Technical maintenance of plant and machinery is very expensive, especially for industrial enterprises with sites all over the world. In response to a breakdown, technicians are called out with all of their tools and spare parts. That is the reason why maintenance accounts for around 35 percent of the total cost of a machine. But this proportion could be about to decline thanks to machine-to-machine (M2M) communication and the Internet of Things.
Machinery and equipment manufacturers now plan connections at the design stage of their products. Operational machines that are not connected can be retrofitted. Telekom, for example, provides an all-inclusive solution, Remote Equipment Management, that any fitter can install. He connects the machine with a mobile network-based controller. The device is a kind of data hub that sends and receives data and instructions to and from the machine.
Management software makes remote configuration possible
Upgrading a machine for remote management requires just a few steps:
- Connect the controller’s digital inputs and outputs and its analog inputs with the machine’s inputs and outputs.
- Configure the operating parameters by means of management software incorporated in the controller.
Done. The software uses authentication to ensure that only authorized users can start and stop processes or adjust settings.
It also offers different configurations. An alarm function alerts the maintenance personnel automatically by e-mail or text message if the machine is out of action. Field service can then take the callout and remedy the fault. The data relayed is mainly of assistance to maintenance personnel in the event of unscheduled outages. They require especially swift responses and decisions. The more details are known, the faster and more precisely the maintenance personnel can respond.
In many cases they can fix the problem remotely by simply recalibrating operating parameters. Otherwise they know exactly which tools and spare parts they need for the repair.
Remote access via serial interfaces
Until a few years ago connecting their plant and machinery was costly and almost unaffordable for many firms. It required technicians to connect the plant’s serial port to a circuit-switched modem. The modem provided the machine and the technician with an exclusive communication channel. The disadvantage is that a circuit-switched modem always transmits data – even when the machine and the technician have nothing to say to each other. That was why remote maintenance solutions involved high data transmission costs. As a result their use only made sense in special cases.
Today, instead of a circuit-switched modem, mobile network-based terminals are used because, for one, they are significantly less expensive and, for another, they operate at higher transmission rates. Via an encrypted tunnel the device establishes a secure connection to a server in the corporate network or to a terminal device. Via this channel maintenance personnel can access the machine from any location.
Data mining makes proactive maintenance possible
The further potential of remote management solutions lies in real-time analysis of machine data. If, for example, sensors monitor the wear and tear of critical components the system will alert the maintenance team as soon as predefined threshold values have been breached. If provision was made for a sufficiently large buffer in defining the threshold value, the maintenance team can replace the component out of operating hours. Data analysis not only enables proactive maintenance; it also exerts a fundamental influence on product development. If the machine and its surroundings are measured and evaluated continuously in everyday operation manufacturers of plant and machinery can adapt their products even better to meet customers’ requirements.
Connected solutions do, however, require a seamless interplay of several components and services. In the past, users have in the worst case had to sign separate contracts with hardware and software manufacturers and mobile network operators. Today it is simpler. Telcos and globally active IT service providers bundle all of the components and competences that are required. Their aim is to provide all-inclusive single-source solutions for small and midrange businesses too. The all-inclusive Telekom solution for instance, can be booked for a fixed monthly price per machine, so high up-front capex costs no longer impede entry into connected production. All-inclusive packages of this kind will continue to drive the market forward, with maintenance companies arguably deriving the most benefit because they can now offer customers a significantly better service and reduce their operating costs at the same time.
Would you like to know more about Telekom’s M2M solutions for Industrial Automation? Then visit our booth (C13 in Hall 8) at the Hannover Messe trade show from April 7 to 11, 2014.