SKF Machining DepartmentSKF Group conducted a media day at its Cleveland-area Solution Center yesterday. While I was touring the clean, well-lit machining facility, the thought popped up that everyone–professors, Wall Street Journal and The New York Times reporters, and more–who writes on manufacturing and automation should make a few of the plant visits such as I have over the past several months just to see what the real world is like.

The company designs and manufacture bearings. Not the sort of thing that I normally cover. There were two very interesting announcements covered, though.

Many companies have management that just doesn’t grasp the importance of condition monitoring of equipment, analyzing the information, and developing plans to fix things before they break. Trying to sell them on an automated condition monitoring system with MES/MOM software and some Manufacturing Intelligence applications will work about as much as selling the proverbial refrigerator to an eskimo.

SKF has developed an entry-level condition monitoring system that can often fit within the constraints of the budget of a maintenance manager. With this system, managers can begin realizing the benefits of condition-based and predictive maintenance on the low hanging fruit.

Revolutionary product
I am building The Manufacturing Connection around the concept of connected devices in the plant or factory, which are in turn connected to the MES/MOM layer with Manufacturing Intelligence in place to guide better decision making in manufacturing. The success of this entire concept lies with connected devices.

SKF Insight Bearing with Wireless SensingThe truly revolutionary thing I saw at the media day was SKF Insight–intelligent wireless technologies that are integrated into SKF bearings. As they put it, developments in various smart technologies now enable bearings to communicate their operating conditions continuously, with internally powered sensors and data acquisition electronics. “Bearings have long been considered the heart of rotating machinery, now SKF makes them the brain as well,” they said.

Monitoring directly on the bearing
SKF is able to monitor the damage from the first microscopic effect as it is happening, and with this information, customers can take remedial action.

Packaging of sensor technologies enables measurement of critical parameters such as RPM, temperature, velocity, vibration, load and other features. It uses the application environment itself to generate power. (Energy harvesting) The network uses a wireless gateway and bearings with SKF Insight form a “mesh network” for communication (I think WirelessHART, but I’m still trying to verify). SKF Insight application specific solutions are under trial with key customers in industries including wind energy, railways and metals, and other industries are under investigation.

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