Joanneum Research Forschungsges.m.b.H. (Digital); and Lakeside Labs GmbH. OptiMon has been funded by the Austrian Federal Ministry of Transport, Innovation and Technology (BMVIT) under the program “ICT of the Future” between October 2016 and September 2017.

Photo credit: Messfeld