BLE Eavesdrops on Machine Health With Augury System

By Claire Swedberg

The IoT startup has developed a Bluetooth Low Energy-based solution for sensors that detect the health of HVAC and other equipment, and transmit that data to a server for analysis of the machines' health status.

When a component in a chiller or compressor starts to fail, the machine may continue to operate, but the reduced efficiency will cost a user in power consumption. Managing the health of mechanical parts can be a difficult task for buildings and industries, despite being an important way to ensure that machines are operating effectively. So Augury, an Internet of Things technology startup based in the United States and Israel, has developed a predictive-maintenance solution that several dozen U.S. companies are currently using to collect sensor data about machines via Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) technology.

Augury has offered a handheld system since 2015, while some customers are now piloting a fixed BLE solution that it expects to release during the second quarter of this year. That fixed system consists of BLE beacons that capture data from Augury sensor units attached to high-value or critical machinery. In both the handheld and BLE-enabled cases, the Augury solution is intended to measure the health status of equipment, provide analysis and make maintenance recommendations for machine users.

The Augury sensor device

Augury was launched approximately five years ago to design a system that would help those with heating, ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC) systems, or other mechanical equipment, more easily manage the health of their machines, according to Saar Yoskovitz, the company's CEO and co-founder.

For both the handheld and fixed BLE sensor solutions, the technology consists of ultrasonic and vibration sensors, as well as Augury's cloud-based server on which its predictive-maintenance software platform captures and interprets the data, thereby providing analytics to users regarding their equipment's health.

The initial version of the system consists of a handheld device, known as an Auguscope, with built-in ultrasonic and vibration sensors. It comes with a USB connection, as well as a magnet to connect it to a machine. When maintaining equipment, operators simply use the magnet to attach the device to that equipment, and the sensor device captures the sensor-based data. With the USB connection, it can connect to a phone or tablet in order to process the information and send it back to the server.

The new version uses BLE technology, the company reports, and provides more automated data collection. The system employs an Augury sensor unit; up to four sensors are attached to different parts of a chiller, compressor or fan. Every half hour, the sensor unit awakens, collects sensor data and then transmits that information via BLE. Augury gateway nodes are installed around a facility in which the technology is being used. Those nodes capture the BLE-based sensor data from each unit, and then use a cellular or Wi-Fi connection to transmit the latest data to the server. The gateways also come with a built-in security feature in the form of an IC that encrypts the information before it is forwarded to the server.

Augury's diagnostic software compares the data collected against the previous and expected results, and can detect even slight changes. The software can then forward an alert to technicians via an SMS text messages. In addition, the software provides an online management platform so that users can sign in to the system to view the status of all monitored equipment.

The sensor units come with a low-power vibration sensor that collects data more often than every half hour. If that sensor detects a change, it can wake up the entire unit so that it can perform a measurement and forward that data back to the server via the gateway node.

Augury's Saar Yoskovitz

The software analytics are an important element of the system's value, Yoskovitz says. "Just showing raw data doesn't give the user any insight," he states. Instead, the Augury software will provide specific predictive information, such as the need for a bearing to be replaced within the next two months to maintain optimum efficiency.

What's more, the software can determine whether a device is powered on or off, which can be useful information in the case of power outages, for example. In fact, Yoskovitz says, at least one customer has been able to detect a problem when a machine was powered off during an outage, and then failed to turn back on once the power was restored.

So far, Yoskovitz says, "We're seeing very good results from the diagnostic side." For customers trialing the BLE-based system, he adds, "We have been catching malfunctions as they develop." And that, he notes, saves energy consumption and cost for the facility.

One of the challenges in developing the system was ensuring that the hardware could transmit information around the potential interference from large metal equipment. According to Yoskovitz, the technology typically can operate with about one gateway node for 10 machines that have sensors attached to them.

The gateways run some of the software algorithms prior to sending data to the server, thereby reducing the amount of bandwidth necessary to forward data via cellular or Wi-Fi connections. The gateways include encryption. Augury also provides an app so that users of iOS- or Android-based devices can manage and display data about a machine to users in the field.

To make easier the commissioning of new sensors as they are attached to machines, the company is also enabling the use of Near Field Communication (NFC). Each sensor unit comes with an NFC tag that can be scanned via NFC-enabled readers, such as Android phones. Utilizing the Augury app, users then follow directions to link that sensor to a specific unit at a particular location. Those without NFC readers, such as individuals using iOS-based devices, can alternatively scan a QR code on the sensor.

Most users are likely to employ the handheld solution for less critical equipment such as fans, Yoskovitz says, while the BLE version is being trialed for larger, critical items—generators, for instance.

Johnson Controls and Trane are currently trialing the technology with their customers, as is MacDonald-Miller, a facilities solutions company, among others. Several equipment manufacturers are also in discussions with Augury about installing the sensors directly into the equipment during manufacturing.

Augury is positioning itself to be the source for IoT-based mechanical diagnostics as more machines, such as HVAC units, become part of Internet of Things networks. "Our goal is to be the platform for mechanical maintenance," Yoskovitz says.