Remote diagnostics and troubleshooting capability is a hot button for machine builders and customers today. As the machine builder, you'll rightly ask, "what's in it for me?" Well, it's becoming a bit clearer that you can drastically cut your costs of warranty service, routine service calls, and maintenance of customer machines.
With remote diagnostics
, your support engineers and service techs can determine what's wrong with a machine, tell the customer how to fix it, or dispatch a tech with the correct parts. They can do this from the comfort of your central office, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Your techs even can do it on vacation, with a cell phone from that beach in Hawaii.
SEE ALSO: Three Ways to Remote DiagnosticsStart with Smart Stuff
But there is a price to pay. You have to buy "smart devices" with built-in diagnostics. You have to integrate the diagnostic data into your machine's control system and HMI. In addition, you have to set up a central office to handle maintenance and diagnostics.
The payoff can be astounding, because you can minimize warranty and service costs, while you give your customers the best service in the industry.
Better Service Sells
"The simplicity of remote condition monitoring over the Internet gives us an edge over a standalone machine without connectivity," says Francois Broche, chief controls engineer at specialty machine builder Southern Engineering & Automation. "It lets us offer an affordable service contract because we can proactively keep the machine operating without flying to the customer location." Beryl Lawrence, Southern's sales manager, adds, "It's better marketing through science."
Mike Krolak, senior director of controls technology at Asyst Technologies, agrees. Asyst builds Spartan EFEM (equipment front end module) machines for semiconductor manufacturing, and it also uses web-based monitoring. "The idea behind this web functionality is to take advantage of remote diagnostics from machine level to enterprise," says Krolak. "The impact in predictive maintenance and field service gives the Spartan EFEM a clear advantage in customer service, machine availability and reliability."
It's not just machine builders who are discovering the benefits of remote diagnostics. Control equipment vendors are there already. Siemens is enabling as many of its products as possible for remote services. According to its magazine, Pictures of the Future, Siemens has 40 specialists in Karlsruhe, Germany, who are responsible for equipment at 140 power plants worldwide. Siemens also operates a Power Diagnostics Center in Orlando, Fla., that monitors the condition of 180 gas turbines around the world.
GE Fanuc started putting advanced diagnostics in its Genius I/O more than 10 years ago, says Paul Scanlon, manager of machine automation solutions. He says GE Fanuc even set up a remote monitoring and diagnostics (RM&D) program for OEMs. RM&D collects data from remote assets, and provides the software and hardware tools for monitoring equipment performance and performing diagnostics. "This enables enhanced collaboration between manufacturing plants globally, and between an OEM and end user, within a secure environment," he says. Advantages of a remote diagnostics program are shown in the tables at the end of this article.
For this article, we asked machine builders and vendors alike if it was possible or practical for a machine builder to design its own machine diagnostic system from scratch. Most said it was too much of a challenge, required too much deep hardware and software knowledge, and it was a waste of time, because you already can buy everything you need in the form of smart products with built-in diagnostics.
"While it might be possible to build your own system, it certainly is not advisable," cautions William Parker, control systems engineer at American Axle & Manufacturing
. "Smart products make diagnostics less costly to implement and help speed your product to market. The initial cost to implement usually is regained in the first downtime incident."
Parker has numbers to back this up. "I added smart power monitors to high-speed welded radiator tube mills headed for China," he notes. "They saved our service people and the customer innumerable days of troubleshooting when power fluctuations were the root cause. The smart power monitors cost about $700 each. My service engineer's time on site was booked at $993 per day, and he was averaging three power alerts per week. He didn't waste time making useless weld adjustments when power stability was the real issue."
Motors might be your biggest source of problems, so smart motors could be a smart investment. Fortunately, most of the major motor manufacturers already offer motors with built-in diagnostics.
Roger Bigler, CEO of Animatics
says his company's motors make such information available. "With a SmartMotor, the internal program, a PLC, or an HMI can read the amount of current flowing through the motor, the precise voltage level applied, plus dozens of error flags relating to virtually every aspect of the motor's communications and internal operation," he explains.