Five things to consider when selecting configuration software for a machinery protection system

Pressure gauge

A machinery protection system (MPS) is a crucial safety element designed to prevent accidents in industrial plants. The purpose of an MPS is to protect critical rotating machinery from catastrophic accidents and operational issues, thereby increasing uptime while reducing maintenance and repair costs.

An MPS consists of two main components: the machinery monitoring system hardware (racks or modules) and the software for the configuration, operation and maintenance of the system. The configuration software will be used to configure and test the system before being commissioned.

About MPS configuration software

In general, MPS configuration software is used to:

  • Create new configurations for monitoring system hardware
  • Retrieve, display and modify existing configurations from monitoring systems
  • Send configuration updates back to a monitoring system.

In certain cases, the configuration software for some MPSs lacks key productivity features, which makes working with these systems more tedious and error prone. The software can also be difficult to learn and use, forcing people to refresh their training whenever they have not used the system for a while.

Meanwhile, cybercriminals constantly hone their skills, advancing tools and tactics, so that any industrial software can potentially be a backdoor for them. As a result, MPS security is becoming more and more important for both practical and regulatory reasons.

Some MPS software can require monitoring system hardware to be available in order to build a configuration or the software may not be freely distributable, both of which block people from using the MPS configuration software when they need to.

Here are five things to consider when selecting configuration software for a machinery protection system:

1. Ease of use

Today, due to an aging workforce and constantly shrinking budgets, there is a lack of skilled machinery maintenance personnel in industry. Because of this, one very important feature for MPS configuration software is a highly-intuitive and user-friendly interface that anyone can learn to use and operate as quickly as possible.

Because many MPSs have clusters of near-identical channels that differ only by tag name and description, MPS configuration software should allow users to “copy and paste” channels, cards/modules or even complete systems, and then simply edit the parameters that are different – rather than forcing the user to manually re-enter the same settings over and over again.

Another very important feature that can simplify the configuration process is the ability to display multiple channels together, organised by attributes such as sensor type, channel types or alarm settings, in order to quickly compare information that should be identical or similar and spot data entry mistakes.

In addition, it is essential that users are prevented from creating and uploading invalid configurations to monitoring system hardware. If incorrect or incompatible configuration settings are entered, the MPS configuration software should immediately flag such a situation and alert the user with a message that explains the error and offers corrective advice.

2. Security

The fourth industrial revolution, with its increased use of digitalisation and automation, represents an extraordinary growth opportunity for industry in general. However, by its nature, it brings an increased risk of cyberattack with industrial installations now being the third most targeted sector, after government systems and financial services.

Because of this danger, it is of critical importance that an MPS – especially for systems deployed in critical infrastructure such as power plants – is completely secure and can’t be interfered with or altered in any way, including via related systems such as condition monitoring systems (CMSs) or control systems. Accordingly, MPS configuration software must be separate software exclusively dedicated to machinery protection in order to avoid the risk of non-approved configuration changes via such related systems.

The configuration of monitoring system hardware is performed via a digital communications link from the computer running the MPS configuration software but must be only possible if the hardware is unlocked, for example, by pressing a physical button or turning a key on the front panel of a rack. In this way, physical access to the hardware (not just cyberaccess) is required to access MPS functionality and/or change settings.

It is also important to involve your organisation’s IT department from the beginning in the evaluation of any new MPS software, to make sure that it fits in with their requirements and policies.

3. General features and functionality

The main goal of an MPS is to initiate the shutdown (“trip”) of a machine before a catastrophic failure happens. To achieve this, the MPS measures some health-condition parameters from the machine, such as vibration, combustion and/or speed, then based on some shutdown logic communicates with the machine’s control system, typically using relays. In some cases the shutdown logic is implemented by the machine’s control system itself so the MPS just needs to send the measured parameters to the control system via analog outputs or a digital fieldbus.

MPS configuration software must be separate (“segregated”) software that allows users to configure, operate and maintain an MPS in accordance with the points discussed in this article. More specifically, MPS software has to support the following main tasks:

  • Changing all channel settings
  • Changing alarm limits and related settings
  • Configuring alert and shutdown logic
  • Enabling/disabling channels and/or relays
  • Temporarily bypassing channels and/or relays
  • Displaying current measurement values and status information
  • Retrieving diagnostic information and log files
  • Upgrading firmware for the monitoring system hardware.

It is also advantageous if the MPS software has the ability to display waveforms and spectra for raw input channels as this supports the troubleshooting of sensor/measurement chain problems such as wiring issues, without having to carry and connect an oscilloscope to the sensor/measurement chain outputs.

4. Working offline

MPS configuration software should be able to work offline so that users can create and develop complete configurations without having to be physically connected to monitoring system hardware.

This allows working time to be optimised by preparing and validating configurations (configuration files) in advance for:

  • New projects – before the machinery monitoring system hardware is available
  • Existing installations – before arriving at a site.

5. Freely distributable

Many suppliers charge for their MPS configuration software. From a practical point of view it isn’t the cost of the software that poses a problem but rather it is the hassle of licensing and sharing the software with everyone that needs it, when they need it.

Accordingly, if a supplier makes their MPS configuration software and associated documentation available free of charge (ideally accessible from the Internet), this reduces complexity and guarantees a much better user experience.

Such an approach means it is easier to share and collaborate with colleagues, for example, in order to view rack configurations and diagnostic information. It also means that it is easier to evaluate and/or familiarise yourself with an MPS’s capabilities by simply downloading and exploring the various options available via the software.


Conclusion

Keeping all of the features and points discussed in this article in mind when selecting configuration software for a machinery protection system (MPS) will significantly improve the likelihood of success in the adoption of a new MPS in your organisation. As a result, internal users as well as service providers will be satisfied with the choice and any potential issues with IT departments will be avoided.




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