Corona time. World is in home office. The few who come to work, in order to allow a continued production, follow a time regime that is intended to prevent personal encounters as far as possible. Travels by service technicians to machine and system operators are currently top of the not-to-do list.
Nevertheless, the maintenance of machines must never be interrupted
This marks the beginning of the great age of remote monitoring and Remote Service. The Internet is suddenly full of relevant offers. Comparability? Negative. Very few people discuss the two most important things. One is the possibility to look inside the machine, i.e. to identify, classify and directly eliminate sources of error. The other is the security of the data. Of course, it is mostly about cloud based tools. But what kind of cloud architecture are we talking about actually?
Think about digitalization in mechanical engineering now
Let us use this peace to think. Hopefully we will never have as much time for that as we have now. But there's one good thing about it. Do we really want to think only about a short-term solution to the current problem of remote service for our costumers - just to realize after the crisis that it was too short-sighted? Good remote solutions are one thing. The big digitalization solution, which is knocking on the door anyway, and to which remote monitoring is a must, is another question. Now is the ideal time to launch the digitalization strategy for mechanical engineering.
It is all about a comprehensive data integration
The insufficient management of machine data is one of the biggest obstacles to digitalization. In most cases, the variety of interfaces and incompatibility of the systems among each other cause difficulties. Isolated solutions are particulary common in medium-sized engineering companies, where felxibility is a top priority. These isolated solutions are used to solve a specific problem, but the interaction across departmental boundaries ot to adjacent systems is often not considered here.
One level lower, the problems continue. Even individual machines nowadays produce tons of data. If they are well managed and used skillfully, they can work wonders in terms of efficiency and reliability. Negligence, on the other hand, creates chaos today. What is necessary is an instrument for the comprehensive inetgration of data from all machines in use. A part of it is not actively used at the beginning. It will be included in the virtual archive, where it will become the foundation for the digital future, i.e. for Artficial Intelligence and Industry 4.0. But there is enough machine data that is already required today and that needs to be managed professionally, such as for the following usage scenarios:
This also requires tools that specifically tap the data library under the above-mentioned aspects and provide the data ready for use - for system maintenance personnel, service managers and service technicians of the manufacturer.
Creating new lucrative busines models through digitlization
It is also said that as a machine manufacturer you can turn the burden of data into a pleasure and develop new, high-turnover digital business models with a good database. This is a competetive advantage over all other conventional operating suppliers! After-sales service based on perfect remote monitoring would be such a model. The corresponding spare parts are independently selected either from the digital parts list or a 3D/2D catalogue and automatically provided as an order proposal based on the enriched machine data and service life. Everything happens online, only the delivery service remains analog. The spare parts service is still where it belongs: At the manufacturer, with the expertise and many years of specialist knowledge of all machines and systems in the field. Above all, it saves customers and manufacturers time and research effort. This is because the information on the system and the required parts is recorded centrally in one place. The customers will particularly be pleased with that.
It's all about the control center
Anyone who wants to service machines worldwide in this way needs a control center. Of course, it must be cloud-based, everything else would fail due to the amount of data. The EquipmentCloud® of the software company Kontron AIS in Dresden is such a control center. The IIoT platform was developed for the comprehensive documentation and integration of all machine data for all conceivable applications.
The EquipmentCloud® communicates via the univ ersal web standard REST. It can be used to operate machines and systems of all kinds, regardless of the machine protocol they use, provided they communicate with the correct interface. IoT devices with flow-based programming interface enable simple and felxible data transfer of machine data - regardless of wheter the machines are equipped with the REST web standard or not. It is also irrelevant how many and what kind of machines are integrated and where in the world they are operating. Singapore, Chicago, Cologne or Toulouse - bundling in the EquipmentCloud® allows a management of globally distributed machines and systems. This is a secure public cloud solution based on the multi-tenant principle. No other than the machine manufacturer and his end customers (operators) have access to the data.
The Software-as-a-Service provider Kontron AIS and the platform operator Oracle have no access to the customers container including encrypted data. Additional security is provided by a sophisticated user and role concept based on individual access rights, visbility levels and application rights. The servers are also located in Frankfurt am Main. Thus, the data management is subject to EU law and can be individually configured by the machine and system manufacturers or their end customers.
Suitable for everyday use - immediatly
The machine data can be accessed via web browser, tablet or smartphone. A dozen interactive apps are located on the periphery of the EquipmentCloud®. These apps access the data under the above usage scenarios. The App RemoteAssistance is one of them. Which leads us back to the original topic - without leaving the big issue. Because you can purchase a license for the EquipmentCloud® and use the basic function RemoteAssistance directly from your home office. This would lay the foundation - and the quality of remote monitoring is already better in this expansion stage than that of most offerings. "Service calls" between the service technicians of the operator and the machine manufaturer are thus made possible.
It is about help for self-help via video telephony - with secure transmission of documents, pictures and chats. An additional video assistant allows a view into the machine through data glasses. Snapshots with whiteboard function are possible as well. The telephone call is triggered from the cloud by the maintenance technician at the plant; the manufacturers's service technician receives notification of the incoming service call and can connect directly to the machine as well as provide live support and thus support the customer in solving the problem without the need for businees trip.
The linked apps serve as backend, information source or refernce. In the final step, all exchanged data is stored in the app. The results of the solution session between customer and manufacturer can be directly documented and fed into a database for a cross-departmental exchange of knowledge about the systems in the field.
Help for self-help - this data source filled with knowledge gives the customer the opportunity to help himself if a problem arises again and aneables other system operators to do so.
The second development stage
Ensure long-term extended service potential after the crisis with the high-end solution RemoteSupport: It requires either the installation of a hardware-based VPN client (e.g. PCI card, router, etc.) in each machine and a local IoT gateway (encrypted Internet Protocol Security (IPsec) VPN tunnel) installed at the machine manufacturer's site or, as a pure software variant, the installation of a VPN server in a cloud-based VM and a software-based VPN client on the machine or the connected IoT device. In addition, both options require the installation of corresponding VPN clients on the desktop device or mobile end device of the service technician.
The EquipmentCloud® thus creates a direct connection ("tunnel") between the networks of the user and the machine manufacturer. The choice of device is the same: tablet, smartphone or desktop device, but now temporary direct access to the machine is provided. This enables parameterization, configurations on the machine control, comprehensive remote maintenance, live tests or firmware and software installations by the machine manufacturer, whereby the end customer has data sovereignty of his machine data and in individual cases can give the machine manufacturer individual access to the systems to be maintained.
Users do not need to worry about the appropriate remote desktop application, since these are provided for the system in an initial setup and dynamically assigned in the event of service. Only application-relevant ports are released for maintenance. The system also logs the connections. This is particulary good news for the machine manufacturer, as it enables him to efficiently process, evaluate and bill serial service requests and acute customer problems worldwide.
By the way, apart from the current justification for remote monitoring based on necessity, the classic one from before the crisis still applies: Remote Service saves travel costs, helps avoid staff shortages and is also climate firendly. A crisis sometimes also helps to break new ground.
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Kontron AIS GmbH