The high cost of sending an engineer or skilled technician onsite to solve machinery problems is putting the focus on new ways to achieve higher levels of remote access support. Now, a service called Virtual Support Engineer is targeting machinery builder's OEMs to provide a way for securely connecting to machinery, improving troubleshooting and optimizing system performance.
Using the Virtual Support Engineer service, OEMs access their assets in a highly secure environment. While most other user solutions on the market transfer data bi-directionally through a firewall, the service relies exclusively on IT-approved outbound communication. This helps prevent computer viruses, worms, or other digital threats tied to inbound data transfer. Security is further enhanced by adding features such as recorded logins, thorough audit trails, video recording, and the ability for the end user to be given the rights to grant access on demand.
Using Virtual Support Engineer, OEMs access their assets in a highly secure environment exclusively using IT-approved outbound communication. (Source: Rockwell Automation)
Craig Resnick, vice president of consulting at ARC Advisory Group, said in a press release:
For OEMs, remote access to information generated by machines provides significant opportunity to improve service, but the potential benefits actually extend much farther. The ability to access and analyze machine data ultimately will help OEMs build more efficient and effective machines for their customers.
In the past, a main obstacle to receiving remote access has always been security concerns from end users. The Virtual Support Engineer service helps to relieve uncertainties when it comes to security by providing a more highly secure solution that is also more cost-effective for OEMs of all sizes.
OEMs using the Virtual Support Engineer service receive access to real-time alarming capabilities that can be delivered via text message or email, to themselves, their customer, or a Rockwell Automation remote-support application engineer. Through the system, OEMs use a simple graphical interface to configure alarms for key tags and performance indicators, allowing for quick response to issues and proactive prevention. Alarm capabilities also can indicate potential for future equipment failures, allowing OEMs to make proactive adjustments prior to catastrophic failure -- all without travelling onsite to their customer's facility. Access to machinery alarm data and analytics information also can help inform future performance enhancements to machinery.
In emergency situations, the Virtual Support Engineer service proactively notifies OEMs when equipment goes down. The system sends a constant signal to the Rockwell Automation Service Center indicating a machine's online status. If this connection is lost, Rockwell Automation immediately notifies the appropriate party, who can then troubleshoot the issue from anywhere.
Looks like a similar, even parallel, trend to remote robotic maintenance & repair, as DN has covered more than once: http://www.designnews.com/author.asp?section_id=1386&doc_id=257502 http://www.designnews.com/document.asp?doc_id=253921 http://www.designnews.com/author.asp?section_id=1386&doc_id=247655
The digital age has definitely helped with troubleshooting industrial products. Emails often have scope traces, digital photos and test data attached that just would not have been possible a generation ago. This seems like a natural extension of communication capability if and when the security concerns can be addressed. Customers also have to be willing to pay more for equipment that has the built-in diagnostic and interconnect functionality.
Chuck, I would guess the plan is to diagnose problems from afar, but implement solutions using local plant personnel. In many automation systems, application software issues for example can be difficult to debug until the machine is in production. A skilled engineer can see the problem, fix the code and then email it to someone at the plant to make the update. Just one possible scenario.
GLOlover, I know that some OEM machinery builders have implemented systems that also use a video link, so that plant personnel can walk around the machine and provide the remote support personnel with live video as well. No question that is a powerful advantage, although I don't know how many companies are using that approach.
My employer has a remote connection solution, and it does save some trips by field service engineers. Frequently the problem must be solved by a person getting on a plane, but that remote assessment can better inform them for what to expect and what parts to order, and that can save valuable time.
I question the value of security by unidirectionality. Many of our customers have sophisticated IT departments and are less concerned with viruses coming in than with valuable IP going out.
Also, being able to give commands or upload configuration changes to the tool is usually the key to avoiding that plane trip.
I first saw the headline and thought that DN was reporting on the development of the system that puts engineers virtually at the machine. This article, as pointed out by others, is just highlighting remote data that has been in existence for quite sometime.
The technology I am referring to is vitual presence. It consists of a maintenance person (or other plant staff) to wear a head mounted display and camera. This communicates to the offsite engineers the state of equipment, notifies the user of troubleshooting procedures, and gives the engineer the visual of everything the actual plant staff is doing. This is even being shown on commercials for firemen safety (GE I think?). Think of what our military has been using in combat field for direct feedback to command and control. This is being applied in the manufacturing environment. As machines get very sophisticated, transmission of control data is only part of the engineers need for quick responses. They need a virtual presence to actually see the machine running (or malfunctioning) to help direct corrective actions of root causes and avoid/limit future failures!