Internet of Things delivers innovative remote services for drives maintenance planning

ABB is making increasing use of the Internet of Things, Services and People (IoTSP) concept to deliver a range of competitive advantages for our customers such as improving data analysis, boosting productivity and enhancing reliability.

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A good example of the IoTSP in practice is the remote services which utilize the wealth of key information provided by drives. In many industrial applications, such as pumps or fans which are powered by a drive/motor combination, it is the drive that actually controls the operation. Even in larger systems, where an automation system or PLC is controlling the drive, it can provide important indicators about the operation of the motor and the application.

The Remote Services program uses the information from ABB’s intelligent drives to provide the earliest possible indication of potential operational problems faster, helping operators to minimize costly breakdowns.

Initially there are two variations of the services - Remote Support and the more advanced Remote Condition Monitoring. Jaana Kivela, ABB’s product manager for Remote Services, explains how they were developed and are now being used.

The Remote Services program uses the information from ABB’s intelligent drives to provide the earliest possible indication of potential operational problems faster, helping operators to minimize costly breakdowns.

Remote Support is reactive

“The first service we began with is Remote Support, which is really a reactive service. It’s reactive because we only get involved when an operator has some concerns and actively asks us to check out the situation. This could be when a drive is sending a fault message. Under the program, we collect data continuously from the drives covered, and as soon as there is a possible fault, the monitoring system starts sending greater amounts of data to facilitate more thorough analysis and faster problem resolution.”

“The actual service delivery only starts when the customer contacts us when they think they have a problem. This ensures that we don’t start working on something that isn’t actually a problem for the customer. For example, they could have been testing something in their system that caused the drive to send the alarm. This means that we are using our expert drives knowledge in a very targeted manner, and only when necessary.”

The real benefit is that the lag time between a fault alarm and the resolution of the problem is minimized. This fast response time means that the operator might avoid a breakdown altogether, or if there is an actual failure, the downtime will probably be much shorter. Because this service works remotely customers have peace of mind because they know that no matter where the drive is located, that they can tap into ABB’s expertise to solve their drive issues rapidly.


Jaana Kivela, ABB Remote Services product manager
"We are using our expert drives knowledge in a very targeted manner, and only when necessary. The lag time between a fault alarm and the resolution of the problem is minimized."

Remote Condition Monitoring is more proactive

The next logical step was the second service, Remote Condition Monitoring. This is a more comprehensive proactive service. ABB actively monitors the drives covered and uses its deep experience of what is the ‘normal’ state of operation in that type of drive. Based on that assessment, experts can achieve a good estimation of the condition of the device, and make quite accurate maintenance recommendations. Also, as part of the service the experts are always looking out for early indications of possible faults.

“Ideally we want to spot problems before anything actually happens, to prevent breakdowns,” Jaana Kivela continues. “We do not guarantee we can do that 100 percent, but there is a good opportunity to spot issues in advance. This is true both for ABB and the operator. We provide the customer with a portal they can use themselves to access this live data, to see how the drive is operating and to look at the drive history via the visualizations available on different parameters.”

Jaana Kivela, ABB Remote Services product manager
"Experts can achieve a good estimation of the condition of the device, and make quite accurate maintenance recommendations, always looking out for early indications of possible faults."

Success with first pilot in SSAB steel mill

The first pilot installation of the Remote Support service was carried out at the giant SSAB steel factory in Raahe on the west coast of Finland. It was only in the very early stages of the trial when it helped avoid a possible breakdown.

During the trial an alarm on the critical coke elevator operation was noticed by ABB personnel. Acting quickly, both remotely and on-site, the combined SSAB and ABB teams successfully worked together to avert what could have been a major problem. Ari Korkala, an electrical maintenance planner at the SSAB steel mill, explains the situation: “In the coking plant we have what is called the dry quenching stage where an elevator lifts a bucket of hot coke into the dry quenching chamber. The elevators are crucial and if there is a malfunction, the whole process stops since nothing can be lifted. In addition, the coke is very hot at about 1050˚ C, so that if it stops somewhere in between, it could cause a fire in the electrical rooms or elsewhere.”

This event was actually outside the original scope of the Remote Support service. It was a proactive problem resolution and later led ABB to develop the more comprehensive and predictive Remote Condition Monitoring service.

If there is a malfunction in the coke elevator, the whole process stops since nothing can be lifted.

