Doug Bartholomew, Samuel Greengard, Glenn Hasek, John Jesitus, Scott Leibs, Kristin Ohlson, Robert Patton, Barb Schmitz, Tim Stevens, and John Teresko contributed to this article. Alternating-current (ac) motors are the workhorses of industry. Too often, though, businesses that rely on them are hobbled by unexpected failures. "Many discrete-product manufacturers [can] suffer losses on the order of 40% or 50% of their maximum theoretical throughput" when a single conveyor or other component isn't functioning up to par, says Carl Talbott, former North American reliability manager for M&M Mars, Chicago, and now an independent consultant. Such difficulties can easily cost a company millions of dollars annually, and that's not counting the potential for injuries, lawsuits, and environmental damage from accidents. However, the Rockwell/Reliance Electric IQ Intelligent Motor with PreAlert Technology represents a major step toward providing a solution. Designed to offer online machine diagnostic capabilities, the ac motor uses sensors that take monthly, weekly, or even hourly "snapshots" of a motor's electrical current signature, its vibration rate, and the temperature of its bearings and windings. Via advanced algorithms and microprocessor technology, the motor is able to analyze and make decisions regarding these variables. "The user now has the ability to schedule automatic data sampling sessions that provide a wealth of diagnostic information," says Richard Schaefer, product-marketing manager with Reliance Electric. For example, when a specific temperature threshold on a bearing or winding is exceeded, the information will not only be displayed on a PC screen, but it could also be sent by pager to instruct a maintenance person to inspect the motor or, if necessary, the entire process within which it is installed. The diagnostic algorithms can differentiate between motor and process problems, says Schaefer. In contrast, traditional monitoring methods rely on workers to travel through plants and take readings with costly portable equipment, such as vibration analyzers, for downloading and interpretation. "In many cases, the readings could be taken during production," states Bill Swanton, director of research for plant operations with Advanced Manufacturing Research, Boston, "but [they might not be] done accurately or regularly enough [so] that you could really arrive at a safe prediction of when a piece of equipment needed to be replaced." The IQ PreAlert, on the other hand, is designed to anticipate failures long before they occur. In the future, it also is expected to be able to predict the amount of useful life left in a motor at any given time. Such capabilities are especially beneficial where downtime is unacceptable or where equipment replacement is expensive and difficult. Reliance's Schaefer notes that the IQ PreAlert line also is a natural choice for "out of sight, out of mind" locations such as rooftop vents. One company interested in the innovation is Eastman Chemical Co. Its Kingsport, Tenn., plant began beta testing an IQ PreAlert motor last summer on a pump connected to an outdoor chemical tank. "At this point," says Jerry Dixon, an electrical engineer at the site, "it's in the evaluation stage. But I'm certain that what we've invested so far in looking at this product is just a small amount" of the total that Eastman plans ultimately to spend on such technology. Other potential users include Owens Corning's Granville, Ohio, facility, and M&M Mars, both of which contributed input regarding the motor's design. Still, the price might make some think the product is not for every application. Its electronics alone could add a 20% to 25% premium to the cost of an average 300-hp motor, and on smaller motors these percentages could increase dramatically. However, it can well be worth it to avoid costly downtime in critical applications, says Schaefer.