IoT is Getting Boring – and that’s a good thing!

By John Guthrie

John GuthrieToday, it would appear, everyone gets the Internet of Things (IoT) and digitalisation – or at least have a clearer understanding of what it can do for their business. It is everywhere, extending the digital revolution into the physical world. Web and mobile are digital talking to digital, whereas IoT converts the physical into digital and then into physical again.

Without much explanation or confusion, customers now understand the business case for:

  • Digital twins – a simulation of a physical object or system that lets companies design and test products, factories, or entire supply chains digitally before they’re actually built
  • Remote monitoring – using connected sensors in machines, factories, power plants or entire power grids, network operations centres, airports, spacecrafts, etc., to create automated reports on the condition of crucial assets
  • Predictive maintenance – monitoring in-service equipment to determine the most cost-effective and business-wise times for upkeep

IoT brings the ability to control, adjust and monitor equipment over the internet. A variable speed drive (VSD), for example, is an essential part of IoT and of building automation. IoT brings an easiness to planning maintenance and adjusting system performance according to weather changes, energy price, or any other related variables.

To help achieve this, manufacturers of VSDs are developing a host of tools and built in sensors that can log data about the behaviour of motors, pumps, fans and other connected powertrain components. By hosting communication devices and using external sensors, users can extract the right data to give a meaningful insight into how their building or factory is performing.

As such, the digital technology built within today’s VSDs and low voltage electric motors is set to greatly enhance the performance of commercial and industrial buildings. Yet not all VSDs and motors are the same.

It is more important than ever to ensure that the specifications drawn up by building service consultants are updated to take advantage of the rapid developments in digital technology.


One example of this is BACnet. BACnet MS/TP and BACnet IP are data communication protocols mainly used in the building automation and the heating, ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC) industry. The protocol allows equipment such as air conditioning units, pumps and ventilation devices to communicate with a programmable logic controller (PLC). This creates buildings with a high degree of automation.

As an open building automation protocol, BACnet is increasingly popular with building managers who do not want to be tied to proprietary systems. VSDs are now adopting BACnet interfaces, making them a powerful controlling device in their own right. Today a VSD can also be controlled from an iPad via an App. This is one example why everyone should be using BACnet. It is simple and easy to use and it can be used in many platforms.

Ultra-low harmonics

Harmonics is another important topic for building automation. Harmonic content in the grid leads to oversizing of cables and transformers, as well as causing all kinds of disturbances on lighting and measuring devices. At its worst it may result in equipment failure. In some countries there are limitations on the equipment that you can add to the grid. For example, in the UK the last one adding the equipment to the grid is responsible for the harmonic content as well as for power factor. This means installing a HVAC system that ensures that you don’t need to worry about either.

Ultra-low harmonic drives are now available and are ideal for HVAC applications. Such VSDs feature harmonic distortion with levels less than four percent on all load conditions. These are ideal for data centres, hospitals, tunnel ventilation systems and shopping centres. Such VSDs also feature reactive power control such that the VSD itself has unity power factor (no reactive power generated) and compensates for reactive power in other equipment.

Energy efficiency, maintenance and support

Counters, within VSDs, show exactly how much energy is used compared to direct-on-line (DOL) control methods. The savings are displayed in kWh or MWh. In addition, the VSD can show how much carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions have been saved as well as the financial impact of having a VSD installed. This feature is vital in enabling organisations to prove the validity of investing in VSD technology.

Some VSDs feature a statistical tool that analyses and interprets VSD behaviour including process energy efficiency and operation. The analyser provides information on system maintenance needs and can be used to illustrate and control the system’s energy efficiency. It allows users to identify periods of unexpectedly high (or low) load and can point towards system optimisation improvements.

Remotely connected services offer a new dimension for VSD users. For instance, condition monitoring features an end-user portal for accessing real-time drive data, basic condition analytics, setting of alerts and storage of reports from installed VSDs. With this information users are better prepared to prevent failures and access the true potential of the VSD.

Meanwhile, looking after a low voltage motor installed base has already taken a massive leap with the launch of a smart sensor. The device attaches, without wires, to the frame of a low voltage motor and then using a smart phone or tablet, users can check on whether the motor is due for maintenance, about to fail or is running fine. The smart sensor, either retrofitted or factory fitted, can help reduce motor downtime by up to 70 percent, extend lifetime by as much as 30 percent and lower energy use by up to 10 percent.

This data will dramatically increase uptime. It takes remote preventive maintenance a step further to that of predictive and even pre-emptive. This is one way to harness IoT: to collect data by connecting sensors and systems to the cloud. The data is drawn into a central cloud-based dashboard for a real-time view of key performance indicators. This rich data visualisation will show which motors and VSDs need servicing and when.


All these sensors and devices give a wealth of data. But it is how you perform the analytics and, more importantly, how you connect that data back into your business that will set you apart. Data in isolation makes no sense. It’s what you want from this data that will provide a true return on investment.

You need to ensure that you have good analytics and operational insights coming out of the data. If you get this data analysis right then you will get a completely new insight into how your business is running.

Author’s Profile:

John Guthrie is UK Energy Efficiency Manager for ABB’s Low Voltage Drives business, exploring innovative ways to save energy and money through the application of VSDs and motors. Following a successful career as an electrical engineer in the merchant navy, John joined ABB in 2003, supporting ABB’s power quality and VSD businesses.

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