Smart moves04 July 2019

Intelligent drives have evolved beyond simply providing high performance for a connected motor. They also offer detailed diagnostics information that can be an essential tool for maintenance. OE reviews the capability of standard equipment

The industrial landscape is undergoing dramatic change as digital initiatives, such as Industry 4.0, become firmly entrenched. Industry 4.0 – the fourth industrial revolution in manufacturing, where connected devices speak with each other via the internet – has been around since 2010. It has, however, only recently captured the imagination of business.

As a result of digitisation of technology, brought on by initiatives such as Industry 4.0 and the Internet of Things, smart motor controllers/intelligent drives are becoming increasingly common. They cross all industry sectors; everywhere there is a pump, drive or fan application, there is the potential to insert smart motor or intelligent drive technology.

ABB operations engineer Steve Hughes points out that the variable speed drive is celebrating its 50th birthday this year. “As the forerunner to today’s world of digitalisation, the VSD has long been packed with sensors, software and algorithms. In recent years, it has been joined by synchronous reluctance motor technology. This combination is changing the face of many applications.”


The key driver behind the development of smart motors and intelligent drives is data analytics, collecting data and then delivering this back to the customer as useful information. As Gary Wilcock, UK product manager for motion control at Siemens, says, digitisation allows smart devices to collect data and use it in a practical way.

Indeed, for Wilcock, the real revolution in smart technology is around the collection of data and analytics: “The design at Siemens, for example, is based at product level, in order to collect data out of the products that we deliver to end users.”

And he adds: “We have gone in at individual component level so, for example, you can connect straight into a motor and data will be taken directly from the motor performance. You can do the same for the drive.

“Traditionally, over the years, that has all been collected centrally into something like a supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) system which delivers the data back, but... not all customers have SCADA systems, programmable logic controllers, and so on, so you need to build some intelligence into the unit itself.”

He adds: “It can also take data and use it for predictive maintenance, to forecast when there might be a failure. Condition monitoring has been around for quite a while in some of the larger industries, but because of the new [digital] technologies and the ability now to collect data at component level, it’s allowing access to all types of industry that perhaps haven’t had the capital to invest previously.”

The third element after data analytics and predictive maintenance is optimisation, says Wilcock: “Optimising their processes allows businesses to drive energy usage down, increase efficiencies and boost productivity.”

To help with optimisation, Siemens has developed MindSphere, an open cloud platform designed to store operational data from every machine and system in a business and make it accessible through digital applications. This allows industrial customers to make decisions based on hard, factual information to increase productivity and save energy.

More and more, says Wilcock, his customers want bespoke solutions: “So we try to deliver data back to mobile applications [such as tablets and smart phones] that allows them the flexibility [to tackle all three elements].”

ABB’s Hughes adds: “A smart sensor [such as the ABB Ability model] converts traditional motors into smart, wirelessly connected devices ( It measures key parameters of the motor, which can be used to gain meaningful information on its condition and performance. This enables users to identify inefficiencies within their system, and to reduce risks related to operation and maintenance.

“Maintenance can now be planned according to actual needs, rather than based on generic schedules. This extends the life of equipment, reduces maintenance costs and cuts or prevents unplanned downtime due to breakdowns.”

And, he says, smart sensor technology is now applied to pumps and mounted bearings. “For pumps, the sensor measures vibration and temperature from the casing, using the data it gathers to produce meaningful information on the pump’s condition and performance.”


Jonathan Smith, business leader at Rockwell Automation, believes that for those looking to achieve a level of control or monitoring, smart devices have become de rigueur – whether for conveyors, mixers, fillers, labellers, palletisers, or whatever.

“But [smart digital devices] are also used in other areas around plant services, such as fans, general environmental control, or process-based operations, including fume extraction, pumps to supply water, or compressors to supply air or refrigeration,” he adds. “Nowadays, all these areas tend to have VSDs applied to them or some level of smart controller monitoring their performance.”

For Smith, an important element going forward is being able to find good quality information about energy use at device level. He says that if you have a connected drive or overload that is smart, “you can pick up that level of energy usage from that device” as part of an overall control network. You can get granular energy information and can see what energy is being used and how it’s being used.

Within its smart devices, Rockwell uses CIP Energy (, a common industrial protocol operated by the ODVA, a global association whose members comprise the automation companies.

CIP Energy is essentially a function within a device that enables it to provide everything from basic energy awareness to more advanced functions to control energy, aggregation and reporting of energy information or dynamic demand-response. CIP Energy also allows smart systems to monitor energy usage and manage energy for efficient energy consumption.

But energy saving is not the only benefit of intelligent technology. It can also track performance issues, and the resulting savings can be huge. Rockwell’s E300 smart electronic overload relay, for example, saved one US-based plant roughly $30,000. The manufacturer of railway ties was relying on a eutectic alloy overload relay to protect the motor on its grinder. The motor was experiencing intermittent trip incidents. After some consultation, it was determined that the E300 relay would help uncover the root cause of the nuisance trips.

Data abstracted from the E300 determined that the motor was being overworked. The 500 to 525 amp-rated SMC was sometimes running at 950 amps, which was tripping the overload relay. It turned out that some operators were overfeeding the grinder to exceed productivity goals. Instead of loading 6x6x6ft trusses, they were loading 12x12x20ft trusses into the grinder. This would have eventually burned out the motor and the SMC, potentially costing the manufacturer upwards of $75,000. The data gave insight into the problem and the motor is still functional today.

Ian Vallely

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