Atlas Copco’s SMARTLINK helps manufacturers achieve their Industry 4.0 goals

In the compressor business, Atlas Copco monitors customer installations from remote through a system called SMARTLINK.

In manufacturing, compressed air is often considered the Fourth Utility after water, gas and electricity, and makes up a vital part of any production plant.

Atlas Copco’s Smartlink 2.0 is a second-generation software that gives customers the ability to monitor their compressed air systems through a web interface at a time when remote monitoring is becoming increasingly important.

Smartlink facilitates connectivity by receiving signals from compressors in the field to help manufacturers avoid complete shutdowns and also improve safety, reliability and efficiency in the compressed air system installed in their facility.

Business line manager Jeff Treble said Industry 4.0 is about connectivity and monitoring machines remotely.

“For us, that’s where Smartlink 2.0 fits in,” he said. “We have two physical products, the Smartbox and the Smartclamp, both of these tools allow our compressors to be monitored via a web interface that we call Smartlink.”

There are four tiers of licensing for the Smartlink. The Smartlink service is the basic service that comes for free with any Smartbox or Smartclamp installed, and then there are three additional tiers that customers can pay for, the premium being Smartlink SPM.

The Smartlink Uptime focuses on the reliability of the compressor, and looks for preventative measures to keep compressors running

“Across the world, we have a lot of connected machines, and we can use that data to generate algorithms that actually predicts future breakdowns,” Treble said.

“Through the use of those algorithms, we’ve already proven we can increase customers’ uptime, reduce downtime and increase machine availability by three per cent.”

“If you take three per cent in the context of most large manufacturing plants that operate 24/7 365 days of the year, that’s potentially 10 days extra availability of the machine over that period of time.”

The next service tier above Smartlink Uptime is Smartlink Energy, which enables customers to monitor their energy consumption and look for optimisation opportunities and recommendations made on opportunities.

“Through the Smartlink data, we know we can potentially increase our customer’s efficiency by 30 per cent, so that’s reduced energy consumption,” Treble said.

“A 24/7 365 days a year operation normally equates to about 8,000 running hours. If we take a 90-kilowatt compressor, multiplied by 8,000 hours and further multiplied by 20 cents per kilowatt hour, that’s $144,000 to run a compressor over 12 months,” Treble said. “We can save 30 per cent of that, which is about $43,000 that customers will be able to save. So, customers will get increased uptime, focusing on reliability, energy, focusing on compressor efficiency and return on investment for energy consumption.”

Finally, the highest tier service is called Smartlink SPM.

“The shock pulse monitoring is a system where we monitor the condition of the bearings of the compressor. The major component of the compressor is what we call an element, so we can monitor the condition of those bearings and we trend them through Smartlink SPM,” Treble said.

With this system, Atlas Copco is able to notify customers when the bearings start to fail.

“As they’re starting to trend outside of their normal parameters of vibration, we know the bearings have a life, and we can then predict future failures before they even happen and suggest to our customers to do a major service on their compressor,” Treble said.

Where hardware and software meet

Used in conjunction with Smartlink, the Smartbox and Smartclamp are the physical hardware that allow Atlas Copco to monitor compressors.

A Smartbox is integrated to the controller of the machine, while the SmartClamp, which is about the size of a hand, is mainly used to predicting services. It is attached onto one of the incoming phases and allows us to track basic functionality of the machine.

“Some of the smaller compressors come with very basic controllers, so they don’t have the smarts of the bigger compressors,” Treble said. “Most of these benefits are tangible. They are in and around the reliability of the compressor and energy savings,” he said. “The non-tangible benefits would be the ability to remotely monitor an installation.”

Treble said Industry 4.0 is a window of opportunity for Atlas Copco to continue to be at the forefront of innovation and allows the company to provide solutions that its customers will and currently be looking for as time goes on in the mobile revolution.