Efficiency. We hear it everywhere - in business (with the right tools we can do more with less!), at home (hey, with this new calendar app you can connect your work, sports team, spouse, kids and grandparents all in one calendar!), and in our communities (share your car, combine your trips!).

What about things we rely on to provide services we depend on everyday? The electrical grid, drinking water, sewer treatment systems - these fundamental infrastructure systems face the same modern pressures. And, we’re the ones driving demand. We don’t want to pay more for better, more reliable service so our utilities are doing what other industries are doing: looking for ways to reduce costs, increase efficiencies and generate more product with current infrastructure. 

One utility with a significant amount of opportunity is power generation. The need for squeezing out more electricity from existing generators is coming from increasing demand and competition from new sources of energy like wind and solar. 61% of new energy capacity built in 2017 was renewable, almost double that of new fossil-fuel energy capacity. As a result, existing gas, hydro and coal plants need to take advantage of opportunities where technology can help facilities run longer, reduce maintenance costs, downtime and streamline the use of specialized manual labor. 

Cutsforth, Inc., came to Synapse already well-entrenched in the industry as an innovative producer of brush holders, monitoring systems and online truing services that have addressed costly challenges facing a typical power generation facility. One example is the online truing service. In the past, generators needed to be taken offline to true the slip rings. Cutsforth has successfully implemented an online truing service that allows the generator to remain online, producing power while the service is performed. 

Consumable carbon brushes mounted on a slip ring around the rotating generator shaft maintain an essential electrical contact between the shaft and the generator. Cutsforth identified the opportunity to leverage a sensor network and wireless communication to capture data and proactively feed it to the operations center. Current practice requires an employee to visually inspect the consumable carbon brushes. Depending on the generator’s size, this can mean more than 200 carbon brushes to locate and inspect. An operator cannot, without additional tools, inspect brushes for certain issues which can lead to catastrophic failures, resulting in dangerous arcing, fires, offline generators and no electricity flowing to the grid.

Data reduces downtime

The product Synapse developed for Cutsforth mounts in the spring attached to the brush and contains a sensor which communicates wirelessly with an industrial computer mounted nearby. The sensor in the  EASYchange® brush holder measures a number of parameters, not just indications of when the brush needs to be changed, that will help operators proactively manage generator performance. The system comes complete with a touchscreen interface telling the operator the current status of all brushes and precise location of any needing to be changed. The computer also communicates with the operations center through the facility’s internal communication system. 

Near and long term benefits

Customers who adopt the new brush holder and sensor system will realize a number of 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 brush activity, including that not able to be seen visually will prompt a warning, calling for an inspection and potentially avoiding catastrophic failure. Longer term, data gathered from the system will provide the ability to more 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.

Come see the Cutsforth sensor system at European Utility Week in Vienna on November 6-8. It will be on display in the Cambridge Consultants booth B.n38.

Find out more about Cutsforth's EASYchange® Brush Condition Monitoring.

Andy Anderson
Account Director

Andy is an account director at Synapse, our sister company, and is based in Seattle. He has a diverse background in industries that include aerospace, sporting goods, transportation, manufacturing, software and hardware development. He's spent time as a product manager, program manager, portfolio director and engineer.