Atomation Saves: What Happens When a Bearing Burns

Normally when we write about “saves” from Atomation’s condition monitoring platform we’re referring to an Atom alerting a customer that a monitored object is straying from its “normal” operating envelope (temperature, vibration, etc.).  In those cases, the customer dispatches someone to investigate further and take the necessary actions to prevent a failure thereby creating the “save.”  But what value can the Atom deliver when a failure happens so quickly that there is no time to save the monitored device?  Today’s save answers that question.

An Atomation customer was using 10 R1 Atoms with Gateways to monitor bearing temperatures on a conveyor line moving waste material away from the main production line in a remote area of the plant.  Two of the Atoms were used on the drive and non-drive bearings on the tail motor at the end of the conveyor belt.

In mid-February, the team received an alert after the Atoms registered a rapid increase in temperature from 40°C (104°F) to 80°C (176°F).  A maintenance crew was dispatched and when they arrived 15-20 minutes later (due to the remoteness of the bearing), they immediately shut down the line.  A visual inspection revealed that the bearing had caught fire, causing the rapid temperature increase captured by the Atom. 




While the alert wasn’t in time to prevent damage to the bearing, the customer reported that it did provide sufficient warning to allow the team to contain the fire to the motor and prevent the fire from spreading down the line and causing extensive damage.



So why didn’t the Atoms prevent the fire in the first place?  After the teardown of the motor, it was discovered that material from the line had entered the bearing, interacted with the bearing’s grease, and created massive friction thereby igniting the fire.  There was no indication of impending failure before the actual event, so the “save” in this case was not for the monitored equipment, but for containment of a potentially catastrophic fire.  In this case, it took 2 hours of downtime for replacement, which was a welcome alternative to a much larger downtime (and cost) of the alternative had the fire spread.

The overwhelming ROI of the Atomation solution demonstrated during this incident resulted in the customer happily adding Atoms to the replacement motor bearings (and others) and they continue to operate today.

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