Anyone who thinks of a classic IT system house usually does not associate this with the remote maintenance of machines and systems. The establishment of an infrastructure for remote maintenance, however, has more parallels to information technology than one might think at first glance. The following article shows how an IT service provider can successfully position itself as a link between machine buildering and plant operators.
System houses are service providers that usually offer complete turnkey solutions and services for IT applications. One such service provider is performio GmbH, founded in 2007. The company is headquartered in Mannheim and has a branch office in Munich. It activities include support, consulting, conception and implementation of modern and fail-safe IT concepts. Today, 15 employees support the network infrastructure and IT systems for medium-sized and large companies operating throughout Europe.
One of these customers is Sonoco, an international group that manufactures product and protective packaging for industrial and consumer goods in several production facilities. Several years ago, Sonoco opted for the remote maintenance solution from MB connect line. To support the uniform remote maintenance infrastructure and the connection of new machines, a service provider was sought in order to relieve the own IT department. "Remote maintenance of production facilities was not really on our radar at that time. That was a different world for us", Max Mäder, Managing Director of performio, looks back. He further explains: "After a short time it became clear that the security and compliance requirements for setting up and operating a secure remote maintenance infrastructure were similar to those for IT".
Remote maintenance as the basis
For a long time, the topic of remote maintenance has been driven from the point of view of machine and plant manufacturers. The original main objective was to save travel costs during the warranty period. In the meantime, many machine builders offer additional services, such as rapid support in the event of faults within the scope of a maintenance contract. The increasing spread of remote maintenance has led to a confusing variety of systems among plant operators. The machine suppliers preferred different systems, which caused more or less effort in the IT department of the production plants.
Sonoco has solved the problem of diversity by opting for the MB connect line modular system, which you specify to each machine supplier. "In principle, this is nothing new.
In control technology, too, the system buyers often specify which manufacturer or which system must be used," Ingo Hübner, responsible for logistics at performio, sums up. For every new machine or system for Sonoco, the equipment with an industrial router mbNET is obligatory.
Service provider as connecting link
Now performio comes into play as a service provider. The system house is the central contact both for plant management and the IT department of the production companies as well as for the machine builders. Standardized processes ensure that the flow of information is traceable at all times. This keeps the effort of all parties involved low. Data such as machine location, IP address, gateways and contact persons are recorded in advance using a checklist. The standardized procedure ensures that all relevant data is available for commissioning.
The system house has all common routers in stock in order to be able to react quickly. They are configured to order and delivered directly to the machine. At the same time, access to the remote service portal mbCONNECT24 is set up. This enables the service staff of the machine manufacturer to reach the customer's machine at the click of a mouse. Depending on customer requirements, the remote service portal mbConnect24 runs in the computer center of the plant operator or at performio.
By setting up and managing the remote maintenance infrastructure, performio takes over tasks that are neither part of the core business of the plant operator nor or the machine builder. The machine builder does not have to worry about IP addresses and port activation. He gets a secure and functioning remote maintenance access for a calculable price. Should there be a problem, he has a 24/7 support team at performio that solves the problem. The plant operator has the advantage that with performio he has a contact person where the threads come together. This relieves his own IT department.
In the meantime, the initial customer project at Sonoco has developed into a new business segment in which the system house is successfully active. Part of the success is based on MB connect line's modular remote maintenance system: "The solution offers a very high level of safety, is certified accordingly, easy to use and scalable. What works with four routers also works with 400 routers", Max Mäder sums up and continues: "Moreover, we have extremely low downtimes and in case of doubt a direct contact to the development department of MB connect line". In addition, there is a suitable router on site for almost every infrastructure. On the machine side, the standard industrial interfaces and protocols such as Profibus and Modbus are available.
The second essential point is that the procedure for setting up remote maintenance can be very well standardized. The standard processes commonly used in the IT environment simplify working procedures and help to avoid errors. "The specification of standards also helps us to design the system architecture efficiently in remote maintenance," reports Marko Bosch, Key Account Manager at performio. Each step is documented and can be traced later if necessary.
The system house monitors the network and remote maintenance systems around the clock and ensures permanent availability over the entire life cycle of a machine. Malfunction reports are documented and forwarded to the local IT department, the maintenance personnel at the plant or the machine manufacturer, depending on responsibility. Temporary machine access for third parties can also be set up if an external service specialist is to review at a specific issue online.
The triangular relationship between machine builder and end-user service provider enables an optimal division of work in which each participant only moves within his core competence. The IT department of the production company is only contacted if it is really an IT issue. The machine builder can rely on a faster and more targeted service and does not have to wait until the IT administrator has time. The service provider is in close contact with both partners and can answer questions quickly.
With the remote service portal mbCONNECT24 and the industrial routers, customers receive a complete package for digitization across company boundaries. Remote maintenance with fast reaction and support in case of malfunctions is currently still the main application for online access to machines and systems. This can also be represented in commercial terms by looking at the costs that the machine builder saves through the online options. However, the manifold possibilities of data acquisition are increasingly being used - for example to transfer production data and downtimes in ERP systems such as Navision or SAP. Other options include wear detection and the timely dispatch of spare parts by the machine manufacturer within the scope of maintenance contracts. Various data on machine utilization can provide the machine builder with important information on the further development of his product. New business models such as billing for use and capacity utilization can be implemented if the corresponding data is available.
With its expert knowledge, performio can advise machine builders and end customers alike. The understanding of both worlds makes it possible to bring the different requirements to a common denominator. Remote maintenance pays for the installation of the system, which is also a mature basis for data-driven future technologies.
Watch the interview (German):