Many industrial enterprises are asking: How can we do a better job operating remotely? When your workforce is inaccessible, secure, remote access to industrial automation systems is essential for plants and factories to sustain operations. In a digital world, some “in-person” work is no longer a requirement and access to subject matter expertise is often just a click away.
Remote management allows plant and factory operators to continue to adjust processes, conduct maintenance and make operational decisions with actionable insights that drive efficiency even when access to the physical plant is restricted or not desired.
The Old Paradigm
Before digital remote management was available, machine and operational maintenance was a costly and inefficient process. Manual, in-person labor meant production downtime was extended and company profitability was eroded. When a factory machine failed, the process involved many steps:
- Operators escalate the issue to management
- Managers dispatch a maintenance team
- Technical experts are consulted via email and telephone to fix the issue
- Since the OEM or systems integrator expert does not have direct connectivity to the machine in question, the problem is described via telephone exchanges
- Depending on the local diagnosis, a representative from the OEM may be flown to the site to try to rectify the problem
- Downtime is extended as expert work agendas are often fully booked as they travel from site to site managing maintenance issues
- In some cases, if the initial diagnosis is incorrect, the technician has brought the wrong spare parts and more delays ensue
To overcome such obstacles, a workflow is needed to rapidly connect the machine to the expert. Fortunately, digitized tools now quickly link the remote experts to failing machines for faster diagnosis and remediation. Working together, these new tools allow experts to more efficiently manage multiple machine maintenance issues remotely from their corporate office, their homes, or any location across the globe.
No need to have an expert onsite to resolve the problem
The development of these tools was driven by industrial business requirements for faster change management, for better machine availability, and for a need to enable faster and less costly actions to address maintenance and operation-related events.
As part of a global internal Smart Factory initiative to modernize and digitize over 80 production factories across the globe, Schneider Electric has field tested remote maintenance management tools over the last three years. The tools combine cybersecure remote access and augmented reality to enable remote management of factory floor machine assets.
Here’s how remote maintenance management works:
Using a secure connection tool, an OEM or system integrator expert is able to connect via a cybersecure cloud connection to the end user machine that is experiencing a problem. The expert can then remotely diagnose the problem by checking the machine data, parameters and logging information. Then, depending on the issue identified, the OEM proposes the fastest way to implement a fix. In fact, in some cases, the OEM may even know about the problem before the end user realizes that the machine is underperforming.
If the problem diagnosed is simple to fix (like providing a firmware upgrade or software adjustment) the OEM or system integrator can automatically process that fix using the secure cloud connection. If some simple onsite action is required (such as swapping out a clogged filter on the machine, an augmented reality tool allows the operator to execute tasks using a simple tablet or mobile phone, either with or without guidance of the remote expert. The tablet is populated with augmented reality images of the equipment, updated online documentation, operational procedures, and even simple “how to” videos for easily accomplishing the task at hand.
Additional applications accelerate process changes
Bühler, a global developer of equipment for processing foods and manufacturing, reduces human error by having employees use an augmented reality tablet to prompt a consistent, standard approach to executing their tasks, across their global factories. When updates to operational procedures are made, the change is automatically pushed out to the entire workforce, so that everyone is instantly up-to-speed regarding the latest procedures.
These tools also help to revolutionize the way machine operators are trained:
- Instead of a physical classroom with books, YouTube-like videos of experts quickly provide operators with the training needed to address the immediate issue at hand.
- The technology helps with facilitating a product line switch over by demonstrating visually to operators a step-by-step approach for executing any new procedures.
- The augmented reality tools ensure that the right steps are completed in the right order.
- Information is sent back to a centralized server and is available as a management report that indicates which operators reviewed the new procedures, documents when they executed the tasks, and confirms whether the execution of steps was successful or not.
Virtual Maintenance and Operations
Across global factories, the move to remote management is accelerating. As machine performance improves while maintenance costs drop, experts are more productive because less time is spent in traveling on airplanes. That extra time is spent remotely supporting more customers. Learn more about how remote digital tools are boosting factory production and optimizing human resources.
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About the author
Arvin Pitt, Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) Offer Marketing