Maintenance of Smart Machines - Insight from Eaton’s Peter Lauer

 

PETER_LAUERAn interview of Dr. Peter Lauer

 
 
 
     

Dr. Peter Lauer is a senior specialist in embedded control architecture at Eaton Corporation's Hydraulics Technology Organization in Eden Prairie, MN, leading electrohydraulic valve design. He offered his insight into maintenance of smart machines.

Q: How does maintenance of smart machines differ from that of conventional machines?

A: One of the big differences is our electronics and pumps share so much intelligence. You get real-time messages on what's happening in a system. This makes maintenance much faster. We can download an image of a control, look through the history, and identify issues quickly.
 

Q: How does the advanced electronics affect physical maintenance?

A: In the old days, you had to be present physically to trouble-shoot and maintain equipment. With electro-hydraulic integration, you can do much of this remotely and quickly. You don't have to crawl around a machine for two days to find a problem; you can often find it within minutes.
 

Q: What kind of data can you access with smart hydraulic systems?

A: We have increasing amounts of data on the machines themselves. We know the temperature, voltage, wattage, pressure, and other parameters. There are not as many hidden fault factors as with traditional hydraulic systems. We can also communicate directly with customers. They have a CAN-bus network that can communicate with our valves and pumps using our tools or standardized protocols. Our distributors have many of the same tools we have and can also communicate with end users to identify issues.
 

Q: What are some of the tools used for diagnostics and maintenance?

A: Our Pro-FX Configure product is a collection of software tools that can be used by customers to build their own applications and perform diagnostics. They can plug it in anywhere between the PLC and valve to monitor the system. The tool can look at the system online, graph it live on the screen, and download parameter files that capture the exact configuration of the product. We can exchange diagnostic files and solve many problems online or in a conference call, as shown in the figure below. The data format is a DCF file, understood by CAN-open tools, but also readable as a text file.
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Q:  What are some examples of how maintenance has been simplified with smart machines?

A: Say an application generates a fault, and a valve shuts down. With electronic tools, you can look deeper into the system, identify a sensor failure and a code associated with that failure. You can often dynamically change the configuration, take the sensor out of the loop, then start up the valve to see if anything else is wrong. If the sensor is the problem, you can remove it and replace it.
 

Q: What maintenance situations have you encountered with mobile machines?

A: With mobile digital pumps on skid-steer machines, we’ve seen more efficient maintenance and cost savings. The software tool allows customers to service equipment more readily. In the past, if you had a problem with a pump, you had to take the pump out of the machine, which is a six-hour job that starts with draining all the fluids. If you can isolate the problem with diagnostics, you may only have to replace a $20 part, instead of dismantling a system.
 

Q: What advice would you offer original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) who might be hesitant to switch to more electronically-driven hydraulics systems and machines? 

A: Try to learn more about the new equipment and tools. OEMs might be comfortable with one type of PLC, and not know about the new tools available. Once they understand the tools, they can see the power of electronic-hydraulic integration almost immediately. The benefits of remote diagnostics are already  present, even when machine design, testing, and production are in different locations
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Q: What tools are available from the supplier, and what is needed to get up to speed?

A: They need the proper hardware, cables, and adapters to make the connection between the chosen bus system (e.g., CANopen / J1939, Ethernet) and the computer hardware (e.g., laptop, desktop).  They need to install the proper software, or ProFX Configure or standardized network tools. Finally, they need training to get familiar with the technology.
 

Q: Where can someone go for help if something isn’t working properly?

A: They need the proper hardware, cables, and adapters to make the connection between the chosen bus system (e.g., CANopen / J1939, Ethernet) and the computer hardware (e.g., laptop, desktop).  They need to install the proper software, or ProFX Configure or standardized network tools. Finally, they need training to get familiar with the technology.
 

Q: What tools are available from the supplier, and what is needed to get up to speed?

A: They need the proper hardware, cables, and adapters to make the connection between the chosen bus system (e.g., CANopen / J1939, Ethernet) and the computer hardware (e.g., laptop, desktop).  They need to install the proper software, or ProFX Configure or standardized network tools. Finally, they need training to get familiar with the technology.
 

Q: Where can someone go for help if something isn’t working properly?

A: They can contact the Eaton salesperson and/or their Eaton distributor.  They can also work with the Eaton ACE person that support these products. The online resources offer additional information. Eaton has numerous manuals, training videos, and support forums online. With smart machines, help is often available via a phone call or mouse click.