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Remote Access – The Future is Here

March 29, 2021

Imagine this scenario–a machine in your food processing facility stops working. Your tech checks on it, and reports that they’re not seeing the sensor flash. Obviously, there’s an issue somewhere, but where? The machine? The sensor?

What’s your next step? Pay for an OEM tech to fly in and visit on-site to work on the machine?

Not this time.

Instead, you call customer support at the OEM. They overnight you a little black box that you plug into the machine. Then, a tech at the OEM logs in and calls you to walk you through some simple instructions–place a piece of metal in front of the sensor. The tech tells you the machine isn’t registering the metal, which probably means the sensor is bad. Would you like them to ship you a new sensor so your maintenance team can replace it?

It might sound like something out of the future, but it’s very real and very possible right now.

EnSight Solutions installs programmable logic controllers (PLC) in many of its products. That means that when you encounter an issue, the engineering team can send you the black box that you can plug into the PLC. In addition, EnSight can add a VPN gateway to the product, which would all access to the PLC without needing a black box to be shipped to the processor. The control engineer at EnSight can then log into your machine via a secure VPN and analyze the data from the machine. From this information, EnSight can determine if they need to send an engineer to your facility, or if it’s an issue that can be fixed remotely or by your team.

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Cybersecurity

Obviously, this process means that you’re going to have to allow remote access from an outside source into your facility. Many companies will balk at that due to the security implications.

But you shouldn’t. While this a gate that allows access into your system, it really only allows access into the machine. It’s not going to be easy, if even possible, for someone to click into your secure network and access anything at all.

In fact, it’s likely more secure than the computers connected to your network. That’s because this is a gateway that only sends information one way and doesn’t have any chance of human error, e.g., someone clicking on an email they shouldn’t and allowing access to a harmful entity from outside the organization. Even if someone needs to plug directly into the PLC, which could be the case depending on the system, they can still only have easy access to the machine, not the processor’s internet network.

Plus, EnSight can install a switch or key entry, essentially a digital lock, on the VPN gateway, which allows it to only connect to the network when it’s turned on and unlocked, not any other time.

Benefits

One of the obvious benefits of this system is that the EnSight team can perform some debugging and troubleshooting tasks quickly, without even being on-site. Additionally, without this black box system, if a processor wanted the OEM to log into the machine to see the issue, they would have to have a license for the software, just like the OEM. Then, the OEM engineer would have to remotely access the on-site tech’s laptop that would be plugged into the machine. With the PLC/black box setup, only the OEM engineer needs a license, and they can log directly into the machine via the black box, which is then sent back to the OEM after the service is complete.

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Another benefit of the PLC system is predictive maintenance. While the system is still in its early stages, EnSight has the capability to set alarms on sensors. For example, they could program the PLC so that when a sensor recorded a certain pressure reading, it sent a message to key team members alerting them of the issue. They could also set an alarm based on operational hours for preventative maintenance. This would allow the processor to fix the issue before it reaches a critical state and results in significant damage to the machine.

For data collecting operations, EnSight can set up the machine to automatically send out reports regarding downtimes, average cycle times and daily batch counts, among other information, to help supervisors analyze production and make adjustments as needed.

This technology also provides the EnSight engineers the ability to update human-machine interfaces (HMI) and set up a PLC machine remotely. Again, meaning no on-site visit.

 

Interested in learning more about EnSight Solutions remote access support? Contact your sales specialist at 417.736.2195.

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