Many manufacturers are dealing with leaner budgets, aging workforces, and increasingly distant and disparate production facilities. Making your most qualified engineers available to any production site, at any time would seem to defy logic.
But that’s exactly what’s happening through the emerging use of remote monitoring.
What’s facilitating this? Two things. First is the convergence of operations technology (OT) and information technology (IT) systems into The Connected Enterprise. Second is the adoption of new enabling technologies, such as the Internet of Things (IoT) and cloud computing. Working together, these forces enable the creation of a unified and highly connected infrastructure in which remote access becomes feasible.
As a result, engineers can monitor real-time performance data across multiple plants and collaborate with on-site personnel to address maintenance and repair issues.
Proven in IT
Remote services are already commonly used in corporate office environments. Rather than staffing IT support personnel at every office, many corporations either centralize their IT staff or use an IT vendor. The support staff can answer employee questions, update software and remotely log in to users’ computers to troubleshoot issues and take corrective action – all while working from remote locations. This enables businesses to more efficiently use labor, reduce travel costs and more quickly resolve issues.
Carried over into the manufacturing environment, remote monitoring offers these benefits and introduces new opportunities for improving machine uptime.
For example, a global packaged foods producer could correlate its data captured remotely from plants around the world to gain deeper insights into how to best keep its lines and processes running. The company could also remotely monitor real-time health information for equipment and systems at its manufacturing sites. If any faults, warnings or abnormalities are detected, notifications can automatically be sent to the appropriate subject matter expert to diagnose the potential issue. The remote engineer could immediately contact the site to address the issue before it becomes a downtime event. Should a downtime event materialize, however, the company’s remotely based engineers can immediately review any key parameters to more quickly diagnose the root cause and work with on-site employees to take corrective action.
Connecting the plant to the appropriate subject matter experts also open up the ability for remote management of critical manufacturing infrastructure. Functions like asset management, disaster recovery, patch management, install base evaluations are all possible through secure remote access. Connecting the right information to the right people and giving them the tools to be able to make well informed decisions are key benefits.
Remote monitoring can also help manufacturers recalibrate their talent in preparation for workforce challenges on the horizon. Not only are many of today’s skilled workers heading toward retirement, but The Connected Enterprise is creating demand for a new breed of workers with both OT and IT expertise.
Remote monitoring enables you to better utilize your existing talent pool, giving fewer experts access to more plants. It also enables you to augment the engineering expertise already in place at your plants with workers knowledgeable in OT and IT technologies, infrastructure and protocols.
Companies already strained by worker shortages can turn to an outside vendor to provide third-party remote monitoring. In these instances, the vendor’s trained engineers will remotely monitor the company’s systems, and can alert plant workers and work with them to resolve any issues. The company can still define the parameters for monitoring and receive reports or assign those responsibilities to the vendor.
Deploying remote access to your production facilities likely will require a new level of collaboration between IT/OT staff. IT personnel may already be familiar with remote-access tools, but they will need to share that knowledge with OT personnel as they are introduced to the technology. Similarly, IT expertise typically doesn’t extend to production equipment, meaning OT personnel will need to confirm the remote-monitoring system meets the unique demands of the plant floor.
For example, resolving an IT issue within a few hours is generally acceptable in an office environment. On the plant floor, that’s lost profit. As a result, a remote-monitoring system that supports predictive or preventive maintenance and immediate corrective action is mandatory.
Additionally, accessing and collecting more data raises the question of where and how to store it. More manufacturers are turning to the cloud in place of using their own servers. Rather than spending limited capital resources on physical servers and hoping your investment reaches 100 percent capacity down the road, the cloud offers greater flexibility and can scale to your changing needs.
Lastly, any organization that increases access to its sensitive data and valuable intellectual property in the age of data breaches will naturally make security a priority. If your organization is designing and implementing The Connected Enterprise, the multilayered defense-in-depth security approach is recommended. This approach helps verify multiple layers of defense are in place to protect information and assets against malicious and unintentional security threats.
As a standalone service, remote monitoring can deliver inherent security. Specifically, proven and secure remote-monitoring solutions require only a single outbound port, and do not require an inbound port through a firewall or any other firewall reconfigurations. They also can allow complete end-user control, including access limitations defined by user or IP address, audit trails and notifications for each remote-access session – even complete surveillance and recording of all remote-access workstation sessions.
An Essential Need
As more manufacturers begin their journey to The Connected Enterprise, it inevitably leads to a more connected and collaborative global organization. The thousands of machines and smart devices that will make up this global connected infrastructure will require monitoring. It will only make sense to use remote monitoring to simplify the effort while also delivering the operational benefits of improved uptime and greater workforce utilization.