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
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