Human Machine Interface / Control Systems / Remote Monitoring / Industrial Automation

Perfect vision: Remote monitoring

In this installment of Automation Zone, real-time, anywhere access to data can help optimize asset use, quality, and uptime.

By Phil Bush, Rockwell Automation

One of the allures of IT-OT convergence is that it presents new ways to tackle age-old challenges. That’s certainly the case with remote monitoring.

By using the ubiquitous connectivity of a converged enterprise and the wealth of data from industrial internet of things (IoT) devices, companies now can gain access to real-time information for assets, processes, lines, and plants from anywhere. And they can use these insights to help improve asset utilization, enhance quality, and more quickly recover from downtime – or even prevent downtime from occurring in the first place.

Remote monitoring has proved to be highly valuable for industrial operations located in remote and hard-to-reach locations, as is the case with mining and oil and gas operations. But it’s also increasingly proving vital in everyday manufacturing applications to help address some of the challenges that industry faces.

Manufacturers can use remote monitoring, for example, to centralize subject-matter expertise if they’re struggling to fill skilled positions at the site level. As the influx of connected devices grows on the plant floor and manufacturing operations become more dependent on network availability, companies can use remote monitoring and support to help manage this complexity and reduce the risk of network-related downtime.

Remote monitoring at work

Companies in almost every industry are finding value in remote monitoring. A food manufacturer, for example, used internal remote monitoring to keep an eye on product quality in its new plant by installing video cameras above the conveyor leading from the ovens. Managers in the company’s original plant could then monitor products coming off the line in the new plant.

Software in the new plant also aggregated critical operating data and produced real-time dashboards and web-based reports, allowing managers in the original plant to perform real-time diagnostics and work with technicians to make sure food products would meet customers’ expectations.

Another example is a CPG company that used third-party proactive remote monitoring for its new high-speed liquids production facility. In one instance, the service provider received an alarm from an SQL database and discovered that a backup solution had failed, jeopardizing production. The service provider confirmed the corrective action with the company and resolved the issue. In other instances, the service provider identified and resolved issues before the manufacturer even knew about them.

One industrial producer that supports the prepainted metal industry turned to third-party remote monitoring to help watch production its newly upgraded facility. The off-site team tracks about 2,500 data points and can either address issues remotely or notify on-site plant personnel to take action. Since implementing the service, the plant has experienced a 50% reduction in maintenance downtime.

OEMs also are finding that remote monitoring can help them better serve their customers and also open new revenue streams. A heavy-equipment manufacturer for the oil and gas industry used secure, cloud-based remote access to see real-time information from its distributed assets. This allowed the OEM to offer preventive maintenance alerts and services as well as other remote service capabilities.

Are you in or out?

Remote monitoring can be managed in one of two ways: in-house or by a third party. When it’s kept in-house, remotely collected data can be fed into a central location where experts can collaborate with their colleagues around the world to analyze, diagnose, and troubleshoot problems. Alternatively, the company’s automated systems could filter through the data and return it to on-site workers in the form of contextualized information.

When managed by a third party such as an OEM or automation supplier, a dedicated team of specialists can monitor and respond to production issues. These services are typically scalable, meaning they can be applied to a single machine or across a global production operation. The service provider also may offer remote monitoring in combination with other services, such as recovery support and on-site support with guaranteed response times.

Factoring in security

As with all aspects of IT-OT convergence, security should be central to a remote-monitoring implementation. Certainly, the remote-access platform itself must have multiple security measures. These measures should include role-based access, multiple security certificates, remote session logs, and outbound-only communication to help protect transferred data and access to assets.

The platform’s provider also should meet certain security criteria. In particular, companies should work only with a trusted vendor that follows core security principles when designing products.

Get connected, get ahead

Long geographical distances between facilities and a lack of production data have historically held back industrial operations from optimizing organizational efficiency and the use of their assets. But those constraints start to disappear with IT-OT convergence and especially with remote monitoring.

By gaining secure remote access to operations, companies can help reduce unplanned downtime; access and capitalize on their production data; mitigate risks of the global skills shortage; and manage increasingly complex and connected operations with ease.