Adrian has been conducting research on, and managing teams of analysts covering, the technology industry for over 20 years. He has pioneered many data analysis techniques and methods that are used widely by analysts today, as well as having created frameworks for measuring numerous technology markets from industrial automation products to semiconductors.
The installed base of motors used in industrial applications is large. Very large. If you added up the cost of all types of installed equipment in industry, the value of motors would most likely be greater than any other equipment type. Motors are a hugely important component in plant infrastructure and any emerging technology that can enhance motor performance has the potential to drive significant revenues over time.
Take the low-voltage drive market. Our 2018 research study covering the motor drive market sized it at over $12 billion. A sizeable chunk of change – and this market is a long way from saturation. For example, in China, which is the single largest consumer of motors and drives, we estimate the current attachment rate is around one drive for every three motors shipped. So, imagine the potential for a market where the technology is shipped or used alongside every motor, both new and retroactively.
New Smart Sensors for Motors Emerge
Sensing technology is as old as motor technology, so the idea of using sensors to measure the status of motors is certainly not a new one. Traditional sensors tend to be single purpose in nature, or in other words they execute a single sensing function such as temperature, vibration, or acoustic wave measurement. Also, they tend to output analog based signals via a hard wire with no on-sensor data processing capability. They are currently used to monitor the health of motor systems, whether measuring the vibration of a motor, or the temperature of bearings in a mounted bearing assembly, although the extent to which this technology has been adopted is thought to be very limited.
Smart sensors are different in many ways, so it is hard to provide a concise definition. Typical characteristics of smart sensors include multiple sensor types on a single device, wireless or digital communications capability, built-in intelligence for live adaptive behavior and on-board battery power. The current crop of smart sensors in the market uses a mixture of these features, and at this time the choices being adopted are often a trade-off between different desires, with vendors approaching the market differently. For example, some are embracing battery-powered operation to ease deployment, but trade-off the frequency at which data can be communicated to preserve battery life; while others prefer to have the device powered using a hard wire, which allows constant measurement of the asset but presents a challenge to implement in retrofit and hard-to-reach installations.
Undoubtedly the 2016 launch of ABB’s AbilityTM Smart Sensor was the moment this technology came to the forefront. ABB has done a terrific job of creating both a compelling technology and a strong argument for mass adoption. The simple premise of taking existing motor systems, whether a motor, a pump or a mounted gearbox, and adding an inexpensive (~$200) sensing device that will monitor the status of the asset is eye-catching for sure.
But ABB is not alone in this venture. We have identified in excess of 30 vendors around the world touting a smart sensor type device intended for motor-based systems. These vendors are a mixture of old and new. It’s not surprising to see major stakeholders in the motor systems market introducing their own variants. Siemens’ Simotics Connect products were being showcased at Hannover this year which form the sensing part of its SIDRIVE IQ initiative; SKF is selling its Machine Condition Indicator; WEG launched its Motor Scan product last year; and Schaeffler offers a device called SmartCheck. But the opportunity in this market has not been missed by the entrepreneurial community. We’ve identified numerous start-ups such as Augury, endiio, iQunet, MachineSense and PetaSense. When an emerging market attracts significant early investment, this often represents a signpost towards rapid revenue expansion.
Market Potential for Smart Sensors: Questions to Answer
Not wanting to pour cold water on this market before it gets started, but there does remain significant and unanswered questions:
What role will the motor drive (or inverter) play?
Most drives have current sensors built into the device, which are used to perform sensorless control of the motor’s speed and torque. The same concept that allows accurate motor control without the use of encoders or resolvers could be applied to motor maintenance. For now, we are unsure whether the drive can sufficiently provide condition monitoring to support a predictive maintenance strategy without the need for other types of sensors. However, without a doubt it will play an important role in future implementations since it will likely be used by some vendors to collect the motor sensing data and offering this data upstream, as well as potentially performing analysis and interpretation of the data.
How much of the installed base of motor systems need condition monitoring?
There are various schools of thoughts around optimizing your plant maintenance strategy for motor systems (and other assets too for that matter). Ultimately the objective here is to figure out what will incur the least amount of cost in the long run. It’s not a simple one size fits all problem as there are many different variables that need considering, such as the size of the motor system, replacement cost, its criticality to whatever process it is running, etc. So, to think that all motors need to be monitored would be inaccurate. Take a small and low-cost motor used in a non-critical application which is kept in stock for quick replacement. Arguably the most cost-effective maintenance strategy here would simply be to run the motor to failure and replace.
Are smart sensors going to replace legacy solutions?
The concept of smart sensors is compelling, but there are barriers to adoption. Existing walk-around conditional monitoring strategies continue to grow, and more and more sophisticated hand-held devices are being developed and sold to support instantaneous condition status monitoring of motor-driven equipment, potentially eliminating the need for large investments in smart sensing and allied technologies. Similarly, smart sensing using MEMS-based technology has limitations, and certain equipment types, such as geared units, are more difficult to accurately determine their condition. Traditional sensing solutions may be better placed to perform this task.
What is going to happen to all that data?
Various additional investments need to be made to support the collection, analyzing and presentation of the data being gathered from the sensors. Gateway devices are needed for wireless sensors; and even wired sensors need a data aggregation point, or edge device, that would act to collect, analyze and process the large amount of data being generated. It might make sense for not all the data to be transferred to the cloud or on-premise storage area due to its sheer size. It may make more sense for this data to be stored and processed closer to the sensing devices, with only significantly condensed and the most critical information being pushed up the network. Are dedicated gateway devices going to be a temporary solution, with that capability being soaked up by other devices such as a controller or a drive? And what type of software will be adopted? Will general purpose plant software, designed for predictive maintenance analysis of all plant assets (e.g. offered by companies such as PTC, OSISoft, Siemens through MindSphere, Aveva, etc.), gain the lion share of revenues or will motor system specific software sold by the various motor drives, smart sensor and motor vendors be adopted to a significant extent?
What role does service-based contracts have in future predictive maintenance deployment?
This last question might be the elephant in the room. We are already seeing significant innovation around the circular economy, and numerous companies are offering service-based models to customers whereby they receive a periodic payment from the customer to maintain the equipment in their customers’ plant. This has the remarkable effect of incentivizing manufacturers to do their utmost to ensure their equipment doesn’t fail. In a traditional sell-consume market model, manufacturers of equipment benefit when their equipment fails, as they generate revenues from servicing and selling replacement parts. A conflict of interest one might say. If the market increasingly adopts a circular economy-based service model, we will see installed motor systems enjoying increased shelf-life, which could have the potential to lower overall demand for motors and allied equipment since the replacement market would significantly contract.
Low Voltage AC Motor Drives – 2019 – this is the second edition of our study covering the Low Voltage AC Drives market in which we will be build upon and refine the sophisticated tool we developed in the 2018 edition.
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