Options For Remote Packaging Machine Servicing


Because of COVID-19 travel restrictions and social-distancing requirements, many packaging machine builders are supporting their customers remotely now using a variety of technologies. Here are six options.


Most of America may be on lockdown because of the COVID-19 pandemic but essential manufacturing lines are still running. They need support from their packaging machine builders.


Field service is always expensive. Travel is one big cost. More costly yet is response time. Under the best of circumstances, it can take 24 hours or more to get a tech on site. What product manufacturer, even in normal times, can afford 24 hours of a machine being down?


Many packaging machine builders are supporting their customers remotely now using a variety of technologies. Here are the options:


1. PLCs connected to the internet.


Programmable Logic Controllers (PLS) became popular in the 1980s and 1990s. They replace electro-mechanical controls, as seen at left in the photo below, with a small electronic box. Instead of tools, meters, and patience, troubleshooting is done using a laptop. It quickly became obvious that the laptop didn’t need to be at the machine but could be thousands of miles away. Initially with dial-up modems connecting to the internet, most modern machines allow remote troubleshooting.



2. Smart sensors.


High-speed networks, secure, always on VPN connections, and the cloud have enhanced this further. Some builders like ABB Robotics’ Ability Connected Services provide 24/7 monitoring of machine conditions and can notify of problems before they occur. Smart sensors, such as the GraceSense (see photo below), can continuously monitor temperature and vibration, and wirelessly send an alert locally or around the before, rather than after, failure.



3. Standalone internet of things (IoT) devices.

When the plant manager is working from home, they can’t tell what is happening on the packaging line. Is it running or down and why? Production output, rejects, and efficiencies are some of the data that can be accessed remotely via laptop, tablet, or smartphone. Systems range from the complex to simpler systems like this XL from Vorne. It will even send text or email notification when the line is down, running slow, or other trigger-events occur.


4. Smartphone apps.


Telepresence lets you be there without actually being there. We all have a camera in our pockets. With our smartphones, we can share what our camera is seeing, in real time, anywhere in the world. When a machine acts up, our phone shows the builder’s technician, even thousands of miles away, what’s happening. Language barriers and machine nomenclature no longer matter. They see what we see.


But wait, there’s more.


Help Lightning calls its app “Merged Reality.” The local tech focuses his or her phone or tablet on the area of interest. The remote tech not only sees this but can interact on the local phone screen. In this picture, we see the plant tech aiming the phone, and, on the local phone screen, the remote tech pointing something out.