Metav 2022 Immediate help with a lasting effect: remote maintenance

Source: Press release

Germany — The Corona pandemic has given many a digital solution a significant boost. Remote service and maintenance are quality aspects that play an important role at Metav 2022 in Düsseldorf .

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In times of a pandemic, remote maintenance was the only way for many machine manufacturers to maintain machine service and support.
In times of a pandemic, remote maintenance was the only way for many machine manufacturers to maintain machine service and support.
(Source: Röders)

During the Cornoa pandemic, video conferencing has become an indispensable means of communication, and the topic of remote maintenance is popping up more and more frequently in the service portals of industrial companies in very prominent positions. If the service technician is not allowed to go out because of the corona virus, they have to be connected “somehow”. The greater the expected consequences of a machine failure, the louder the calls for rapid assistance. Yet remote service, often hailed as the technology of the future, had already made its way into machine tool factories well before the Corona pandemic. The question of what happened during the pandemic and whether the now familiar digital service solution can even inspire the willingness to enter into new cooperative ventures in the spirit of Industry 4.0 therefore seems much more important than the spread of technology.

Service and maintenance are quality aspects that play a special role at Metav 2022 in Düsseldorf (8 to 11 March), among other things in the Quality Area dedicated to this purpose. The special show offers visitors an overview of the entire range of measuring and testing technology as well as quality management and evaluation systems. “Only those who can reliably and consistently supply their customers with high-quality products will be able to survive on the market in the long term”, emphasises Dr. Wilfried Schäfer, Managing Director of the VDW (German Machine Tool Builders' Association), organiser of Metav 2022. A recent survey among the approximately 250 exhibitors registered for Metav 2022 at that time confirms that remote maintenance is largely part of their day-to-day business.

Only those who can reliably and consistently supply their customers with high-quality products will be able to survive on the market in the long term.

Dr. Wilfried Schäfer

Remote solutions must be simple and straightforward

This is also the case at Röders, manufacturer of high-precision milling and grinding machines from Soltau in Lower Saxony. In the experience of Dr Oliver Gossel, Procurator and Sales Manager for Mechanical Engineering, there is a high level of acceptance for remote maintenance among customers, most of whom take a very pragmatic approach to the subject.

“Remote maintenance helps to save time and costs as well as to eliminate errors, whether they are caused by a faulty operation or a malfunction in the machine. Usually, help can be provided quickly and efficiently.” However, Gossel is also convinced that a remote solution must be as uncomplicated and easy to handle as possible. “We can effectively and economically expand our own PC-based control system, which is very easy to operate, to include remote maintenance with a conventional system.”

“Remote maintenance helps to save time and costs as well as to eliminate errors, whether they are caused by a faulty operation or a malfunction in the machine. Usually, help can be provided quickly and efficiently.” However, Gossel is also convinced that a remote solution must be as uncomplicated and easy to handle as possible. “We can effectively and economically expand our own PC-based control system, which is very easy to operate, to include remote maintenance with a conventional system.”

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More than 90 percent of the customers prefer the standard solution, says Gossel. Individual solutions, mainly demanded by large companies, are possible, but require more effort. During the set-up phase of a machine, everything is documented in detail and the necessary settings are prepared in a special IT environment. This ensures that everything works immediately in case of an emergency, both for the user and for the service department at Röders. For online collaboration and remote support, the company relies on solutions from Teamviewer: a name frequently mentioned by Metav exhibitors. The connectivity experts from Göppingen in Baden-Württemberg specialise in cloud-based technologies and provide tools for remote access as well as for data analysis and support.

Ready for the IoT world in 15 minutes

Patrick Giezen, IoT Solutions Excellence Manager at Teamviewer, is convinced that the pandemic has led to changes in thinking and attitudes towards remote solutions, and that this effect has a lasting impact. He says there is more openness for digital data exchange. Part of Teamviewer's philosophy is to keep the hurdles for the digitalisation of processes as low as possible. “Many of our customers are medium-sized companies, and it is precisely here that we see a strong need for solutions that are easy to scale,” emphasises the IoT (Internet of Things) expert. The company offers starter kits, for example, which introduce people to the IoT world within 15 minutes and achieve initial results. On the other hand, Teamviewer is increasingly cooperating with original equipment manufacturers, which means that some solutions are already implemented in the machines. “The technical requirements that a company has to fulfil do not go beyond a functioning internet connection.”

While manufacturing companies are largely seizing the opportunity, there are still users who have reservations about remote maintenance solutions. This is also confirmed by Oliver Gossel, who basically classifies his customer base into three groups: “Some companies use standard solutions, others prefer individual systems, the third and by far the smallest group categorically rejects the topic. This has hardly changed, even during the pandemic."

Eliminating safety concerns

Especially in the industrial environment, there is a particularly high awareness of the issue of data security, says Patrick Giezen, who sees this as a possible reason for the reluctance. Therefore, clear priorities must be set in order to ease the companies' fear of the open gateways. “We can, for example, process data in our private cloud infrastructure, even if the devices are located in isolated networks and thus there is no threat at all.” In addition, numerous security features are offered. These include multi-factor authentication (the system asks for additional proof of identity besides user name and password), single sign-on (centralised service for user identification), active directory integration (directory service for access restrictions to certain objects) or general access management.

The Fraunhofer Institute for Machine Tools and Forming Technology IWU in Chemnitz is also working on data security. As part of the “Audio” research project (audit solution for machine-learning-based, data-driven services), an IT architecture has been developed to offer remote maintenance and other services in the production environment in a tamper-proof manner. Process, production or machine data is encrypted and stored on network nodes (data storage devices). The platform then establishes the secure exchange of data, while a stored file fingerprint protects against undetected manipulation.

Next stage of development: Augmented Reality

According to Kilian Nölscher, who is in charge of the project at IWU, the research project, which deals with the concrete application of remote calibration of machine tools, is two-thirds complete. Currently, an AR ( Augmented Reality) assistance system is being developed at the Fraunhofer IWU in cooperation with the TU Dresden, which will support the worker on site and thus ensure that calibration is carried out in accordance with the regulations. At the end of the project, a workshop will be held with the aim of reducing safety concerns among potential users. Technologies and framework conditions will be presented and questions of the participants addressed.

Augmented reality is also considered the next development step at Teamviewer. “We already have customers who use our AR technology in industrial environments,” confirms Patrick Giezen. In conjunction with the machine data from the IoT environment, maintenance processes can be designed more reliably and efficiently, which leads to direct added value. The use of data glasses with AR functionality makes it possible for technicians to work with both hands while step-by-step instructions are displayed in their field of vision.

Starting point for further services

AR could enable mechanical engineering companies to offer the commissioning of a machine or plant completely “remotely”. There are not only cost and efficiency advantages to be gained from this. It would also be in the interest of climate protection if the experts, who might have travelled to Shanghai or Buenos Aires for commissioning, could instruct and supervise the partners on site via remote access, video/audio connection and with the use of AR glasses.

For Kilian Nölscher of the Fraunhofer IWU, the topic of remote maintenance is far from exhausted: “In the course of the increasing networking of production facilities and digitalisation of means of production with a simultaneous shortage of skilled workers, the topic of remote maintenance will continue to develop and diffuse into virtual space,” he says. The example of the Audio platform could prove that there is a very good starting point for the secure and comprehensible exchange of data between several parties for services such as remote maintenance or condition monitoring. Nevertheless, the biggest challenge for further digitalisation is that there is a gap between the physical production system and the virtual space, which must be closed in any case. Professional competence and service quality will play a major role in this.

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