A click away: The advantages of solving maintenance issues remotely

by Dan Malovany
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Continual collection of key performance indicators enhances line efficiencies and provides predictive maintenance.

When a system crashes and production breaks down, don’t push the panic button and blare the horn. That’s so 20th Century. Simply pick up the phone, tap on a tablet or walk to the nearest HMI to repair it. With 24/7 wireless connectivity, cloud-streaming data and live video from omnipresent cameras throughout the bakery, even the chief engineer on a well-deserved lunch break knows what’s wrong the second that it happens … and sometimes how to get it up and running a minute later.

“Technology is a wonderful thing,” noted Mitch Lindsey, technical sales, Burford Corp.

During a recent plant visit in Colombia, Mr. Lindsey remotely connected a programmer at the company’s headquarters in Maysville, OK, to resolve an issue. “With most everyone carrying a smartphone now, we use Skype and FaceTime quite frequently to assist with troubleshooting equipment,” he said. “Add to that the ability to go online remotely with some machines to aid in potential programming issues, and this is amazing.”

The increased affordability to dedicated, high-speed Internet connectivity — along with the advancement of smart software designed for remote monitoring — continues to change the way offsite technicians support their customers, according to Mark Maraj, vice-president of sales and marketing, MiT Systems.

“When an issue is identified, the software can be configured to trigger a series of defined fail-over procedures while notifying key personnel via email or text-message alerts,” he explained. “Additionally, smart-capable software can help to fine-tune and optimize performance over time by using historical metrics as target benchmarks.”

As a result, the virtual tool pouch for maintenance personnel includes Ethernet industrial remote access routers to allow technicians access to plant networks, noted Scott Walker, director of corporate engineering, AMF Bakery Systems. Likewise, he added, customer VPN connections directly into networks and software packages like TeamViewer tie computers together and allow real-time interaction over long distances.

For your eyes only
But don’t jump too far into the future when it comes to the baking industry. More often than not, the first form of communication still comes from an old-fashioned phone call, especially if it’s a mechanical issue the bakery cannot resolve by itself. “Typically, most software-related issues can be resolved remotely versus hardware malfunctions that require on-site technicians,” Mr. Maraj pointed out.

At Shaffer, a Bundy Baking Solution, the service department relies on mechanical technicians to fix about 75% of on-site customer-service issues, noted Lonnie Caupp, Shaffer’s field service manager. Programming problems often require these mechanics to use a secure connection to allow their electrical engineering teams to see the process and detect problems via remote-viewing software and then restore the system. “Having the ability to remotely view, diagnose and correct a process anywhere in the world eliminates travel expenses and saves valuable time for our customers,” Mr. Caupp said.

While emailing or Dropboxing video clips or pictures of technical breakdowns helps, a direct connection diminishes downtime dramatically. “We had a client that connected to us via FaceTime — showing us the issue in real time — and we were able to solve his company’s issue in less than five minutes and completely free of charge,” said Eric Riggle, president, Rademaker USA.

These specific issues typically involve such small, isolated matters as a failing safety switch or a variable-frequency drive problem that mechanics failed to diagnose. However, not all problems pose a quick fix. “As much as technology and software automation have advanced various troubleshooting processes, the human element cannot be completely eliminated,” Mr. Maraj explained.

Mr. Riggle suggested that’s especially true when it comes to more complex and challenging concerns. “Usually product quality issues are not a result of one thing but a variety of small issues or settings that add up to one big problem,” he said. “These are better solved on-site where our technicians have the ability to make an overall assessment of the issues.”

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