Your two-year-old fiber laser just went down. You call the distributor’s support line for help but are told the technician can’t get there until Friday. Unfortunately, the job you were working on is due Thursday and your customer has a history of being unsympathetic to your production problems. You might move the work to your old CO2 machine, but that would require reprogramming the nest and potentially taking a big hit to your profit margin. Now what?
If the machine tool came from Bystronic, Cincinnati, LVD Strippit or Trumpf, you’re probably in luck. Each of these machine builders, as well as several others, offer remote support tools that will at least allow them to diagnose the problem, if not fix it outright. That means lower repair costs, less disruption and, most importantly, reduced downtime
Matt Garbarino, director of marketing communications at Cincinnati Inc., says you’ll need to help. You’ll also need a smartphone or other camera-equipped mobile device. But assuming you have those things and can use a voltmeter, chances are excellent that a technician in Ohio or anywhere else in the world can walk you through diagnosing most problems without ever stepping through your door.
“Help Lightning is an augmented reality tool that allows a customer to establish a connection to a remote support office on their tablet or smartphone,” he says. “They launch an application on their end and we can then superimpose images on their screen that walk them through whatever steps are needed to get the machine going again. The technician might place a set of arrows on the screen, for example, indicating where the customer should place their voltmeter leads, or we could overlay a drawing of the machine showing a filter location, or we might send them a software update and help them install it.”
Phone a friend
LVD Strippit also offers remote support capabilities with its Teleservice system. Mathieu Vanbraekel, service director for LVD Strippit, says the feature is standard on all new machines but has been available for the past 10 years.
“Teleservice works with all lasers, press brakes, punch presses and automation, no matter the level of technology,” he says. “It’s also provided for our Cadman software, where it’s used to install control software upgrades or Cadman software upgrades and patches remotely.”
Cedric Herreman, product manager, automation and press brake controls for LVD Strippit, agrees, adding that Teleservice is offered on a complimentary basis on LVD machines.
“Teleservice helps us respond quickly to service requests and identify, diagnose and resolve service problems remotely in the shortest amount of time and without the need for an on-site visit,” he says. “For instance, one of our customers recently deleted some machine files by accident. Using Teleservice, we were able to reload the files and restore machine operation in just under 20 min. There was no need for an on-site service call or, potentially, days of downtime.
“In a more extreme instance,” he continues, “a customer called us in a panic because his only operator called in sick and he had some hot jobs to get out. We remote connected to his machine and, via phone and remote access, we were able to guide him through the entire process of getting the machine ready, loading the program and running the parts so he could get them out on time.”
Teleservice can also address more significant issues, notes Vanbraekel, including:
- Machine software that is no longer loading correctly because of data corruption. By remotely connecting, LVD can restore the control memory and get the machine back up and running in minimal time.
- A laser cutting machine is down because of a faulty fiber laser source module. LVD can remote connect and disable the module so the machine can continue to run at a lower power until a service engineer can come on-site to replace the module.
- An automation unit is no longer operating because of a damaged sensor or missing signal. Using Teleservice, LVD can identify the missing signal, and as long as the sensor is not safety related, can temporarily disable it to get the machine up and running until a new part arrives.
Neither provider suggests that their remote support capabilities signify an end to boots on the ground, yet the value of these and other services is clear. Not only is there the likelihood that simple problems can be resolved quickly, but if it’s determined that a technician is needed on-site, they will be better prepared with the right spare parts or knowledge to address the issue. And for less-knowledgeable technicians, the ability to connect to the mother ship for assistance is invaluable to everyone involved.
Machine builders are also paying more attention to the causes of machine downtime. LVD Strippit’s ToolCell automated tool changing press brake, for example, has so-called “digital maintenance,” where a diagnostic snapshot is recorded automatically and reported when a machine error occurs. This information is sent to the company’s servers via the machine’s controller, “but only after the customer has agreed to enable the system,” Herreman says.
”This helps us to fix any bugs in the system, correct them quickly and prevent problems for other ToolCell users,” he explains. “In another example, we might monitor the quality of the chiller water on a fiber laser, something that’s very important to proper machine operation. If the customer allows the machine to be connected, we can inform them when a water change will be due, giving them more time to schedule maintenance and keep production on schedule.”
