How can industry proceed with its daily business when travel and contact restrictions are preventing access – as was the case until recently – to countries, factories, and plants? Or if a local presence just doesn’t make sense for reasons of time and cost? In this blog I’ll explain why digital remote applications are a cost-effective way to safely and efficiently (co-)operate from a safe distance.
The restrictions that were imposed to contain the pandemic are affecting all economic sectors – and nobody knows how long they’ll remain in place, and to what extent. But I think one thing’s certain: Few companies can cope with a longer, all-encompassing lockdown. Production processes need to run or have to be restarted, and plants must be maintained at regular intervals or brought back into operation and optimized. Some of them even have to be converted or rapidly expanded so they can manufacture alternative products, without technicians having physical access. In parallel to these activities, employees should be taking in-depth training that will help them safely and securely manage and maintain plant processes and workflows from the very first day.
How can we manage all these scenarios? What are required are customized home office solutions for managing industrial production.
Secure remote access for service and commissioning personnel
The service personnel at machine, plant, and equipment manufacturers are having an especially hard time: Malfunctions and even total breakdowns are jeopardizing their plants’ availability and productivity. And because the travel restrictions also apply to programmers, commissioning new plants and modifications to existing ones are being adversely impacted. I believe that coping with these restrictions and mitigating their impact can be eased by the combination of our Sinema Remote Connect management platform and Scalance industrial routers. Secure remote access to machines and plants can be established and managed via a VPN tunnel from virtually anywhere in the world. Sinema Remote Connect allows the simple, flexible set-up of remote access connections – for example for OEMs and machine manufacturers wanting their own service technicians to establish the remote access.
From engineering to maintenance – Virtual collaboration on a secure platform
Using Siemens’ own common Remote Service Platform (cRSP), remote access can be set up to satisfy the most complex requirements without the user having to worry about hosting, setup, keeping the access up and running, and other tasks. The major benefit: Challenging engineering, commissioning, and maintenance tasks can be performed securely and conveniently on automation systems via remote access.
In three computing centers around the world, this high-availability platform uses existing Internet communication routes to establish a secure connection via VPN. This allows you to access our global Siemens expert network from any plant or machine connected to the cRSP. And with an optional Customer Web Portal, specialists from plant manufacturers and/or operators can also benefit from external access to the services. In this case as well, both sides need to actively set up a connection, with the plant operator always remaining in control.
I think this is an ideal prerequisite for numerous applications: for example, Remote Desktop Sharing in compliance with the industrial security standards defined in IEC 62443 and security regulations. For example accessing parameterization software for field devices or in the field of process control system engineering accessing the software on connected systems/field devices.
Exchanging expert knowledge
With the increasing complexity of modern machines and plants, it’s obvious that all employees involved need more and more comprehensive specialist expertise. If there are malfunctions or breakdowns during plant commissioning or operation, locating the cause quickly and responding accurately is crucial to keeping the downtime as brief as possible. Specialists from both plant operator and product or plant manufacturer can contribute their expertise to finding solutions quickly. One way to exchange expert knowledge is our Sipix SD (Siemens Process Industry Expert Service Devices) for remote-assisted collaboration. Using video technology, this allows experts to instruct and guide the on-site service technician. Video images and sound are transmitted to a service device (industrial tablet) via a secure, autonomous communication channel provided by the cRSP. Sipix SD can also be used to conveniently provide remote “on the job training.”
Virtual (co-)operation via the World Wide Web
Our Simatic PCS 7 process control system has paved the way to ensuring the secure, centralized remote control and monitoring of plants distributed worldwide. A PCS 7 Web server enables secure access to local HMI functions and data from ongoing production via remote terminals through a VPN tunnel, for example via Sinema Remote Connect or cRSP. This approach is also perfect for remotely managing and optimizing unmanned plants.
Global collaborations between project teams working on the same engineering project via the Web is an integral function of the architecture of the completely web-based Simatic PCS neo process control system. Furthermore, plant operators and maintenance teams have device-independent access to all the information necessary to work on plants all over the world. Installed on a tablet or laptop, they can carry their control system along with them to the plant, so to speak.
Virtual commissioning and operator training from the home office
With the Simit simulation platform, we support our customers with scalable solutions for simulating and virtually commissioning automation systems. This is where I see great potential for plant manufacturers, because they can avoid project delays caused by contact restrictions. The digital twin of a real automation system allows them to simulate, test, and optimize a plant’s behavior on a PC. It also lets them virtually commission even more complex software. Projects can therefore mature in the home office, which minimizes delays during real-life commissioning. The digital twin can also be used for location-independent, low-contact training outside the plant. This ensures that well-trained operators can securely manage the plant and produce high-quality products.
Comos, the software solution for holistic plant project management, also plays a major role. Comos Walkinside enables the 3D virtual reality visualization of plants still under construction. It’s ideal for providing future maintenance and operations teams with realistic training on the virtual model – safely and efficiently.
Ensuring the highest availability and productivity
All these remote applications provide a variety of support options for both manufacturers and operators so they can maintain high levels of machine and plant availability and productivity. This will be of critical importance for industrial production under the “new normal” conditions.