Hidden gems23 March 2020

Vibration sensors can monitor the health of different assets, including motors, pumps, compressors and fans. These small, low-cost devices can be a godsend to operators by highlighting potential catastrophic failure via data

To put it bluntly, the ultimate aim of any business – regardless of the industrial sector it is operating in – is to make money. The dream is to have a smooth operation whereby everything and everyone is performing well, all the time, but of course, many businesses experience so called ‘bumps in the road’.

One major headache in industry is asset downtime. If, for example, a motor or pump fails, operations are impacted. This, ultimately, leads to a loss in production uptime and can impact the bottom line, and there could be further issues, such as environmental problems and costly fines.

Condition monitoring (monitoring one or more machinery operating parameters) can play an important role in combating downtime and there are a range of cost-effective, connected sensors on the market that can easily be installed to monitor parameters and send data for analysis. Highlights follow.


Technology specialist ABB released its ABB Ability Smart Sensor (pictured) for motors in 2016 and, in 2018, followed this up with an ABB Ability Smart Sensor for pumps and bearings and gearing. The device, which weighs in at just 0.26kg and is sold with a subscription model, can measure key parameters, such as vibration, temperature and magnetic field (speed). This is based on data gathered from the surface of the equipment that can provide information on condition and performance.

Bernd Heisterkamp, digital leader for ABB’s business line motors and generators, explains that the sensor device attaches to equipment via a clamping device or glue. “Obviously, for our own motors, we can change the design of the standard thread so you can just fix the sensor. But since the sensors are also for third party devices, you can [also] glue them to the surface,” he says. “It is really very simple [to install]. We have a couple of instruction videos on our website. Our teams can also give a hand to the client if needed.” Once the sensor has been attached to the asset, there is a mobile application that guides the user through the commissioning process, for example, nameplate, bearing kind, rated voltage and speed.

The smart sensor is also cable-free and instead powered by batteries that have a design life of up to five years. Ease of use and installation costs are the key factors for using batteries. “The price for the equipment itself is normally minor to the cost [that] it takes to have qualified engineers install the device, to put the cables in, to protect the cables, to adopt schematic drawings and so on. Battery-operated devices really have a huge advantage and they can be installed pretty much anywhere.”

In terms of vibration measurement, the ABB sensor has an amplitude range of 0.04-700 mm/s (25 Hz) and a frequency range of 10 Hz-1 kHz. The temperature measurement range, meanwhile, stands at -40°C to +85°C. Among the industries said to be using the device is the food and beverage sector. Bernd explains that some motors in the food industry are loaded “very heavily” and experience a lot of stress. Reliability is also needed as a broken production line component is likely to result in loss of production and wasted product. “The food industry is very cost-sensitive. All the industries are, but I think food and beverage customers particularly. It’s about saving money and they see the value in our solution, because the cost of downtime is so much higher than the monitoring costs.”

So, the sensor is simple enough to install and setup. But how does an operator view and analyse the vibration data being captured? Using the sensor’s built-in Bluetooth, data can be transmitted via a smartphone or an ABB ‘gateway’ to a secure cloud-based server. In the cloud, the data is analysed by ABB’s own algorithms and then sent back to the user’s smartphone or computer. With advanced analytics, users can identify issues before they become problems, so maintenance can be planned before a failure occurs. “Wi-Fi is not optimised for energy saving, so it would drain the battery far too quickly,” Bernd adds.

Now, looking forward, ABB plans to launch the next version of its Ability Smart Sensor that is designed to measure hazardous areas of rotating machines, such as motors and pumps, at Hannover Messe Fair (Germany, 20-24 April 2020).


Plant reliability specialist AVT Reliability, based in Warrington, Cheshire, also offers products and services for asset management, including the Machine Sentry MSF-1 tri-axial vibration and temperature, which launched in 2019 at a cost of £330.

For use on pipework or rotating equipment across a range of sectors, such as oil and gas, food and beverage, manufacturing and water utilities, the 0.18kg device is mounted directly on to the asset with adhesive, a screw mount or a magnet mount. “Customers can set the sensors up by themselves, though an understanding of vibration monitoring is advised,” explains Oliver Pogmore, sales director at AVT Reliability. “In the UK, the AVT Reliability team or partners can also set them up on site via our technical support team.”

According to AVT Reliability, the battery life of the sensor can vary. For ‘mobile use’, life stands at six weeks (eight hours per day, for five days per week), while for ‘fixed use’, battery life can last for up to three years (based on five-minute sampling, transferring one reading/hour/axis). Furthermore, the sensor vibration measurement ranges from 1Hz-5.5kHz overall velocity (-/+ 20g amplitude range), while the temperature measurement range is -40°C to 115°C. And measuring these parameters can produce data that contributes to the diagnosis of a range of potential faults, including unbalance, bent shaft, misalignment, lack of lubrication and gear tooth wear, to name a few.

The sensor also incorporates automatic fault diagnosis assistance to identify potential problems and offers continuous monitoring. “Our Automated Diagnostic Assistant (ADA) picks up on some of this also without any input from a human,” Pogmore adds.

The sensor can be paired to Android tablet or smartphone, connecting to AVT’s Machine Sentry software using standard Bluetooth communications. The time waveform is stored in a high-definition raw format, giving flexibility for post-processing. “MSFs allow customers to collect data on machines that don’t run continuously. MSFs allow customers to collect data from hard-to-access assets, that would require too much effort with traditional collection methods. MSFs allow customers to collect data on critical machines where one set of readings per month was not enough,” Pogmore adds.

“The crux of vibration analysis is to find issues before they fail and be able to act and plan in the fix,” he concludes. “This saves hours of unnecessary downtime, which often comes right when you don’t need it. It allows maintenance teams to focus on improving reliability rather than reacting to failures they didn’t see coming.”

In brief – other select vibration sensors

Here is a brief round-up of other vibration sensor hardware. More can be found online.

Bosch Rexroth – IVAS (Intelligent Vibration Analysis Sensor): Showcased at Agritechnica last year (www.is.gd/saluxi), this sensor is said to be suitable for analysing the vibrations of rotating systems, from typical off-highway components, such as hydraulic pumps, through to fixed industrial or agricultural applications.

Emerson – AMS Wireless Vibration Monitor: Introduced in November, the monitor is said to be a low-cost, easy-to-deploy vibration sensor that performs prescriptive analytics on vibration data using native software to automatically identify failure modes and prevent potential problems involving rotating assets (www.is.gd/edudof). The device is suitable for motors, pumps, fans and other plant equipment.

Fluke – 3561 FC Vibration Sensor: This sensor, which comes in different kit offers, aims to minimise maintenance routes and extend asset life by observing tri-axial measurements (www.is.gd/oravow). It is said to provide teams with an early indication of bearing wear, misalignment, looseness, or imbalance.

Adam Offord

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