It should be noted that LVD Strippit also offers Touch-i4, a system that integrates with the company’s Cadman database and, according to the company website, provides “an industrial strength Windows-based tablet that provides an overview of the entire fabrication workshop. It collects real-time information from your LVD machine(s) and centralized Cadman database to offer insight and flexibility to your daily operations.” This information includes job and part status, estimated production times, future workloads and other key performance indicators necessary for tracking shop floor activities.
Here again, Cincinnati provides similar monitoring capabilities with its CIberDash system.
“As we adopt Industry 4.0 practices, people are looking to have greater access to information on their equipment and what it’s doing; CIberDash is a step in that direction,” Garbarino says. “It’s a web-based dashboard that’s also mobile friendly, so it’s easy to access through your phone. It provides a variety of views to see what’s happening with your Cincinnati machines and allows the user to drill down further into each one. At Fabtech, for example, we had CIberDash pulled up on several monitors, showing dashboards of machines in the booth as well as ones back at our showroom in Cincinnati.”
These user-configurable dashboards present a thumbnail of each machine, color-coded to indicate whether it’s making parts, sitting idle or in alarm mode. By clicking on the icon, the user can view information on everything from how many pieces were cycled through the machine within a given period to the last time someone changed an air filter or filled the way lube, and who did it.
“It gives a manager, owner or maintenance technician access to real-time and historical data on machine performance,” he says. “It’s all about providing people with better information so that they can determine what actions, if any, are needed. That’s the essence of Industry 4.0 and the Industrial Internet of Things.”
Bystronic Inc. is another member of the Industry 4.0 fan club. According to a recent press release, the company’s IT team worked with a number of sheet metal shops recently to answer one fundamental question: How do users retrieve information from their machines in order to analyze and improve their production processes? For Bystronic customers, at least, the answer is ByCockpit, a widget-based, mobile dashboard that is said to deliver real-time performance and maintenance information.
In order to monitor any given machine, it must first be equipped with Bystronic’s Connectivity Kit. Once installed, however, ByCockpit provides a customizable view of operational status, OEE (overall equipment effectiveness) statistics, historical comparisons, maintenance schedule visibility and more. In the event of a machine fault, assistance from the global support team is “only a click away.” Further, Bystronic’s OPC-UA interface supports communication with other systems and software, opening doors to shop-wide integration opportunities.
While physical equipment can drive top-line growth, software and production data management tools are critical to bottom line management, notes Brendon DiVincenzo, product manager for lasers and automation at Bystronic.
“We’ve seen what modern fiber lasers and press brakes with automation can do for a fabrication shop’s revenue compared to legacy technology,” he says. “One resulting effect is that the good days can be really great, and any bad days can be really awful because the gap between expected and actual production can grow much more quickly unless properly managed. Ultimately, we want our customers to be as successful as possible, and ByCockpit enables a much greater level of visibility and control over their sheet metal processing value streams.”
Facing the future
Modern maintenance and service positively impacts fabricators and machine builders alike. Markus Zimmermann, director of the Trumpf Smart Factory, offers a big-picture view of Industry 4.0 and digital maintenance.
“When faced with any type of disruption, it’s comforting to know that the further digitalization of manufacturing makes it easier to react,” he says. “The Trumpf service department, in fact, has been changing tremendously in the past few years to accommodate growing customer needs. In the past, it wasn’t easy covering the entire United States, but new technologies are giving us new possibilities. Our Smart Glasses, for instance, allow a service tech to see exactly what the customer sees. It’s as if he’s standing in front of the equipment, too.”
Zimmerman went on to point out that these new technologies reach beyond service, offering predictive maintenance, parts transportation management and more.
“There’s a lot of intelligence built into the system,” he says. “With access to machine data and analytics, fabricators can predict future needs and react faster to issues that you experienced and learned from in the past. So, in terms of potential disruptions that could incur, not only can the company react faster thanks to access to big data, a good service concept from their equipment supplier or parts distributor can also help.”