Remote support saves clients time and money by quickly identifying and resolving complex machinery issues without the added cost of travel and prolonged downtime.
Article by IT & Controls Technician, Timothy Ferrin
Have you ever had a problem with a machine that you just can’t figure out? Due to the extraordinary complexity of some industrial machinery, it can be daunting to comprehend why a particular component is not working correctly. Whether it’s a malfunctioning extrusion roller, a non-starting machine, or unexplained product buildup on a conveyor, these problems can be costly and frustrating.
Some issues are easy to find and others might take days to figure out. In either scenario, it is helpful to at least have a starting point and list of possible conditions that could be the cause of the symptoms you are seeing. Even some of the best maintenance technicians will need to know what’s going on behind the scenes to find a starting point. There may be a simplified workaround for a bad component that can be implemented immediately! This is where remote support and access can save you time and get the line back up and running quickly.
How Does Remote Support Work?
Typically, a machine will come with a PLC inside it that contains the logic to operate the machine. Often when a component fails, someone with the ability to read and interpret that code is able to pinpoint possible problems and considerably narrow the scope of searching for the failure. Additionally, the technician reading the code may be able to immediately implement a workaround that can get your machine up and running right away.
While some problems require a physical presence, a remote support technician will have a quicker response time than a technician traveling onsite, is often billed at a lower cost, and has no associated travel fees. Many problems are able to be solved remotely which makes remote support an ideal starting place when dealing with the unknown. It has the potential to solve problems more quickly and at a lower cost!
What Do You Need to Utilize a Remote Support Solution?
There are three key things to consider to be able to take advantage of remote support:
- Is the PLC accessible over Ethernet?
In some cases, a serial-to-Ethernet gateway could be used, but in many modern PLCs, there are already Ethernet capabilities built into the controller.
- What is the existing networking infrastructure inside the facility?
The existing network may need to be modified or possibly even created to be able to connect internally to the device.
- Is the PLC remotely accessible?
This is where a virtual private network (VPN) or at least an industrial Internet of things (IIoT) gateway will come into play.
Sometimes facilities will connect all Ethernet-capable PLCs to a managed IT network and then they will be managed by an internal IT department. Other facilities might choose to keep the machines isolated. Still others, might not have the infrastructure to support a managed network. We have clients for whom we manage all the network infrastructure for the operational technology (OT), which is completely isolated from the information technology (IT) network. Other clients choose to integrate their IT/OT network and manage it internally. While other clients have almost no connectivity to the machines. In that case, we can install a 4/5G wireless connection to a single machine and use a dedicated IIoT gateway. In all cases, there is a solution for connecting to a machine to be able to provide remote support and access.
IIoT Gateways and VPNs
Both of these products create a secure network tunnel from our computers to your equipment, allowing a technician to see the code as if they were standing right in front of the machine. This tunnel is called a VPN. A VPN creates an encrypted tunnel across the internet to allow devices on the other end to appear as if they are on the same network. This traffic is heavily encrypted and follows the strictest security standards.
If a VPN is set up, when problems arise, all it takes is a phone call to the technician. They can be online and connected to your machine in minutes – providing you with valuable insight into the problems that you are facing.
Ready to Access Remote Support at Your Facility?
Industrial machinery can be incredibly complex, and troubleshooting can be a challenging task. Remote support and access can save time and money by quickly identifying problems and providing possible solutions. With a remote support technician, a PLC inside the machine can be read and interpreted, providing valuable insights and allowing for immediate implementation of workarounds. By utilizing remote support and access, technicians can quickly and securely diagnose and solve problems, minimizing downtime and costs.
Cornerstone Automation has aided clients across different industries to utilize the numerous advantages of remote support access while keeping their facilities running smoothly. If you’re interested in learning more, be sure to reach out to us!