New Type Of Sensor Can Identify Electrical Faults Before They Even Happen


Researchers from MIT have developed a system that can monitor electrical devices and predict a failure long before it happens.

The team said that the sensor, which is attached to the outside of an electrical wire, can detect signs of imminent failure and pinpoint the areas that need to be repaired. The technology can also be used to analyze energy usage through an easy-to-use graphic display called NILM, which stands for non-intrusive load monitoring.

The new system has already been tested and demonstrated to be effective when used on a Coast Guard Cutter. It found burnt-out wiring that could have lead to a fire onboard.

The researchers presented the new system in the March issue of IEEE Transactions on Industrial Informatics.

A Sensor That Monitors Electrical Devices

The system works by sensing the flow of current of an electrical device. A sensor is attached to the outside of an electrical wire that will monitor "signatures" of each piece of equipment in the circuit and analyze any changes in its behavior, such as fluctuations in the current.

According to the researchers, the system can also be used to monitor energy consumption. It can identify when and where an electrical device is in use or is sitting idle. In addition, it can identify possible areas where efficiency can be improved.

The technology is designed to monitor relatively small and contained electrical systems such as a small ship or a building.

Onboard A Coast Guard Cutter

The team tested the system on the Coast Guard Cutter USCGC Spencer, which was based in Boston, last year. The system tracked about 20 different motors and devices. It detected an abnormal amount of power being drawn by the ship's jacket water heater.

While the crew was skeptical of the reading, they checked the component anyway. They found that the heater suffered from severe corrosion and broken insulation.

"The ship is complicated," stated Steven Leeb, a professor of electrical engineering at MIT and one of the authors of the paper. "t's magnificently run and maintained, but nobody is going to be able to spot everything."

Lt. Col. Nicholas Galanti, engineer officer onboard the Cutter, stated that the system allowed the crew to replace the heaters during an in-port maintenance period. They were able to deploy with a jacket water heater system that had no issues.

"NILM detected a serious shock hazard and may have prevented a class Charlie [electrical] fire in our engine room," he added.

In addition to the Coast Guard and the Navy, the researchers see certain industries would benefit to the system such as oil producers and chemical manufacturers.

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