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!