Close cooperation led to pilot test

In SSAB’s coking plant, ABB has been supporting the maintenance of the largest drives, the ACS800 multi-drives, for several years. Based on this long history of cooperation, ABB suggested this novel pilot trial at the mill. Recognizing the critical importance of the coke elevators, and the motors and drives that make them move, it was decided that the first test would be done on the ACS800 elevator drives.

The main aim was to increase the reliability of the drives and motors by specifically looking deeper into the data the drives were generating. This involved setting up the Remote Service system which would allow ABB’s drive experts to look at the drive data from a distance and, when necessary, analyze possible problems in the drive application.

This novel pilot involved setting up the Remote Service system which would allow ABB’s drive experts to look at the drive data from a distance and, when necessary, analyze possible problems in the drive application

Using intelligence in a better way

Jaakko Myllylä, manager of ABB Drives and Controls Service in northern Finland, picks up the story. “Reliability was clearly the main target of the pilot at SSAB, as we believed we could make better use of the intelligence built in to the drives to minimize the risk of process disturbances.”

The results were very good. As the project was starting up, the team observed that one of the drives was giving frequent alarms. Putting the system immediately to the test, data from this drive was analyzed by the ABB experts located over 600 km away in Helsinki. They spotted a current imbalance and, based on their experience, knew that this type of alarm sequence often indicates possible damage to power components. This, in turn, can stop both the drive and the elevator.

“Thanks to the Remote Service, even though it was still in the pilot phase, we could spot this possible elevator problem at an early stage,” explains Aki Heikkilä, an electrical maintenance supervisor. “We were getting alarms and ABB saw indications that the drive was acting abnormally and might become faulty. We went to check it and, upon examination, we confirmed that some drive components needed replacing. Happily, we can plan this work before there was any production disturbance or unplanned downtime.”

Aki Heikkilä, an electrical maintenance supervisor
"Thanks to the Remote Service, even though it was still in the pilot phase, we could spot this possible elevator problem at an early stage"
Thanks to drive alarms spotted via the Remote Support portal, the SSAB team discovered the possible eleva-tor problem at an early stage.

Upon examination, it was confirmed that certain drive components needed to be replaced.

The work was done in a quick and systematic way, thus avoiding any production disturbances.

This is the future

Timo Vierimaa, the production manager at the SSAB coking plant, is very pleased with the new system. “Motors and drives play an important role in our processes, not only in terms of production reliability and quality, but also regarding occupational safety for our people. During this pilot we realized that remote support was not only going to be a fun thing to try, but could also give very important benefits for our future. For me, I think this use of modern new technology and new systems in condition monitoring is a trend that will only increase in the future.”

Timo Vierimaa, the production manager at the SSAB coking plant
"During this pilot we realized that remote support was not only going to be a fun thing to try, but could also give very important benefits for our future."

Now being introduced on wider scale

In addition to this SSAB case study, numerous other pilot trials were carried out with the Remote Services systems. These include applications as diverse as mining, automotive, shipping and of course the steel plant. So far Remote Services have shown significant potential to be widely adopted throughout industry, not just in highly critical operations but eventually on all drives eventually.

“We are excited about these services because we have now proven that they allow us to dig deeper and use the intelligence that the drives have,” says Jaana Kivela. “In fact, drives may well be the most intelligent pieces of equipment in the sub-processes of industrial operations. Even though most industrial operations have high level process automation systems, they are not looking that deeply into the sub-processes. Remote Services allow us to take that deeper look at these critical components.”


Jaana Kivela, ABB Remote Services product manager
"Even though most industrial operations have high level process automation systems, they are not looking that deeply into the sub-processes. Remote Services allow us to take that deeper look at these critical components."

Faster response and less downtime

The experiences at SSAB have helped to prove the value of Remote Support as a reactive service to support users with fault analysis and resolution when a problem is identified. Furthermore, it led ABB to take the program to the next step by developing the more comprehensive Remote Condition Monitoring for increasing the chances of predicting possible failures in advance.

By using drive data in this manner, facilitated by the IoTSP, users and industrial operations can obtain a wide variety of new benefits by accessing information that is already fairly easily available. Among these benefits are fast fault notification, rapid response and analysis by ABB specialists and, most importantly, an opportunity to reduce unplanned downtime and the major costs associated with breakdowns.


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