【DE】Helps immediately, has a lasting effect: remote maintenance in pandemic times  

Remote solutions can be experienced at METAV 2022

Pandemic times have given some digital solutions a significant boost. Video conferences, for example, mutated into an indispensable means of communication and the topic of remote maintenance also increasingly popped up in a very prominent place in service portals of industrial companies. If the service technician is not allowed to move out due to corona, he must be switched on “somehow”. The greater the expected consequences of a machine failure, the louder the calls for quick help became. The remote service, often praised as a technology of the future, had already found its way into the machine tool factories, at least well before Corona. Therefore, the question of what happened during the pandemic and whether the now familiar digital service solution can even inspire the willingness for new cooperation in the sense of Industry 4.0 seems much more important than the spread.


Service and maintenance are quality aspects that will take place at METAV 2022 in Düsseldorf (8th to 11th March), including in the specially furnished quality area. The special exhibition offers visitors an overview of the entire range of measurement and testing technology as well as quality management and evaluation systems. Only those who can reliably and consistently deliver high-quality products to their customers will be able to survive on the market in the long term, emphasizes Dr. Wilfried Schäfer, Managing Director of the VDW (Association of German Machine Tool Factories), organizer of METAV 2022. A recent survey among the approximately 250 registered exhibitors of METAV 2022 at that time confirms that remote maintenance is largely part of day-to-day business.


Remote solutions must be simple and uncomplicated

This also applies to Röders GmbH, manufacturer of high-precision milling and grinding machines from Soltau, Lower Saxony. Based on the experience of Dr. Oliver Gossel, authorized signatory and sales manager mechanical engineering, is very acceptance of remote maintenance among customers, most see the topic very pragmatically. Remote maintenance helps to save time and costs as well as to eliminate errors, whether they were caused by incorrect operation or by an error in the machine. As a rule, help can be provided quickly and efficiently.” Gossel is also convinced that a remote solution must be as uncomplicated and easy to use as possible. We can effectively and cost-effectively extend our own PC-based control, which is very easy to use, with remote maintenance with a classic system.


The standard solution is preferred by over 90 percent of customers, says Gossel. Individual solutions, mainly in demand from large companies, are possible, but require greater effort. In the setup phase of a machine, everything is already documented in detail and the necessary adjustment is prepared in a special IT environment. This ensures that everything works immediately in an emergency, both for the user and in service at Röders. The company relies on solutions from TeamViewer for online collaboration and remote support: a name that is often mentioned by METAV exhibitors. The connectivity experts from Göppingen in Baden-Württemberg specialize in cloud-based technologies and provide tools for remote access as well as for data analysis and support.


In 15 minutes in the IoT world

Patrick Giezen, IoT Solutions Excellence Manager at Teamviewer, is convinced that the pandemic has led to changes in thinking and attitude towards remote solutions, and that this effect also has a lasting effect. There is more openness to digital data exchange, he says. The philosophy at Teamviewer is to keep the hurdles for the digitization of processes as low as possible. Many of our customers are medium-sized companies, and this is exactly where we see a strong need for easy-to-scale solutions, emphasizes the IoT (Internet of Things) expert. For example, the company offers starter kits that introduce the IoT world and achieve initial results within 15 minutes. On the other hand, TeamViewer is increasingly working with original equipment manufacturers, so that solutions are sometimes already implemented in the machines. The technical requirements that a company must meet do not go beyond a functioning Internet connection.


While manufacturing companies are largely using the favor of the hour, on the other hand, there are still users who express reservations about remote maintenance solutions. Oliver Gossel, who basically classifies his customer base into three groups, also confirms this: “Some use standard solutions, others prefer individual systems, the third and by far the smallest group categorically rejects the topic. This has hardly changed even in pandemic times.”


to eliminate safety concerns

Especially in the industrial environment, there is a particularly high level of awareness of data security, says Patrick Giezen, who sees this as possible reasons for restraint. Therefore, clear priorities would have to be set here in order to relieve companies of the fear of the “open barn door”. For example, we can process data in our private cloud infrastructure, even if the devices are in isolated networks and thus there can be no threat at all. In addition, numerous security functions are offered. These include multi-factor authentication (the system asks for additional identity verifications in addition to user name and password), single sign-on (centralized user identification service), Active Directory Integration (directory service for access restrictions to certain objects) or general access management.


The topic of data security is also the focus of the Fraunhofer Institute for Machine Tools and Forming Technology IWU in Chemnitz. As part of the research project “AUDIo” (audit solution for machine learning-based, data-driven services), an IT architecture was built up in order to be able to offer remote maintenance and other services in the production environment in a forgery-proof manner. Process, production or machine data is encrypted and stored on network nodes (data storage devices). The platform then establishes secure data exchange, while a stored file fingerprint protects against undetected manipulation.


Next stage of development: Augmented Reality

According to Kilian Nölscher, who is responsible for the project at IWU, two thirds of the AUDIo research project, which deals with the concrete use case of remote calibration of machine tools, has been completed. An AR (Augmented Reality) assistance system is currently being developed at Fraunhofer IWU in cooperation with the TU Dresden, which supports the worker on site and thus ensures a proper calibration process. At the end of the AUDIo project, a workshop will be developed aimed at reducing safety concerns among potential users. Technologies and framework conditions are presented and questions from the participants are answered.


Augmented reality is also considered the next development step at Teamviewer. “We already have customers who use our AR technology in the industrial environment,” confirms Patrick Giezen. In conjunction with the machine data from the IoT environment, maintenance processes could be made more reliable and efficient, resulting in direct added value. The use of smart glasses with AR functionality allows technicians to work with both hands while they are shown step-by-step instructions in the field of view.


Initial situation for further services

AR could enable mechanical engineering companies to offer the commissioning of a machine or plant completely “remotely”. This is not only supported by cost and efficiency reasons. It should also be in the interests of climate protection if the experts who might have traveled to Shanghai or Buenos Aires for commissioning could guide and support the partners via remote access, video/audio connection and the use of AR glasses on site.


For Kilian Nölscher from Fraunhofer IWU, the topic of remote maintenance is far from exhausted: “In the course of the increasing networking of production facilities and digitization of means of production with a simultaneous shortage of skilled workers, the topic of remote maintenance will develop and diffuse into virtual space,” he says. Using the example of the AUDIo platform, it could be proven that there is a very good starting point in order to be able to exchange data between several parties for services such as remote maintenance or condition monitoring in a secure and comprehensible manner. Nevertheless, the biggest challenge with further digitization remains that there is a gap between the physical production system and virtual space, which must be closed in any case. Professional competence and service quality will play a major role in this.


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