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Industrial Ethernet enables smarter, more reliable machines

Machine builder uses industrial Ethernet for remote monitoring and diagnostic services to improve machine reliability and uptime.


Industrial Ethernet

Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) concepts are inspiring new business models for manufacturing. In turn, manufacturers are asking equipment makers to find new ways to help them improve machine reliability and production uptime. For example, Ecoclean Inc., a maker of industrial and automotive cleaning machines, now provides remote monitoring and diagnostics services on dashboards by using Profinet networks.

Machine builder services business model

Ecoclean machines are a key part of the quality control process for manufacturers and reliability is critical. “Often a washer can be fed from many production lines, making that process crucial in overall plant production,” said Aaron Zarembski, controls engineer for Ecoclean.

Ecoclean’s technical support involves three tiers of service, beginning with remote diagnostics of the programmable logic controllers (PLCs), human-machine interfaces (HMIs), robots, drives, and other components that control the cleaning machines. Online troubleshooting, modifying parameters for process control, software upgrades, and adjustments to the PLC code can be handled remotely.

Statistical data from the machines also can be logged onto a server and then used to identify trends and make preventive decisions for maintenance prior to any equipment failure. A third service level enables the information that’s been compiled to be displayed for the customer in real time on a dashboard interface that shows the pertinent machine data graphically.

“Our primary goal was to maximize uptime and customer satisfaction, as well as to identify opportunities for continuous improvement for current and future equipment,” Zarembski said. He wrote the algorithms that evaluate machine performance and guide the company’s service technicians in their troubleshooting and technical assistance work with customers.

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First installation with services

Hugo Benzing LLC manufactures fasteners for the automobile, aerospace, fine mechanical, and electrical industries. The first installation of Ecoclean’s new remote support capability was at the Hugo Benzing manufacturing facility in New Hudson, Mich. The plant has a Profinet network, which allowed Ecoclean technicians to remotely connect to the network and clean machines using a self-contained and secure virtual private network (VPN) router.

“This was a perfect example of streamlined integration for remote diagnostics,” Zarembski said. “With the Profinet architecture and [the router manufacturer], we had a secure VPN connected to the network in minutes, and it required minimal interaction with the customer’s information technology (IT) department. It uses a non-IP protocol on top of the Profinet Ethernet layer, making the remote connection implementation easy and secure.”

Although it would have been possible to connect to the Internet in other ways to provide support, according to Zarembski, the use of the Profinet protocol was fundamental because of its functionality and processing of safety signals. The installed devices had embedded hardware configurations, dedicated diagnostic signals, and priority settings for safety. These types of options are crucial when making a safe, but also fast and reliable system. Systems built on this framework are easily upsized without impacting functionality due to the complex nature of industrial automation.

For older machines that only use the Profibus protocol, Ecoclean would have to add a proxy. The proxy translates Profibus into Profinet, allowing the remote service capability. This approach also will work with other legacy protocols that can interface with Profinet via proxy.

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Local versus cloud

Ecoclean and the customer ruled out using a cloud-based system for providing remote technical support.

“Using the cloud would have slowed down response time for our remote technicians,” Zarembski said. “It was also a question of security for customer data since a third-party service would have been required with that approach.”

Onsite installation for the remote service required establishing the connection and testing all nodes on the network. Ecoclean’s back office engineering and technical support specialists interact with customers as needed daily. Spare parts and service sales staff take leads from pertinent machine data and automatically sort it, streamlining the ordering and support process.

“Technology is advancing so rapidly that it’s hard for customers to keep up with it,” Zarembski said. “They find value in the option to have remote support from our machine and process specialists.

“These interactions with a customer’s technicians help expedite troubleshooting and keep uptime to the highest level,” he added. “We make it nice and visual for the customer, so they can see all the data on one page. Remote support also allows us to provide the added value of flexibility for any custom controls or HMI upgrades the customer might want.”

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IIoT approach: standard hardware

Zarembski said Ecoclean intends to embed this remote service capability into each new capital sale, making the hardware standard and the service contract an option for customers that require high uptime through preventive maintenance and statistical analysis.

“As devices compatible with the IIoT become more prevalent and with broader options, we intend to target key data points within all types of equipment to measure and log machine performance. The IIoT is here to stay,” he said, “and we are building the foundation to accelerate automation’s continuing evolution.”

View the original article and related content on Control Engineering