Mark Himes is the business manager for contractual services at Rockwell Automation. He has more than 20 years of experience in the service and support of industrial automation equipment, and is focused on helping manufacturers improve asset utilization, reduce operational costs and minimize production risks. The COVID-19 pandemic has driven strong industry interest in remote monitoring solutions for the installed base of plant physical assets, and Mark spoke recently with Editor in Chief Thomas Wilk about this trend.
PS: Ever since the coronavirus began to impact the industry, Plant Services editors have been hearing that there’s suddenly been a very strong interest in remote monitoring and services. What are some of the key advances that you’re seeing in modern remote support, especially for automated plant assets?
MH: When it comes to modern support in general, there’s obviously the technology side: how do we interject that technology into some of the things we do, to be able to support our customers and make it more effective for them? With augmented reality, we’ve made some great strides in our partnership with PTC. And we’re seeing our customers look for new technologies like augmented reality to help solve problems quicker and to be able to look at how they can optimize certain things, especially when they can’t have that expertise on-site. They simply would love to interact with someone from a more visual standpoint.
For example, we’re using something today we call Live View, that’s powered by PTC Vuforia, and it enables us to get visibility back and forth with our customers and actually see the problem they’re trying to solve. We can even annotate things on screens to help them: “Hey, change this, move that.” Those types of activities weren’t possible before. That’s a new way to improve the modern support experience now.
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Then there’s the data side of things. How do we use the data from our smart assets and use it to support our customers? Some of that comes from smart devices and the ability to see what’s happening and trending with them. Then also how do we bring in support-related information as part of that data piece: Where are failures occurring? How often? What types of machines? What are they calling in for? What parts are they repairing and replacing? They’re bringing that all together with some of the intelligence from the assets themselves, and now you’ve got that improved support experience by bringing the technology and the data together.
The other piece that is important with this data, and this is what we’re seeing more and more of, is what I’ll call “collaborative support.” Our ability to bring in a partner to work with us to support customers and their on-site capabilities. With remote technology, now we can bring these groups and their data together more easily to better solve problems. We can have experts in different fields that send information back and forth much easier now.
PS: Speaking of collaboration, when Plant Services does research with readers on predictive maintenance trends, one thing we have seen since 2014 is an increased willingness to share data with external partners. What do you think is driving this trend?
MH: I think it’s a combination of things. The first one is the skills gap, which has been around for a while and continues to grow. In order to overcome some of those challenges, you’ve got to get that external connection with your customers or get other people involved in seeing the data, because you don’t have immediate access to resources with that expertise.
The other thing we’re seeing when it comes to machines, systems, and automated assets in general, is that they are continuing to become more and more complex. As these assets become more complex, you need more people involved in how you support them. Even with some basic machines, you need expertise in drives, controls, HMI, software, network infrastructure, security, cloud connectivity – all these things just to support a machine.
Because this new technology is a lot more complex to support, you’ve got to be able to share that data to understand how a given piece of equipment is operating. This complexity helps teams understand they simply don’t have all those resources in their facility to do this today. In order to better support, to optimize, to do these activities, you need to bring in other elements to be able to do it, and availability and visibility to data helps drive that.