It’s not unusual for motors to be loaded with sensors that help monitor a machine’s performance. However, as much as the sensors help with maintenance, they are also prone to failure. Faulty sensors can cause downtime that can be very expensive for a manufacturing plant. Matthias Nienhaus, an engineer at Saarland University in Germany, has found a creative solution. ‘We’re developing an important new type of sensor: the motor itself,” he says.
That makes our approach very cost-effective as there’s no need to install any additional sensors. We’re looking at elegant ways of extracting data from the motor and of using this data for motor control and for monitoring and managing processes.
Nienhaus and his colleagues monitor the magnetic field generated by electric current flowing through coils on the motor. They gathered and analyzed data from a working motor and found magnetic field patterns to serve as a baseline. Specific variations in the magnetic field strength give clues about if a motor is slightly off balance or experiencing wear-and-tear. “We examine how our measured data correlates with specific motor states and how specific measured quantities change when the motor is not operating as it should,” Nienhaus explained.
With further development, the motor could diagnose and repair itself, making quality insurance automatic and therefore making production faster and less expensive. The researchers would like to develop a microcontroller that would use algorithms to detect, identify, and fix any problems in the motor. The research will be presented at the Hannover Messe industrial fair next month.