Sensing Power Plant Component Degradation

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Off-the-Shelf Sensors Monitor “Auras” of Motors, Pumps, and Other Equipment for Malfunctions

Electrical and mechanical components in power plants emit an “aura” of acoustic and electromagnetic signals that vary during malfunctions. An EPRI feasibility study points to the potential for using ambient sensors to measure these signals for comprehensive plant health monitoring at significantly lower cost than current inspection methods.

Traditional plant monitoring relies on sensors embedded in equipment, which can be costly and impractical to implement comprehensively.

EPRI evaluated the concept of an integrated system of low-cost, commercially available ambient sensors to monitor acoustic and electromagnetic emissions in large plant spaces for indications of equipment degradation or failure. Software would enable real-time analysis and alert technicians to investigate potential problems.

In the laboratory, researchers positioned microphones and antennae at a distance from electric motors of various sizes during normal and faulty operation. They demonstrated that changes can be detected for a range of failures, such as a broken rotor bar, a bowed armature shaft, and overvoltage.

In 2016, EPRI will further develop the system’s hardware requirements and collect and analyze data from additional power plant equipment, such as pumps and generators.

Artwork by Kirk Anderson