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Remote Troubleshooting: why should you standardize it on all your machines?

by Dominique Blanc - Business Development Manager | Feb 07, 2020

 

Or how can Remote Maintenance help you improve the quality of your support services? 

As a machine manufacturer, you know how essential reliability is. No matter your sector of predilection or the size of your machine, there is a high probability that it will be used in mission-critical applications where downtime is incredibly costly. Over the long term, unexpected intermissions in operations will not only generate substantial additional operational costs but may also damage the reputation of your brand.

However, downtime is inevitable (and this is why smart troubleshooting is so essential). On average, a machine shuts down or deviates from proper operations three times during the first six months of exploitation. Given a standard warranty period of 18 months, you, as the machine manufacturer, must bear all support-related costs. To mitigate the impact of those malfunctions, you need to quickly and smartly diagnose your equipment. Your goal is to put your machine back into service within a short time.

Truly said, this goal is within easy reach. In this article, I will run you through an illustrative case of how and why remote troubleshooting has a very high Return On Investment (ROI).

 

Remote Troubleshooting

 

First things first, let's draw up the typical scenario of a machine going down

Your intervention process might defer from what I will share with you today. However, what I am proposing is based on more than 20 years of experience in the automation world. So, what does happen when a machine stops?

 

The customer troubleshoots the machine:

During the first two hours, your customer will probably try to fix it himself. The operator, the technician (if there is any) and the operations manager will run some tests. That's what we call basic troubleshooting. Although experienced, they do not always know your equipment. There is, therefore, a high probability that they won't be able to fix the machine.

 

The customer calls the machine manufacturer's hotline for advanced support:

Frustrated, they will finally get in touch with your support team to see how they can solve their issues. After a primary screening via your hotline, the customer gets in touch with a Support Engineer. Your Engineer will probably go through a checklist of several elements he would like the customer to troubleshoot. However, at this point, the customer remains his eyes and ears.

After this first round, the customer calls back. This time, your Support Engineer will ask him to verify the I/O, to confirm the configuration and to back-up all files. So far, all these operations have already lasted five hours or more.

 

The customer requests an on-site intervention:

Unfortunately, the problem remains, and your customer now asks for on-site support. After having changed his plan for the weekend, booked his flight and his hotel, your Support Engineer will travel for an average of six hours to the customer's site.

Once arrived, the Engineer meets with the local maintenance team, speaks briefly with the operator, makes a few programming adjustments and waits for the machine to start up. After running for a couple of minutes, everything seems fine, but the Engineer hangs around for half a day to "watch the machine" for any other problems.

Finally, your Engineer comes back from his maintenance/troubleshooting mission. All in all, your Engineer has spent thirty hours on this specific mission.

 

It's a worst-case scenario. Or is it?

With Automation Engineer job-offers often requesting up to 60% of travel time, I don't think that the scenario I have just shared with you is a worst-case. You might even have noticed some striking similarities with your current support procedures in the foregoing paragraphs. However, if I came up with this scenario, it means that you are not alone and that many other machine manufacturers are in the same situation.

A situation that costs you not only precious time but also money. Let's take a closer look at the financial impact of this typical scenario of your machine going down:

 

Item

 

Amount spent in EUR

Travel to the local airport

25€

Airfare

500€

Rental Car 3 Days

200€

Hotel 2 Nights

200€

Living Expenses

150€

Parking and other expenses

50€

Total

1.125€

 

The out of pocket costs pale in comparison to the real costs. Your Engineer being out of the office not only translates into a loss of money but also to unnecessary waste of productive time – which would typically be worth (conservatively) 80 Euros per hour. Considering the assumptions made in our typical scenario, it might result in another 2.400 Euros loss in earnings for you.

Not to mention the losses at the customer-end. A machine breakdown might cause a drop in productivity resulting in thousands of euros of additional costs. The unavailability of a production line could temporarily affect the quality of the service. Should your customer have defined Service Level Agreements (SLAs), this might lead to the payment of penalties. And I have not yet touched on what implications a machine breakdown might have on your customer's reputation. Do you think after such an event that your customer will still trust your organization as a provider of sturdy and reliable automation equipment?

Despite all this, most of the automation equipment still don't have, to these days, a reliable and secure remote connectivity device built-in! Misdiagnosis and inaccurate root-cause analysis lead far too often to customer's frustration and unnecessary costly trips for your technicians.

 

So, what's the point of this little exercise?

For the machine manufacturer, the financial implications of an on-site intervention are considerable. Though in most of the cases (between 60 and 70%), such an intervention is not necessary. They involve things like electrical contacts, operator mistakes or easy tuning to adjust for variation in raw material - one OEM engineering manager reported NPF (No Problem Found) as the leading cause of failure. Such dysfunction causes can be addressed by remotely troubleshooting your equipment.

With the increasing pressure for accretive growth and cost-cutting, improving the First-Time-Fix rate (FTFR) became instrumental for many machine builders. However, identifying the potential root causes of a problem while "flying" blind is all but easy. With remote troubleshooting, your support team can view the local HMI as if they were on-site, avoiding, by this very fact, miss-communication. Through a secure and reliable connection with the machine, your Engineer can further investigate the case by getting online with the PLC and isolate the cause of stoppage or malfunction. Critical pieces of information are collected in real-time and help your support team to take corrective actions based on verifiable facts. In most cases, instructions to the operator or simple parameters tweaking will be enough to solve the problem. 

 

Ewon Troubleshooting solutions enable you to access your HMI remotely

 

And if an on-site intervention is inevitable, your Support Engineers will have most probably already identified the potential issues thanks to remote troubleshooting. Smart diagnoses help Service Managers plan: who's the best technician (mechanical, electrical, software) to intervene? Which tools or spare parts are needed? How long will this intervention take? An organization using remote troubleshooting will pull up its First-Time-Fix Rate (FTFR) from 50% to over 85%. Not to mention that on-demand remote access often results in a tremendous competitive advantage as it simultaneously increases customer satisfaction, reduces operational costs and frees up your technicians' time so that they can handle more value-generating tasks.

Besides, as a machine manufacturer, your company is likely active in a global market, helping large end customers produce goods all over the world. With remote maintenance, you can sell more in more difficult places but still provide quality support while avoiding unnecessary and costly site visits.

Commissioning and support activities for any new installation are extremely important to ensure an optimal ramp-up of production. Customer will experience most issues (tweak process, adjustment of product, train the operator) during the first hours/days/weeks of use of the machine. Throughout this adaption period, your customer calls on adequate support. Your reactivity will impact the time required to complete the project, hence the satisfaction of your client and ultimately the payment of the project as well as the order of new projects.

 

Wrapping-up the case for troubleshooting

In our case, the Return on Investment (ROI) of Remote Troubleshooting is within one single intervention. HMS customers usually report a net positive ROI within days/weeks.  For many Service managers and company owners, Remote Maintenance is a "no brainer". Given the current economic situation, remote troubleshooting on each of your equipment is essential to improve the quality of your support services, increase operational efficiency and be able to remain competitive.

Eager to learn more about troubleshooting? Check out our Remote Access Solutions. 

 

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