Power Electronics

Companies Join Forces to Develop Wireless Sensor Networks

GE Global Research, the centralized research organization of the General Electric Co., Sensicast Systems, provider of wireless sensor networking products and solutions and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) announced they are collaborating on a three-year, $6 million project for the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). The project will dramatically increase the overall energy efficiency of American industry by developing wireless sensor networks and systems to improve the efficiency of electric motors.

GE Global Research has been selected to lead the project to develop novel, low-cost wireless sensor networks for industrial equipment monitoring. The first focus will be to analyze the efficiency of industrial motors. Industrial electric motors are used in virtually every industrial and manufacturing process ranging from large pumps for municipal water plants to compressors that transport fuels through pipelines to simple air-conditioning units. They are the workhorse of industry, and use 65% of the total electricity consumed by U.S. industry.

Sensicast is providing mesh networking software that eliminates signal interference and integrates the wireless network into the existing plant network. RPI is developing physics-based models for analysis and lifetime prediction of the motors. The goal is to dramatically reduce the cost of owning motor monitoring systems, which should accelerate technology adoption and enable energy savings in motor systems throughout industry.

Wireless sensors will be installed on selected motors in a plant operation. The sensors will monitor parameters critical to each motor's condition and efficiency based on a combination of measurements such as vibration, temperature and power quality. This data is then transmitted wirelessly to a computer that analyzes the data from each sensor. Any potential problems are transmitted to plant personnel via phone, pager or email as an advanced warning system. This will allow plant personnel to repair or replace motors before their efficiency drops or they fail entirely.

"GE shares the DOE's commitment to use technology however possible to help improve America's energy efficiency," said Dan Sexton, project leader at GE Global Research. "Wireless sensor networks have the potential to provide cost-effective new technology to dramatically increase energy efficiency throughout industry. GE's vision for the future includes using wireless sensor technology in a wide variety of industrial and consumer applications to improve the way we monitor, protect and control the world around us."

This project is part of the $61 million "Industries of the Future" program sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy, which focuses on improving energy efficiency throughout strategic industries within the United States.

The program has three phases:

1. Feasibility study to understand technical challenges (Jan. through Dec. 2004)

2. Build prototype systems and complete proof-of-concept experiments (Jan. through Dec. 2005)

3. Implement complete system at a test site and collect and analyze operational data.

The project plan is a three-year, $6 million program sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy. The program is a 50/50 cost share, where risks are shared equally between the U.S. government and industry partners. There are two major advantages of the technology being developed for this program. The first is a robust, low power communications network that will operate in an industrial environment. This low power consumption will enables the networks to operate for years on a single battery. The second advantage is the configurable, two way communications network.

Many wireless systems today are one way, so the system can receive data, but not send commands or confirmation back to the device. This system will have 2-way communications, enabling the use of control applications. For example, if a monitoring system is being used on a generator and has sent notification that it is running too hot, the monitoring personnel could issue wireless commands back to the generator for it to turn on its exhaust fan. These capabilities enable potential applications across many industries, but some exciting possibilities include security applications. A security application in the home would include being notified of certain events combined with the ability to give commands back to the security system. For example, a person could be notified if someone arrived at their home when they weren't there, and then commands could be sent back to the system to disarm the system and unlock the door if needed. Other applications include process monitoring and control, asset tracking and patient monitoring.

For more information, visit www.research.ge.com, www.sensicast.com or www.rpi.edu.

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