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How to implement remote services for machine manufacturers

Remote access to production machines is increasingly becoming the focus of attention as digitisation progresses. Almost all manufacturers now offer service packages that enable remote access to their machines. While production companies benefit from significantly shorter response times in the event of malfunctions and lower costs for maintenance visits, new business models arise for machine manufacturers, which ideally lead to optimised, long-term customer retention. But in reality, not all that glitters is gold, even when it comes to remote services. Excessive implementation costs, disinterested end users or security concerns are just some of the pitfalls lurking for machine manufacturers.

In this article, you will learn how to implement remote services securely, quickly and without financial risks and what challenges need to be overcome in remote access.

Pitfall 1: Data Security

Remote maintenance solutions enable production companies to obtain support from external specialists quickly and cost-effectively when problems emerge. Fault localisation, troubleshooting or parameterisation after production changeovers: remote maintenance can significantly increase production efficiency, reduce downtime and even noticeably reduce maintenance costs. However, every remote access to an industrial plant is also always associated with a risk. This is because every machine that is integrated into a company's IT network represents an access point that can be exploited by hackers for cyber-attacks. Whether malware infection via the Internet or malware infiltration via removable media: the Federal Office for Information Security (BSI) has been identifying cyber-attacks on remote maintenance access points at a consistently high level for years.

Possible solution:

Every remote access to the machinery must be fully integrated into the company's internal security concept. Particularly in the case of special-purpose machines, remote access represents an extraordinarily complex process which requires a sound security design. With an initial risk analysis that integrates both design and programming requirements, particularly vulnerable components can be identified, protection targets set and weak points reduced. Valuable tips on how to implement data security on industrial machinery have been clearly summarised by the knowledge platform here [].

Pitfall 2: Value Added Generation

Remote services already represent an important stabiliser for the mechanical engineering sector. With digitisation, the service gains even more relevance to turnover – through new, digital offers and processes that can regularly generate more than 50% of the profit in service-oriented companies. Remote services also offer an excellent opportunity to recoup turnover from sales that have been lost to service companies or even to the company's own customers. Manufacturers and customers are moving closer together through digital services – provided that concrete added value is created for both sides, determinable in €. But how can remote solutions be implemented with added value for both machine manufacturers and users?

Solution approaches for manufacturers:

For machine manufacturers, the added value is particularly evident in the form of regained customers, who were among the "main competitors" in classic service. These customers include small or cost-sensitive companies that have previously deliberately ignored maintenance visits, customers who conducted maintenance tasks themselves, and independent service companies that were generally able to offer their services faster and more cost-effectively than machine manufacturers. Another added value is hidden in the enormous amounts of data generated by sensors and evaluated by manufacturers. With the continuous evaluation of machine data, new solution approaches arise through improved service offerings, for example in the area of predictive maintenance.

Solution approaches for users:

Remote maintenance significantly reduces the costs of maintenance visits – and in many cases reduces downtime. While a free technician must first travel to take care of the problem on site in the case of classic maintenance visits, VPN access from the technician's computer to the machine is sufficient in the case of remote services.

Pitfall 3: Cost Control and Cost Transparency

Remote services can be profitable for manufacturers and end customers – or become a real cost trap. The potential of digital services is huge, but can only be fully exploited with a prudent strategy.

Solution approaches for both sides:

Many manufacturing companies are currently reducing their capital expenditure at the detriment of operating expenditure. Users tend to no longer write off the machines used over a fixed period of years, but to allocate the machine costs directly to a product. Paying for use instead of buying a machine, as was once customary, is in vogue. This makes subscription models such as "Pay per Unit" or "Pay per Month" extremely attractive – for manufacturers and users alike. Flexible application and full-cost control are included in the service: this is made possible by digital remote services. Whether all-round carefree packages via service agreements, availability guarantees, monthly user fees that include regular maintenance, wear parts and software updates, or output-based contracts: When deciding on digital remote solutions, there is no absolute "yes" or "no". Instead, different intermediate solutions can be used to bring manufacturers and users together.

Which technologies and trends are essential for the success of remote access?

Remote access can only be used successfully in a highly complex environment such as mechanical engineering if digital technologies are used with maximum efficiency and trends are identified at an early stage. What is essential for the success of remote services are:

1)    Provision of Digital Machine Data

For data-based services to be offered at all, the basic data must be made available in the first place. While new machines are often equipped with suitable sensor technology and network capability, older machines lack suitable equipment. However, retrofitting has become comparably cheap in the meantime The more machines collect data, the more precise conclusions manufacturers can draw from analyses – and thus create innovative, new business models.

2)    Deployment of Service Platforms

Remote solutions can show their potential especially in after-sales service. Predictive maintenance systems, for example, make service requirements visible long before a machine breakdown and maintenance operations easier to plan. The scope of work to be conducted can be calculated automatically and the necessary spare parts procured.

3)    Classification in Higher-level Strategies

Digitisation – and thus directly also remote services – must always be regarded as part of a solution. Only if the complete service is aligned with the customer's needs can the individual components of the service concept be meaningfully used to offer the customer improved service concerning their machine.

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