Do you already have an app for that problem?

The diagnostics you need may already be built into your PLC software
By Monroe Blanton March 12, 2014
In this world of high-tech, smart personal devices in use everywhere, it seems like someone would be figuring a way to merge the app world with improving the way we watch over our automated production equipment. Truth be told, instant messaging related to a production line sending you a text message to let you know there is a problem is so “5 minutes ago”. 
What is needed is a look into the future: an app that is going to tell you that something is about to break well before it breaks. Something that will signal your technicians to say, “hey, come here and lubricate this spindle before the bearings burn up” or an app that would warn you about pneumatic system leaks or cycle times starting to slow down. It would be awesome to have specific machine key point indicators at your fingertips. 
So let’s design the app that will do that for you. Take a look at your production equipment and just let your imagine run wild. What would be the ultimate information available from that system and how could you use that data? Many machines are built with computer monitor displays loaded with windows and boxes full of information. Start with knowing what you have available. 
Often the software authors for your machine have already created screens of diagnostics that offer an abundance of data. If you don’t see what you are looking for, talk with the maintenance technicians who are supporting the Programmable Logic Controller (PLC). In many cases the software engineers and some specialized PLC technicians in your plant are very capable of building into the software the ability to collect various aspects of process data. 
Some important values from intermediate steps may not be displayed but could be helpful key indicators for problem solving. 
Working within the PLC software would allow adding program routines to capture trending data in live action and generate information messages to signal an upcoming out-of-spec deviation. PLC software offers more flexibility than just programming the array of inputs and outputs. Through software tools it offers the ability to count, measure, and evaluate any condition within the program, whether it is a process variation or automation sequences. 
Using the data from a PLC-controlled system and applying it to your condition-based maintenance program is the application you need.
Monroe Blanton is a reliability technician with Life Cycle Engineering (LCE). Monroe has more than 33 years of experience in engineering installations, maintenance and repair. You can reach Monroe at mblanton@LCE.com