Remote Management Keeps Smart Factories Running
Machine-to-Machine, more commonly known as M2M, is paving the way for remote management, so that problems can be diagnosed and repaired quicker than ever before. A new era is dawning, especially for maintenance work.
For emergency callouts, at the best of times maintenance personnel will succeed in eliciting an error code from the callers. However, without thorough diagnosis, technicians will remain unsure about the replacement parts and tools necessary to get the machine back up and running.
Emergency callouts are not the only challenge. Minor faults that occur between inspections may go unnoticed yet impair a machine’s performance. Furthermore, fixed inspection intervals can lead to a great deal of unnecessary fieldwork.
This is precisely where remote management comes into its own. It provides full visibility over the status of connected plant and machinery.
As soon as the maintenance system identifies a fault it notifies the maintenance personnel automatically. It may then be possible to fix the bug remotely by reconfiguring operating parameters or restarting processes.
And, even if a maintenance engineer has to be sent out, he will already be aware of the source of the error and can take the relevant spare parts and tools for the repair.
A few years ago connecting machines was, for many companies, unaffordable. However, today, remote management is increasingly becoming the norm.
Industry experts call data interchange between machines or with a control centre machine-to-machine communication or M2M. With the assistance of universally deployable M2M solutions, all kinds of plant and machinery can today be connected inexpensively, including critical components such as pumps in water processing plants or elevators and air conditioning systems.
Setting up couldn’t be easier: the machine is first connected to a communication unit known as a controller. It serves as a kind of transfer area where the machine’s operating parameters are exported and, conversely, control instructions are sent in to the machine. Deutsche Telekom’s all-inclusive Remote Equipment Management package includes a controller to manage data via analogue and digital inputs and outputs and the widely used Modbus protocol.
The controller supports most communication channels, from LAN/WAN cables via 2G/3G to satellite networks. The channel used most frequently is a wireless connection because it does not require costly and time-consuming cabling.
In addition to availability, security plays a central role. Communication between the controller and the outside world must be via secure channels to prevent unauthorised access. The Remote Equipment Management solution’s controller, for example, transmits data via the HTTPS protocol as standard (SSL with 128-bit encryption). Software upgrades can be installed via a secure shell (SSH) tunnel or a virtual private network (VPN).
Once the controller has been connected, it is configured via an integrated management platform. Access is via a web browser or apps for iOS and Android.
Names and minimum and maximum values can be assigned freely to all operating parameters and if readings exceed or fall below the thresholds, the system alerts the maintenance team automatically by e-mail or text. Proactive servicing is supported in this way because wear and tear on critical components can be observed precisely. Even creeping performance declines do not go unnoticed.
For many use cases such as water processing plants, wind farms and photovoltaic facilities, solutions with installation assistants are available in the market. Typical parameters such as the temperature of solar collectors and the voltage of strings can be easily adapted and preconfigured for field deployments.
For a plant that is maintained via serial interface service connectors, such as elevators, air conditioning systems or medical instruments, as a rule, the service team connects a laptop to the serial interface on-site.
A wireless-based controller lengthens the serial interface to the service team office, which can then carry out remote maintenance easily. Via an encrypted tunnel it establishes a secure connection with a server in the corporate network or with a cloud based service. Authenticated users can then access the machine from anywhere and can use tried and tested maintenance software.
Gaining new insights
During conventional maintenance the machine’s status is only checked in the course of an inspection, whereas M2M solutions record its status continuously. All recorded data can be retrieved and analysed remotely.
Evaluating the data captured is seen as an extremely promising optimisation approach. If operating parameters are measured and evaluated continuously there will be an entirely new basis for making decisions on setting new operating parameters and on further development of machines, be they car washes and wind farms or household appliances.
Remote diagnosis thus offers new insights into previously hidden details of processes and operating sequences.
Ready-to-use walkthrough packages will continue to drive the market and lead in the long term to remote management of nearly all aspects of manufacturing machinery.
Mechanical and plant engineering and, above all, the service sector will benefit. Maintenance firms will be able to offer their customers a significantly improved service and at the same time, reduce their operating costs.
IMF: Variants Can Still Hurt Manufacturing Recovery
After a year of on-and-off manufacturing in the US, UK, and the eurozone, demand for goods surged early last week. Factories set growth records in April and May, suppliers started to recover, and US crude hit its highest price point since pre-COVID. As vaccination efforts immunise much of the US and UK populations, manufacturers are now able to fully ramp up their supply chains. In fact, GDP growth could approach double-digits by 2022.
Now, the ISM productivity measure has surpassed the 50-point mark that separates industry expansion from contraction. Since U.S. president Biden passed his US$1.9tn stimulus package and the UK purchasing managers index (PMI) increased to 65.6, both sides of the Atlantic are facing a much-welcomed manufacturing recovery.
Lingering Concerns Over COVID
Even as Spain, France, Italy, and Germany race to catch up, and mining companies pushed the FTSE 100 index of list shares to a monthly high of 7,129, some say that UK and US markets still suffer from a lack of confidence in raw material supplies. Yes, the Dow Jones has made up its 19,173-point crash of March 2020, and MSCI’s global stock index is at an all-time high.
Yet manufacturers around the world realise that these wins will be short-lived until pandemic supply chain bottlenecks are solved. If we keep the status quo, consumers will pay the price. In April, inflation in Germany reached 2.4%, and across the EU’s 19 member countries, overall prices have increased at an unusual pace. Some ask: Is this true recovery?
IMF: Current Boom Could Falter
Even as Elon Musk tweeted about chip shortages forcing Tesla to raise its prices, UK mining demand skyrocketed; housing markets lifted; and the pound sterling gained value. The International Monetary Fund (IMF), however, cautioned that manufacturing recovery won’t last long if COVID mutates into forms our vaccinations can’t touch. Kristalina Georgieva, Washington’s IMF director, noted that fewer than 1% of African citizens have been vaccinated: “Worldwide access to vaccines offers the best hope for stopping the coronavirus pandemic, saving lives, and securing a broad-based economic recovery”.
Across the globe, manufacturing companies are keeping a watchful eye on new developments in the spread of COVID. Though US FDA officials don’t think we’ll have to “start at square one” with new vaccines, the March 2021 World Economic Outlook states that “high uncertainty” surrounds the projected 6% global growth. Continued manufacturing success will in large part depend on “the path of the pandemic, the effectiveness of policy support, and the evolution of financial conditions”.
Mathias Cormann, secretary-general of the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) concurred—without global immunisation, the estimated economic boom expected by 2025 could go kaput. “We need to...pursue an all-out effort to reach the entire world population”, Australia’s finance minister added. US$50bn to end COVID across the world, they imply, is a small investment to restart our economies.