Extraordinary Remote Service Management through IIoT

We’ve all heard about helicopter parents. You know, that mom or dad that keeps hovering over their child, choosing their clothes and their friends, checking out their Facebook pages, watching their every move. Hey, after all, they’ve invested a lot of time and money into their offspring, and they aren’t going to just let those kids go out on their own and mess things up, right?

While that might not be the best parenting model for human children, it may transfer well to physical products—particularly expensive, complicated products like machine tools. Builders of industrial equipment are often responsible, by choice or by contract, for the performance and maintenance of their machinery for years after the sale. Mechanical failure is not an option for an assembly line whose down-time costs can be in the tens of thousands of dollars per minute. More and more customers buying equipment are looking for 24/7 monitoring and remote service management. And more and more vendors and OEMs are turning to the Industrial IoT (IIoT) for solutions.

With or without IIoT?

Consider the options. Without the IIoT, a lot of time gets wasted between the detection of a problem and a repair. The company calls the vendor, who sends out a rep to inspect. The rep then processes a work order, which may require a second visit by someone with the right skills, tools, and parts to make the repair. The whole process can take hours, even days, while the machine, and sometimes the whole line, sits idle.

With the IIoT, the vendor or OEM maintains a full-time connection to the machine, and can continuously monitor every aspect of its health, such as operating temperatures, abnormal vibrations, fluid levels, and so on, via the web. Before a problem is even noticed by an operator, the vendor can detect an irregularity, assess the situation, manage a work order, and send out repair personnel right away. Sometimes they can even make the repair remotely, without any on-site visit at all.

“OEMs tell ARC that 30 percent or more of the repairs can be made via the web by modifying parameters remotely or with minor assistance by an onsite person,” says Ralph Rio of ARC Advisory Group in a recent article, How IIoT Improves Field Service Management KPIs.

Extraordinary service

The IIoT makes an extraordinary level of service possible. But it’s not just any IoT platform that will be so helpful. Giving a vendor access to a piece of equipment inside a plant requires deep trust. The connection needs to be secure. Within that secure connection, the vendor should not have access to the whole plant network, just to the data. And then, to modify a parameter or change a machine set point requires bidirectional data flow.

Many IoT platforms offer Internet connections, but few of them can securely connect into an industrial plant without opening a firewall. Among those that can, many rely on VPN technology, which opens the whole plant network to the vendor. Of those that are able to make a connection without a VPN and still keep all firewalls closed, most are offering only one-way data flow, from the plant to the cloud. It takes an extraordinary service to provide what Ralph Rio is talking about: the ability to modify parameters remotely, and do it securely. It is exactly this extraordinary level of service that SkkyHub offers. For those vendors and OEMs that want supervisory control over their offspring—their products—this is the kind of remote service management that works best.

Some Notable Industrial IoT Applications

After years of riding high on the Gartner Hype Cycle, Industrial IoT (IIoT) is beginning to take shape in various ways.  Early adopters tend to be large companies who have identified specific applications in which IoT connectivity provides an immediate advantage.  The Internet of Things Institute recently named Top 20 Industrial IoT Applications, giving an overview of the best of what is happening.  All of these are interesting, and we’d like share our thoughts on a few that you may not have heard of elsewhere.

Compressed Air as a Service

The Kaeser Kompressoren company in Germany has been manufacturing and selling air compressors for almost 100 years.  Lately they have adopted an IIoT perspective, and have changed their business model.  Now they provide compressed air as a service.  Instead of selling their equipment, they install it at a customer site and sell its ability to compress air.

Among other things, this requires a mental shift when calculating where their revenues come from.  Previously, when the customer owned the machinery, Kaeser could make money on repair services.  Now that Kaeser owns the equipment, repairs have become a cost center, and it is in their interest to keep those costs as low as possible.  Since they they started working under this business model, the company has been using IIoT technologies to sustain a healthy predictive maintenance (PdM) program.  The cost savings revert directly to Kaeser.

This ability to adapt, to transform business models and capitalize on the Industrial IoT applications will set the leaders apart from the followers in the next few years as the IIoT moves from hype to reality.

Keeping Track of Tools

How many screws does it take to build a commercial airliner?  How tightly must each one be turned?  What’s the right tool for the job, and how should it be calibrated?  A joint IIoT project between Bosch, Cisco, National Instruments, and Tech Mahindra coordinated through the Industrial Internet Consortium is demonstrating the value of the IIoT in answering those questions.

At a testbed location that simulates aircraft assembly, Bosch cordless screwdrivers are connected wirelessly via National Instruments technology and send identification data about themselves, as well as torque data about the screw they are tightening, to a central database.  Their exact physical location is calculated using a triangulation technology from Cisco.  An integration program from a Tech Mahindra program uses the screwdriver’s location data to look up the amount of torque specified for that screw at that location, and configures the screwdriver accordingly.  When the operator moves to a different location on the aircraft body to drive other types of screws, the screwdriver gets reconfigured automatically and precisely.

These four companies working together highlight the value of cooperation in developing Industrial IoT applications, especially at the beginning stages.  Many successful early adopters have emphasized the value of partnerships and collaboration.  Those who take a do-it-yourself approach often find the IoT more complicated to implement than expected.

Automated Mining and Haulage Systems

The largest private railroad in Australia with over 1,700 kilometres of track is owned and operated by the Rio Tinto mining company.  Using IIoT technologies, the company is now running unmanned, autonomous trains along this line, hauling iron ore from mines in the Pilbara region to ports along the north coast.  The pilot project will be expanded to full service next year, as the world’s first fully-autonomous heavy haul, long distance railway system.

This initiative is just one of several IIoT-related initiatives that Rio Tinto is developing.  They are also pioneering in the operation of autonomous trucks and drilling systems for their mines, and are even looking at self-navigating ships to cut the cost of delivering their products worldwide.

Not every company is in Rio Tinto’s position, but their broad vision, wide range of IoT applications, and obvious success can be an inspiration for all of us.  The message is clear: Industrial IoT is not only possible, it is profitable.  Learning from these examples, anyone venturing into this space needs to consider the opportunities and challenges unique to their industry and company, learn how and when to work with others, and then start taking action to gain the maximum benefit from Industrial IoT.