Two Minute Tips  

Sensor Fusion: The Path to Proactive Plant Maintenance and Operational Excellence

Alan McCall | Chief Technical Officer, Sensoteq

A powerful approach for improving plant maintenance programs is the integration of multiple sensing technologies to improve coverage of machines and different failure modes.  This can be further complemented by effective analysis of the data from all the different sources.  When using multiple sensors like this, it is called Sensor Fusion

The following technologies can be effectively utilised together: 

  • Vibration Analysis: Vibration sensors are vital for monitoring rotating equipment. Advanced analytics can help detect complex patterns and trends in vibration data to detect all kinds of failures in machines, imbalance, misalignment, Looseness, bearing failures. 
  • Infrared Thermography: Infrared cameras detect temperature variations, revealing potential issues such as bearing wear or electrical problems. These cameras can continuously monitor temperature data and identify irregularities. 
  • Ultrasonic Testing: Ultrasonic sensors are ideal for identifying structural issues, such as leaks and cracks, lubrication status and contact early detection of bearing failures. 
  • Acoustic Emission: Acoustic emission sensors capture sound waves generated by equipment condition changes. Acoustic patterns to detect subtle changes, like developing cracks or corrosion.  
  • Optical and Video Inspection: Optical and video inspection technologies are excellent for visual assessments of equipment, these tools can automatically identify and classify issues such as wear, corrosion, or cracks. Latest optical technologies are leading to motion amplification which is making waves in the industry. 

These sensors can be wired to a controller, but an increasingly common approach is to adopt IoT and wireless technology. IoT connected sensors provide real-time data on various parameters. This functionality can be added to any of the above technologies, making installation and maintenance much easier than wired implementations. 

The key to successful integration is the centralisation of data from these technologies into a unified platform that can apply advanced data analytics and machine learning. 

Example functionality of these platforms includes: 

  • Correlate data from multiple sources to provide a holistic view of equipment health. 
  • Prioritise maintenance tasks based on risk assessments, predicting the likelihood of failure and its consequences. 
  • Enable condition-based and predictive maintenance scheduling, reducing downtime and costs. 
  • Improve resource allocation by directing maintenance efforts where they are needed most. 
  • Continuously learn from historical data, adapting to evolving equipment behaviour and performance. 

Combining these sensing technologies with advanced analytics and machine learning algorithms creates a robust reliability program that shifts maintenance from reactive to proactive. Ultimately increasing equipment uptime, reducing costs, and enhancing overall operational efficiency. 

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About the Author

Alan McCall Chief Technical Officer, Sensoteq

Alan is a Chartered Engineer with 20+ years of experience in advanced product design and development. His experience spans analogue and digital design, wireless technologies, embedded systems, firmware, data analysis, complex algorithms and applied physics.

His expertise is in sensor technologies and low power wireless interface electronics. An innovator at heart, resulting in 8 granted patents in unique sensing applications, within industrial, medical and automotive markets. He has a proven track record of creating products from concept to high volume production, whilst developing an innovative technology roadmap. He holds BEng (Hons) in Electronic Systems from University of Ulster.