By saving time, effort and money, remote diagnostics had already begun to transform industry long before COVID-19. Social distancing and restrictions on travel have simply reinforced their importance and value. This article looks at what this means for the die-casting industry in particular and shares a vision of a digital future.
Digital has touched virtually every aspect of modern life. Manufacturing is no exception, with Industry 4.0 and the Internet of Things (IoT) driving many significant improvements into products and process-es. In their quest for less waste and higher-quality parts, die-casting manufacturers are increasingly embracing digital technologies.
As the market leader in vacuum impregnation, Ultraseal International has been closely involved. This was a trend that was always going to happen, but COVID-19 has undoubtedly brought the benefits to light and accelerated adoption. Remote diagnostics has been at the forefront of this wave and will inevitably grow in intensity over the coming years, and for good reason.
Quite simply, COVID has limited international travel, meaning that key personnel – including qualified engineers – have been unable to be on-site for either installation or maintenance. Remote technologies have not only helped counter this problem, they’ve actually delivered a wide range of benefits, including greater control, reduced cost and downtime and improved productivity. They’re also contributing to the sustainability agenda in surprising ways.
Alternative Approaches to Installation and Maintenance
Vacuum impregnation equipment is sophisticated and complex, requiring professional installation and commissioning. To ensure optimum results, this is ordinarily overseen on-site by Ultraseal’s engineers. In COVID times, however, this has been largely impossible, so alternative approaches have been necessary, including reliance on local partners and contractors.
While these professionals are all familiar with the equipment, they often don’t have the depth of specialist experience an Ultraseal engineer would have. Virtual meetings, remote PLC access and remote diagnostic technology, however, meant that Ultraseal’s engineers were able to support local teams by monitoring the installation at every step.
As a result, projects could go ahead as planned, bringing the promised benefits to customers in the agreed timeframe. Ultraseal’s engineers could also work from their home base in the United Kingdom, bringing important environmental benefits since there were zero air miles incurred and a zero-carbon footprint.
Immediate Access to Engineering Support
The same benefits apply to repair and maintenance, but perhaps even more so. In a typical scenario, manual inspections would require the physical presence of qualified engineers with the attendant flights, dead time and costs. All the while, the equipment would be out of service, creating backlogs and production inefficiencies. With remote diagnostics, access to expert engineering support is immediate. Ultraseal’s engineers identify the problem and help local engineering teams resolve it, minimizing downtime and saving significant time and costs in the process.
The benefits are huge in terms of efficiency, cost and sustainability – all helping manufacturers meet their productivity and CSR commitments. So, how does remote diagnostics actually work?
The Technology and Security
Clearly, remote diagnostics involves a digital link between the customers’ equipment and Ultraseal. This is achieved with a high-performance industrial modem such as the EWON NetBiter, which is incorporated within the equipment. The customer plugs into the Ethernet, which gives Ultraseal’s engineers the ability to monitor and interrogate individual components in real-time and enable device health feedback via an IO link.
The digital link is used purely for Ultraseal engineers to access if an issue arises, and it gives the engineer the ability to interrogate the PLC and fault history without being on-site. The link to the equipment can be via a separate Internet connection, which is standalone and discreet from the other enterprise system, or via a 4g/5g mobile network SIM card. Both methods only allow accessibility when permitted by the customer. In other words, it delivers powerful benefits without compromising system security or integrity.
Augmented and Virtual Reality Deliver Next-Generation Diagnostics
Remote support and diagnostics are closely associated with augmented and virtual reality (AR and VR), two powerful technologies that can be used to either replace or enhance real-life. Both technologies have huge potential for industry, and Ultraseal is pioneering their use in the vacuum impregnation sector, including for the machine acceptance of new equipment by a Japanese customer before dis-patch to Japan.
At the heart of this is Microsoft’s HoloLens 2. Worn by a user on-site, these relay visual images back to teams. In effect, the teams undertake the work by proxy, issuing advice and instructions based on what they see. This solution enables the customer’s engineers to undertake remote acceptance testing on the equipment. The same technology can be used for installation, inspection, maintenance and re-pair, opening up the way to undertake more-sophisticated procedures and drive further cost and productivity improvements.
The Tip of the Digital Iceberg
These examples of remote support and diagnostics represent just the tip of the iceberg, and there is the potential to align diagnostics with other tools and innovations to bring added value to porosity seal-ing applications.
As an example, Ultraseal has developed a plug-and-play system for its equipment, which has simplified factory strip-down and installation within the customer’s site. Instead of needing to hardwire every single component to the control panel, Ultraseal can make use of Profinet/Ethernet IP to interconnect these components, allowing only one connection into each process module. This means there would be four cables to connect rather than 50 or more on a typical installation.
Use of this technology enabled a remote team in Spain to undertake an installation in just 30 hours compared with an expected time of over 200 hours, with similar savings made during factory strip-down prior to dispatch.
On another recent installation in Germany, Ultraseal was able to allow the customer to view machine parameters, displayed on the HMI both locally on a large plasma screen visible across the factory and also remotely via a mobile device using a networked SCADA system. This gave the customer 24-hour real-time equipment information visible from anywhere in the world.
Ultraseal has also incorporated technology within robotic front-loading equipment using single part flow to record part traceability and process parameters. On one particular project, the robot would present the part’s QR code to a scanner before and then after impregnation, allowing the detailed process data (such as tank temperatures and process vacuum levels) to be recorded for full process-control visibility and data logging.
The scope to use remote support, diagnostics and other digital technologies is huge, effectively allowing manufacturers to bring specialist expertise in-house and giving them all the reassurance without unnecessary downtime, delays and cost. This represents a potential step-change for the die-casting industry. By helping manufacturers improve productivity, cost-effectiveness and environmental performance, Ultraseal is at the forefront of this drive.
For more information about Ultraseal and its remote diagnostics capability, please visit Ultraseal International’s website at www.ultraseal-impregnation.com.
All images supplied by the author, except where noted.