Auto Service World
Feature   November 25, 2015   by Steve Pawlett

How “Smart” Bearings Will Change The Way You Do Business

Imagine a bearing that could detect problems, communicate wirelessly, and could take advantage of the inherent rotational energy to self-power the electronics.
The SKF Insight is a new bearing health management technology that uses self-powered, intelligent wireless sensors in the SKF bearing to provide instant condition monitoring data via the Internet. SKF Insight monitors such dynamic parameters as vibration, temperature, lubrication, condition, and load, and informs the user when conditions are abnormal and can threaten to cause bearing damage. This technology is now undergoing trials in various projects. Traditional condition monitoring can detect bearing damage, of course; but with SKF bearing health management algorithms applied to the dynamic data, SKF Insight can spot the abnormal conditions that cause damage and can take actions to prevent it. “These innovations are set to revolutionize condition monitoring for bearings, especially in critical machinery and technically challenging applications. SKF Insight technology will make condition monitoring more widely available, especially in applications where it was previously impossible or impractical,” says SKF president and CEO Tom Johnstone. “With our integrated diagnostic technology, our customers can get even better control over the life cycle of their machinery, leading to lower total costs with higher reliability and machinery uptime.” According to Alan Begg, SKF senior vice-president, group technology development, “Three years ago we had a vision to create an integrated, self-powered sensor package that could wirelessly communicate the condition of a bearing at any time – making a smart bearing capable of sending a message when something happens to it.” Following extensive R&D work, including miniaturizations, solving power generation challenges and developing unique packaging of sensors and electronics, the introduction of SKF Insight technology makes this a reality.
Miniature electronic circuits powered by the motion of the bearing itself transmit this process data via a wireless link; no external power supply (or wiring, for that matter) is required. “This means it will work in places that would previously have been impossible. With SKF Insight, signals can be taken from anywhere, and we are already developing solutions in challenging applications in wind turbines and steel manufacturing,” says Begg.
“We developed SKF Insight because we know that bearings rarely fail in service, under normal operating conditions, due to factors such as subsurface fatigue. Instead, the cause of failure is usually misuse or neglect: insufficient lubrication, for example, or running the bearing under conditions outside those originally specified. Insight’s embedded sensor measures the critical parameters that cause early bearing failure, such as lubricant contamination or temperature, allowing operators to take corrective action while the machinery is still operating. The direct result is that expensive, disruptive failures can be prevented, reducing the total cost of asset ownership and extending machine operating life. It also makes it simpler for engineers to gain a far more detailed appreciation of the varied causes that can affect the calculation of bearing life,” explains Begg.
Tough Working Conditions
SKF Insight also offers huge potential benefits to many industries like wind energy, where the cost of maintenance is astronomical. In some offshore wind applications, changing the main bearing on a wind turbine is so expensive that it undermines the business case for building the turbine in the first place. Used here, intelligent bearings could monitor loads and lubrication conditions in service, giving plenty of time to prevent the development of damaging process conditions.
A similar solution is being developed for wheel-end bearings. These critical components are normally changed at set intervals, regardless of their condition. SKF Insight creates a cost-effective way of collecting condition monitoring data so that service bearing life and change-out intervals are determined based on actual, rather than predicted, operating conditions. The ability to monitor and transmit information on operating conditions will bring about a revolution in bearings in terms of maintenance planning, total cost of ownership, and maximizing machine efficiency. Bearings have long been considered the heart of rotating machinery. Now, by imbuing them with intelligence, SKF Insight makes them the brain as well. It goes beyond traditional condition monitoring, into what might be called “future reliability” – identifying potential problems before they occur, and taking immediate corrective action.
Rethinking Maintenance
SKF Insight gives maintenance engineers a powerful new tool to keep machinery in prime condition, giving them capabilities way beyond traditional condition monitoring. It means that maintenance can be carried out at exactly the right time (so-called adaptive maintenance), rather than being guided by a strict schedule that is unrelated to the actual condition of the machinery or its components.
The intelligent wireless technology inside the bearing has other functions as well. The technology allows bearings to be configured in smart networks, which communicate via wireless gateways. The gateway can be local to the machine or to the plant. System information can be provided to the customer for analysis using SKF @ptitude Analyst, or sent via the SKF cloud to a remote diagnostic centre. From here, dashboards and reports can be supplied to the plant operator, machine manufacturer, SKF, or any other authorized person with Internet access. The inclusion of SKF in the list of recipients is an important one, as the firm’s deep bearing and machine knowledge can provide vital assistance in gathering and interpreting the data. Because the bearings are self-contained, they can be used right in the heart of a machine, where it was previously impossible to embed sensors. This is a huge step forward in real-time condition-based maintenance, and provides a vastly improved understanding of the operating environment. Having such a deep knowledge of operating conditions, in real time, could even make it possible to upgrade a machine, extending its life or power rating beyond its initial specification. “The sensors communicate through each other, and the wireless gateway, to create a ‘mesh network,’ providing both machine-wide and plant-wide information,” notes Beggs.
Monitoring Directly On The Bearing
Prior to SKF Insight, condition monitoring techniques could only monitor damage after it had occurred. Now, by sensing directly on the bearing, SKF is able to monitor the damage from the first microscopic effects as it is happening; armed with this information, customers can take remedial action to reduce the reason for damage in the bearing – adding lubricant, mitigating transient overloads, etc. In addition, by monitoring the load directly on the bearing, SKF Insight makes it possible to measure the load the bearing actually experiences, rather than what it was designed for. This valuable information can be routed back into the design phase to improve both the system and bearing design.
With SKF Insight technology integrated into bearings, it will be simpler and more convenient for customers to enter into condition-monitoring activities. Better operational knowledge, better maintenance planning, optimized manpower, and spare part management will lead to lower cost of operations.

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