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Remote support for plant maintenance – anytime, anywhere

Author : Sebastian Kaul, ECOM Instruments

16 June 2021

Challenges such as the Covid-19 pandemic, personnel costs and shortage of specialists are putting companies under an increasing amount of pressure. It is becoming more and more difficult to maintain extensive facilities efficiently and in line with requirements, and to solve problems in a timely manner.

(Click here to view article in digital edition)

Predictive maintenance is intended to remedy this situation and avoid downtimes with less effort. Mobile devices play a key role in the implementation of predictive maintenance concepts in many companies.

Executing demanding workflows is becoming even more challenging, especially in industries with a large number of sites or extensive facilities in need of monitoring and maintenance. Increasingly complex facilities also make it impossible for employees to have the specific knowledge required to maintain every single component. Furthermore, experts are not always available at every location to the extent they are needed.

A major advantage of using mobile devices in an industrial environment is the ability to remotely assist technicians with complex inspection procedures. For this purpose, video calls or augmented reality applications via smartphones or tablets can also be used in hazardous areas. Technicians on site can thus contact experts or even the manufacturer if necessary and request their support for complex issues. This saves time and resources.

Digital devices currently available include various features such as an electromagnetic gyroscope, GPS and cameras, which allow for an assessment of the site and enable experts anywhere in the world to precisely assess the situation. This also enables the use of digital step-by-step instructions, remote support or customised tools that can be used for a variety of tasks from asset management to plant inspection, as well as digital training. This gives employees instant access to all the information required to work better and faster. They gain direct contact with the appropriate support expert, and an overview of all cases, both in-progress and completed.

What is required of digital devices for more efficiency in maintenance?

To ensure flawless support through remote experts, digital drawings or maintenance instructions, a multifunctional end device is required that can display complex applications effortlessly. Tablets are now available which do just that while offering excellent image quality, even in bright sunlight. Some explosion proof tablets, such as the Tab-Ex Pro, have pogo-pin charging as well as a powerful replaceable battery with a capacity of 7,400 mAh for up to 15 hours of use. As with any mobile device, a better battery means a longer operating time which is vital for operators working in the field on large and extensive sites. A high-resolution screen on explosion proof mobile devices also guarantees a crisp picture when an operator is being assisted through remote maintenance or video tutorials.

There are also accessories available to compliment mobile devices which can keep workers' hands free for unhindered performance of tasks. Thanks to suitable carrying devices, headsets and cameras, workers can be guided by experts in real time, even through complicated applications, without being restricted in their work. Great importance can therefore be attached to the comprehensive range of peripherals now available on the market that are not only tailored to digital devices, but also to the needs of workers in industrial or hazardous environments. In this way, tasks can be carried out without errors and faults can be quickly rectified by employees on site.

The smart future of maintenance

In recent years, remote support has been taken to the next level with companies focusing on the development of additional products to be used in combination with smartphones and tablets. Smart glasses in particular are the focus of development, as they allow for optimal hands-free operation via voice control by the employee on site as well as an optimal view of the processes by the remote expert. The expert can thus provide support or instructions, while information and instructions are displayed directly in the worker's field of view in real-time.

Comprehensive insights thanks to unrestricted device communication

Digital products and services enable staging, management and real-time monitoring of mobile devices. In this case, providers rely on the combination of comprehensive mobile device management with corresponding device analytics. This makes it easy to configure and manage the growing number of mobile devices. An analysis of historical and current data is possible at any time and allows conclusions to be drawn about function-critical correlations. Enterprise mobility management systems, which are managed centrally by the provider, are ideal for a comprehensive overview of complex systems. This relieves the strain on IT departments and provides greater security in ongoing operations.

Sebastian Kaul, ECOM Instruments
Sebastian Kaul, ECOM Instruments

Maintenance in an agile environment

Instructions from experts at other sites and digital workflows support technicians in performing complex tasks directly in the plant. The integration of mobile devices and tools helps to get one step closer to the goal of digital production, maintenance and repair.

Smartphones and tablets must appropriately support technicians in their daily work and at the same time meet the requirements of a harsh industrial environment and potentially hazardous atmospheres. Worldwide usability of the devices also requires, in addition to general availability, compliance with various requirements and the ability to be used with many different infrastructures and networks.

Mobile devices are more than just tools for communication. As part of an overarching digital solution, they support mobile technicians in retrieving real-time data, recording and evaluating data, and reacting quickly and autonomously to any eventuality.

About the author:

Sebastian Kaul works as Product Portfolio Manager at ECOM Instruments and as such knows the requirements of customers from heavy industries. The Pepperl+Fuchs brand ECOM provides holistic solutions for mobile computing and industrial communication in potentially explosive atmospheres. ECOM has played a key role in the development of explosion protection for mobile devices since 1986, offering explosion-protected mobile phones, smartphones and tablets.

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