Physicians and manufacturers are alike in many ways. Every day medical professionals are expected to evaluate and treat patients – bringing the sickest of people back to health. Like doctors examine their patients, production companies must constantly assess their machines – monitoring them to ensure they’re in good health and restoring them to it when they’re not.
Oftentimes physicians must make decisions with less-than-ideal information. In the past, the same has been true for production companies when it comes to plant-floor data. Luckily, that’s no longer the case. The information needed to diagnose, treat – and even predict – plant-floor issues is now little more than an Internet connection away. By tapping into continuous, online monitoring systems, production companies and OEMs can remotely access real-time production data from their machines and systems. Everything from key measurements like switch temperatures, CPU usage, and flow rates, to faults and alarms and higher-level production trends can be collected, monitored and analyzed around the clock and around the globe.
Frequently medical professionals see the symptoms of a problem, but diagnosing the cause and determining the best treatment options is complex. For production companies, the comprehensive view offered by remote access to plant-floor data makes it possible to do what so many doctors only dream of doing – diagnosing the root cause of problems and applying the best solution to fix them, all without leaving the comforts of home. So with that in mind, let’s look at few of the symptoms many production companies are suffering from today, and examine some options that will provide relief:
Symptom: My IT staff is too lean to properly monitor all my machines and processes.
Treatment: See a specialist.
The proliferation of network technology on the plant floor practically mandates collaboration between IT and production – a change that has drastically altered the roles of both IT and production professionals. Not only has the scope of their responsibilities evolved, but the technology that these staff members must manage has become increasingly complex.
Along with myriad other responsibilities, today’s IT staff often is tasked with monitoring complicated and interconnected processes and machines. Unfortunately these individuals often don’t have the training, time, or skill set it takes to make sure these systems are optimized. In addition, because IT professionals aren’t often solely focused on production, they lack understanding when it comes to the urgency of production-related issues. In the office, a server crash may result in a printer or email outage and the expectation is that it will be addressed within a few hours. Inconvenience is generally the largest consequence of such events. But in a production environment, downtime is lost profit, and responses must be activated in minutes, not hours.
While IT professionals are often stretched too thin to properly understand and address complex production issues, OEMs and other automation experts specialize in this area. They possess a deep knowledge of plant-floor technologies and understand the many intricacies of how systems affect production. And thanks to advancements in remote-monitoring technology, taking advantage of this expertise is easier than ever before. Through secure Internet connections, automation professionals can help troubleshoot plant-floor issues, discover trends and identify process improvements. These specialists also can be alerted to all changes in processes and machines, so they can identify and respond to warning signs quickly – usually within minutes – and work to correct them.
Symptom: I never have enough time for maintenance.
Treatment: Change your lifestyle.
Most people don’t go to the doctor very often, and when they do, something is already wrong. And they don’t make time for regular checkups even though the majority of medical professionals would say it’s the key to identifying and solving problems early. In general, production companies intuitively know that that same goes for preventive maintenance activities. But in reality, it’s often just as difficult to make the time for preventive maintenance on machines as it is to visit the doctor for that annual physical.
Remote monitoring can help change the status quo when it comes to maintenance. Allowing remote access to machine data, enables OEMs and other automation professionals to access plant-floor data and perform a variety of support and maintenance activities – from suggesting overall infrastructure health improvements to monitoring individual process tags.
Regular preventive maintenance is particularly important because superficial problems with processes and machines can be indicators of more substantial issues. For example, when a pump isn’t performing well, the problem can often be traced to a faulty pump seal. But this failure is frequently symptomatic of another, more serious problem, such as misalignment or overpressure. By proactively monitoring the right machine conditions and operating data, specialists can remotely identify root causes and correct them before they become catastrophic issues.
Symptom: I don’t know what’s happening at my plant in Asia.
Treatment: Go remote.
As production becomes increasingly global, more and more companies are spreading their operations abroad. Oftentimes, this distance comes with a price – decreased access.
Companies with plants in China, oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico, pipelines in the Canadian Rockies, and locations in a variety of other remote places often have limited, if any, access to their machines – not to mention the production data they generate. For most, lack of access means maintenance and repairs are costly, time consuming and sometimes dangerous. What’s more, lack of insight to data makes it nearly impossible to make process improvements.
In the past, production companies have tried to establish access to remote locations by creating a VPN connection – an activity that is time consuming and complex. But once this connection is set up, plant managers still have to conduct the monitoring themselves, which leads to the same expertise and effectiveness problems that production companies are experiencing in locations where access isn’t an issue.
Fortunately, today’s remote-monitoring solutions present a different alternative; in fact, they were designed with this very sort of global accessibility in mind. Remote-access technologies make it easy for global producers to access their facilities and equipment regardless of location. Working with specialists trained to monitor these facilities can save additional time and money.
In the past, for example, if a medium-voltage drive in a remote location went down, the facility would need to wait for spare parts to arrive, and call upon a trained technician wearing appropriate PPE equipment to open the drive and service it. With remote monitoring, specialists monitor the drive and receive warnings when the temperature increases or the current has risen too high. Upon receiving these alarms, specialists can access the drive and repair the issue before it becomes a catastrophic event – all without ever opening the cabinet.
This worldwide proactivity and responsiveness, along with the ability to pass monitoring responsibilities to the specialists who know it best, minimizes downtime and can bring significant productivity savings – and that’s just what the doctor ordered.
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