Andy Anderson
Director Industrial & Agritech Business

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Rethinking the Power Industry

Our critical infrastructure is aging. From roads to plants, it’s growing more vulnerable to storms, fires, and other natural disasters. Repairs are a band-aid to a growing problem of reliability. Will it work when I turn it on?

We sit on the other side of this equation. Our demands for electricity are increasing as electronic devices become more ingrained in our daily lives. We want our homes to be warm in the winter and cool in the summer. How will we keep up with increasing demand on an aging infrastructure? It takes many years to bring a new power plant online — the last plant to come online took 30 years.

The power generation portion of our infrastructure has slowly started to modernize. Capacity is increasing with wind farms and solar power, but not at a sustainable rate. We need our existing power generation facilities to be available when power demands surge. What are some ways generators can be kept running predictably? Modern, complex maintenance practices certainly exist. However, we currently rely on humans as part of scheduled routines, visually inspecting certain consumable parts. Carbon brushes, one of those consumables, are important to maintaining a critical electrical contact within generators. Not replacing a carbon brush when needed can lead to dangerous circumstances: arching, ring fires, and ultimately, unplanned generator shut-downs.

Cutsforth, Inc., a company innovating in the traditional power generation industry, has developed an industrial grade Internet of Things sensor system to monitor power generator health specifically to prevent catastrophic brush failures.

Cutsforth’s flagship product, the ‘EASYChange Brush Holder®’, allows consumable carbon brushes to be replaced ‘live’ while a generator is running. Cutsforth approached Synapse for our expertise in IoT to help develop a sensor network and wireless communication system that is seamlessly incorporated into the brush holder, feeding information to the operations center. Data informs the operations team when to change out brushes before problems occur, freeing up previously scheduled resources to be assigned more critical tasks. Better yet, the product gathers additional data, providing a more complete picture of generator health and alerting to bigger problems needing to be addressed. 

Where will this lead in the future? For us at home, hopefully, more reliable electricity flowing to where we need it. For Cutsforth, transformation of their business from a components supplier to a company that can help their customers make data driven maintenance decisions — from an on-call service provider to potentially providing data-scheduled service contracts — continuing to push the envelope of what’s possible with intelligence, knowledge, and strong partnerships.

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