A smart solution for industry fans

SKF’s smart fan program is broken into three main steps which help customers identify faults and reduce downtime.

Mining operations face some of the toughest and most remote working conditions on earth with heat, contaminants, vibration, heavy loads and extreme production demands leading to costly maintenance. 

SKF solutions are designed to withstand these conditions, helping customers extend service life, improve performance and reduce the total cost of ownership of machinery. 

SKF rotating equipment performance specialist – Australia, Vishesh Arora, says fans are crucial components in many industrial applications and often the workhorses in production plants. 

“If you look at a ventilation fan, which is commonly used in mine sites, imagine the whole mine being shut down because one fan stopped. A fan can be a simple application, but depending on where it is used, the impact to the business and people can be very significant,” he says.

As productivity requirements grow, increasing demands are put on fan performance and reliability. The result? You’ll often sense hot running, excessive noise and vibration, or issues with the transmission system, often wondering if they will survive the production run.

“What most companies do is regularly change main parts: bearings, housings, sometimes shaft, and make the fan operate again,” Arora says. “These would be termed as direct cost to an impact. But the consequential costs of the stoppage can be significantly higher.”

However SKF suggests another way to address these issues with its smart fan program.  

“Just like a doctor would need blood test results for diagnosing, you first need to get reliability under control; minimising human interaction and most importantly, improving worker safety,” Arora says. 

The Company has optimised fan performance for the past 25 to 30 years.

 

The smart fan program is broken into three main steps – the positioning of the fan in terms of technicality; the current behaviours of monitoring fans; and finally, helping customers identify faults and reduce downtime. 

SKF business development manager Asia, Senthil Vel, says the first step is to install pre-configured wireless sensors to connect to the fan. 

The company can then detect any issues by interpreting the data using an automated machine monitoring system powered by cloud-based Internet of Things (IoT) solutions and AI driven analytics. 

“Insights from the data are presented to clients in easy-to-understand dashboards, informing and advising when a problem arises – what it is, what the underlying cause might be and how to resolve it,” Vel says. 

Traditionally, fans are inspected every three to six months. SKF has, however, identified a gap and found during these intervals there is a chance that failure could occur with a large cost associated with it. 

By applying sensors, technology and knowledge to identify what is happening with the fans, Vel says operators can see the data at every hour or even minute of the day, allowing them to proactively plan for changeouts and maintenance. 

“We bring in the technology, expertise and software to simplify the process for the customer so they can take action immediately,” Vel says. 

SKF’s smart fan program has several advantages, but Vel says there are two main benefits that it promotes. The first benefit of the program is the output. 

“If a mine is producing coal then that doesn’t stop, allowing the client to get its product out to their customers on time,” Vel says. 

The second benefit is the cost of maintenance. Vel says if a fan fails clients must replace the fan, fix it and bring in contractors, resulting in significant maintenance costs. 

“We feel by having the technology to understand what is going on, it will tell us what has to be done in terms of the diagnosis; how to avoid those failures and reduce the costs that would come along with that,” Vel says. 

SKF has optimised fan performance for the past 25 to 30 years, designing and updating its solutions for mining companies around the world. 

The company deployed a solution for a hot gas fan at a smelter facility in Western Australia which increased the mean time between failures (MTBF) from less than 12 months to four years. By its very nature, industrial process and hot gas fans operate with extremely high internal gas temperature (>300C). But internal temperature is just the beginning of heat-related problems. 

SKF application engineer, Uwe Guist, was called on site where a detailed assessment led to deployment of SKF technology. 

“From the condition data, we found clear evidence that the real roadblock was due to extreme heat which was causing thermal expansion of the shaft,” Guist says. “It’s virtually impossible to eliminate internal heat generated by the process.” As a result, appropriate bearing arrangements were upgraded to accommodate the operating conditions; along with a review and change in the lubrication system. 

The SKF service team in collaboration with its distribution partner, Applied Industrial Technologies, supervised the project including the mounting of replacement bearings and associated components. “The client was pleased that as a one-stop shop we were able to diagnose the problem and improve their performance with SKF engineering and application knowledge,” Guist says.  

SKF uses technology and knowledge to identify issues with fans at mine sites.

SKF mining segment manager, Rod Allen, says the company offers a unique combination of product supply and services with its rotating equipment performance solutions. 

SKF is not just a manufacturer of bearings, but also seals, lubrication systems, housings, power transmission products and condition monitoring equipment. By leveraging its product and engineering expertise with deep understanding around rotating equipment, Allen believes SKF can provide a unique solution to its customer to maximise machine availability and increase reliability.

“With this solution, the customer needs to pay a monthly fee rather than the cost of the product and we get paid based on the performance we deliver. Essentially, we are moving from selling products to selling performance and uptime. We win when the customer wins,” Allen concludes.  

This story also appears in the October issue of Australian Mining.

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