Power plant health monitor

Industrial IoT sensors that monitor generator health and allow Cutsforth to better serve customers with reliable data and predictive maintenance.

Knowledge (plus sensors, plus data, plus innovation) is power. Cutsforth Inc., an innovative company challenging the traditional power generation industry, has developed an industrial-grade Internet-of-Things sensor system to monitor power generator health.

Cutsforth’s flagship product, called the ‘EasyChange Brush Holder®’ allows consumable carbon brushes to be replaced ‘live’ while a generator is running. Carbon brushes provide essential electrical contact and current from the shaft to the generator and over time these brushes wear down, needing to be replaced before they get dangerously short. Currently this requires manual inspection and specialized instruments to measure key operating parameters which, if missed, can result in catastrophic consequences to the generator, including arcing, fires, offline generators, and no electricity flowing to the grid. Depending on the generator’s size, this can mean more than 200 carbon brushes to physically locate and inspect. Cutsforth identified the opportunity and approached Synapse for our expertise in IoT to help them leverage a sensor network and wireless communication to capture data and proactively feed it to the operations center.

Data reduces downtime

During development of the new system, Synapse engineered a product containing a sensor that mounts in the spring attached to the brush. The sensor communicates wirelessly with an industrial computer complete with a touchscreen nearby, allowing remote monitoring of the brush length indicating when it needs to be changed. It also measures a number of other parameters of the generator, indicating out of “normal” ranges of temperature and vibration; thus allowing the operator to proactively manage generator performance and maintenance, addressing issues before they become catastrophic.  

The system’s touchscreen interface feeds information to the user, including where suspect brushes are located (there can be over 200 on a generator). If a brush is being replaced, the sensor knows where on the generator it was located, and the system will allow the sensor only to be placed back in its original position (important for historical data tracking). The industrial computer also communicates with the control room via the plant’s communication network eliminating the need for manual inspections and allowing for the system monitoring without leaving the control room.

Near and long-term benefits

Customers who adopt the new brush holder and sensor system will realize several benefits. In the near term, plants will be able to remotely monitor brush and generator health, freeing up maintenance resources to address more pressing issues. Abnormal activity around the brushes, especially that which isn’t visible to the human eye will call for an inspection, potentially avoiding catastrophic failure.

Longer term, data gathered from the system will provide the ability to proactively manage service needs vs. reacting to problems or needlessly replacing items which are still operating within specifications.

In the end, power generation facilities leveraging the new Cutsforth system will be taking steps to modernize their operations, providing more reliable and consistent power to customers’ increasing needs for energy to live a modern lifestyle.