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.
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.
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.
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.
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