Water companies need to ensure that their assets are being maintained appropriately to ensure resilience now, and sustainability in the future. James Thomas, UK Water Industry Manager, ABB, provides four ways to improve the management and extend the lifetime of electric motors.

There are an estimated tens of thousands of electric motors in operation across the UK’s water network, and each one needs looking after to ensure the efficiency, reliability and resilience of water treatment and management processes. Failure of a single critical application can risk cutting off the water supply for thousands of people or unlicensed discharges, yet there are some easy steps you can take today to protect your motors from unexpected failure, and keep them running, potentially for decades to come.

Know your assets

Good motor care starts with a solid Motor Management Policy. At its most basic level, this means cataloguing your motor fleet to ensure that you know what motors are where, what applications they’re being used for, their age and their current condition. It’s also about having codified processes in place to determine what happens if, for example, a particular motor fails.

This information can also be used to implement a more strategic approach to motor upgrades. Every time you repair a failed motor, you reduce its efficiency – even in a best-case scenario a repaired IE2 motor is still an IE2 motor. In contrast, an ultra-premium IE5 SynRM motor offers up to 50 percent lower energy losses compared to an IE2 from only a decade or two ago. The IE5 also has a lower running temperature, which reduces the risk of failure compared to older motor technologies. Upgrading an entire motor fleet en masse may not be realistic, but a Motor Management Policy will identify which motors are candidates for upgrades at a given time. This enables you to improve the efficiency and resilience of your assets at a pace that suits your operational needs and budget.

Get on top of your spares

If you know where your assets are, the next step is to analyse the provision and availability of spares. For critical assets you may need a replacement component, or even an entire motor, ready to go in the event of an unexpected failure. Knowing where these spares are kept and how they can be accessed can be crucial in in a crisis.

For non-critical assets, or in circumstances where it’s not practical to keep an extensive spare inventory on-site, you still need to know how to get hold of relevant spares easily and quickly. If this means calling in a third party, you need to know who to call out, how long it will take them to arrive, and the motor repair framework situation if applicable. All of this can save valuable time and get processes back up and running before they result in outages or discharges.

Leverage sensor data

We’ve talked about unexpected failures, but with recent advancements in digitalisation and sensor technologies, it’s possible to all but eliminate failures in the first place. Replacing multiple motors at the same time can require considerable investment, so the more you can extend the useful life of your assets with sensing technology that can predict a failure, the longer lasting and more cost effective these assets will be.

One such solution, our Smart Sensor, fixes directly to a motor’s chassis and measures parameters such as temperature, vibration, load and power consumption. From this data the motor’s condition, efficiency and performance can be inferred, providing an early warning system for any potential failures. In practice, it can reduce motor downtime by up to 70 percent and extend the lifetime of other assets by up to 30 percent while also providing additional opportunities to optimise overall energy performance.

Water companies in general can be wary of the perceived risks of introducing big data to critical infrastructure. But there are now solutions developed that use sub-networks just for IoT devices, which means that even in the event of an unauthorised incursion, no useful data can be extracted, and no devices can be functionally affected.

Utilise speed control

A variable speed drive is a device which electronically controls the speed of a motor in accordance with actual demand, as opposed to running the motor at full power all the time and using mechanical vanes and dampers to vary its speed. Pump applications in particular can achieve energy savings of up to 50 percent simply by adding a drive. This means less mechanical stress is put on the motor, helping components such as bearings, as well as the motor as a whole, to last much longer.

Drives also offer an opportunity to implement more sophisticated motor control philosophies, which can be tailored to a specific application. For instance, altering a pump motor’s speed by just one percent will in most cases result in no noticeable difference to the wider process, however it will reduce energy required by that motor by three percent, since pumps are Cube Law applications. When you extrapolate minor gains like this across a whole facility, the energy savings quickly add up.

Water companies can challenge ABB to find potential energy savings at utilities across the UK. Find out about ABB’s 1% Challenge at: https://campaign-mo.abb.com/l/961052/2023-07-06/5569c