Speaking to the plug-and-play aspects, Lorenzo Razo, engineering manager for Hybernya Industrial in Irapuato, Mexico, noted that the commonality of cables and connectors makes repairs or replacements easy. "EtherNet/IP is so easy for us, we are now bidding all machines with EtherNet/IP only," he said.
Data Feeding Analytics
"We see big data coming," Wicks noted. "Being able to take that data, being able to parse it out and serve it up to customers…is going to be very, very critical. EtherNet/IP is the platform. Connectivity to these solutions becomes so much simpler."
Having data is one thing. Making good use of that data is something more. "It's just data until you turn it into useful information," Sweet said. "Business intelligence is really lagging behind the curve. The data is not being effectively used."
Sweet spoke of the need to take data, make sure it's being collected in the right format and put it through analytical systems. "That will be the real payoff," he said. "When the user base is able to use the multivariate analytics, then you'll see the real value."
Remote Access Addressing Skills Gap
Chet Namboodri, global industry director for Cisco, gave a presentation earlier in the forum and also joined in the panel discussion. He said that besides the analytics, machine builders needed to provide more expertise for their customers as well. "In addition to the megatrend about information access, there's also a megatrend of limited expertise," he said. "There are fewer and fewer experts in community, and they need the equipment provider to provide the expertise."
Providing remote access has become a requirement, Namboodri added. "In addition to the data set and analytics, there's a need for more context in real time," he said. "More and more users are making use of other services, like video and voice. They can help troubleshoot with a remote expert back at the equipment provider working with a technician."
Spoolex uses a VPN connection to provide remote diagnostics for its customers, LeGris said. Focke does as well. "Some companies don't allow remote access, but other companies do," Fecht said, who pointed to advantages such as reduced flight costs for engineers to travel to the customer site and reduced downtime for the customer. "We'd like to do more."
Security is often a concern at customer sites, and sometimes it can be difficult to convince IT departments that connections will be secure. "We've got our own dedicated servers that we use to connect to our customers. They work through all of their specific details to work out the requirements," Wicks said. "We provide a level of security that customers are demanding."
With budget-constrained environments that the entire industry faces, remote access is a must-have, Sweet said. But there are also personnel safety issues to consider if a machine builder has capabilities in place to operate a tool remotely. "We need some pretty rigid policies in place," he said.
And a VPN tunnel doesn't guarantee that mistakes won't be made, Sweet added. "Even in spite of our best efforts, we've had issues with machine builders accidentally remotely accessing the wrong tool. They've made software changes to the wrong tool," he recalled. Despite the challenges, however, placing more measures to keep those mistakes from happening would only hamper support efforts. "You have to weigh the risk that they'll do something wrong. You have to make a workable, easy way that doesn't restrain the support effort."