Service from afar

Posted on 21 Apr 2009 by The Manufacturer

Dominique Blanc, product manager for ABB Robotics, writes in to tell TM how the firm’s Remote Service is changing the robotics industry…

ABB robots are found in industrial applications everywhere – lifting, packing, grinding and welding, to name a few. They work around the clock and can be critical to a company’s productivity. Thus, keeping these robots in top shape is essential – any failure can lead to serious output consequences. But what happens when a robot malfunctions?

The approach we have taken with the Remote Service enables a malfunctioning robot to alarm for help itself. One of our service engineers receives the diagnostic information via wireless technology, analyses the data on a web site and then responds with support in minutes. This is a unique service and we like to think it is revolutionising service thinking.

Every minute of production downtime can have financially disastrous consequences for a company. Traditional reactive service is no longer sufficient since on-site service engineer visits also demand great amounts of time and money. Thus, companies not only require faster help from the service organisation when needed but they also want to avoid disturbances in production.

In 2006, we developed a new approach to better meet customer’s expectations. Using the latest technologies to reach the robots at customer sites around the world, we could support them remotely in just minutes, thereby reducing the need for site visits. Thus the new Remote Service concept was quickly brought to fruition and was launched in mid-2007.

ABB Tetley Robot

Reactive maintenance

The hardware that makes ABB Remote Service possible consists of a communication unit, which has a function similar to that of an airplane’s so-called black box. This ‘service box’ is connected to the robot’s control system and can read and transmit diagnostic information. The unit also makes it possible to monitor and analyse the robot’s condition, thereby proactively detecting the need for maintenance. If the robot breaks down, the service box immediately stores the status of the robot, its historical data (as log files), and diagnostic parameters such as temperature and power supply.

Equipped with a built-in modem and using the GSM network, the box transmits the data to a central server for analysis and presentation on a dedicated web site. Alerts are automatically sent to the nearest of our 1,200 robot service engineers who then accesses the detailed data and error log to analyse the problem. A remotely based ABB engineer can then quickly identify the exact fault, offering rapid customer support. For problems that cannot be solved remotely, the service engineer can arrange for delivery of spare parts and visit the site to repair the robot. Even if the engineer must make a site visit, service is faster, more efficient and performed to a higher standard than otherwise possible.

The system is based on a machine-to-machine (M2M) concept, which works automatically, requiring human input only for analysis and personalised customer recommendations.

Proactive maintenance

The service box also regularly takes condition measurements. By monitoring key parameters over time, Remote Service can identify potential failures and when necessary notify both the end customer and the appropriate ABB engineer. The management and storage of full system backups is a very powerful service to help recover from critical situations caused, for example, by operator errors.

MyRobot: 24-hour remote access

Having regular access to a robot’s condition data is also essential to achieving lean production. At any time, from any location, customers can verify their robots’ status and access maintenance information and performance reports by logging in to ABB’s MyRobot web site. The service enables customers to compare performances, identify bottlenecks or developing issues, and initiate the most appropriate and timely improvement activities. And in this way MyRobot contributes to waste reduction and improved production outputs.

Here’s a case study of Tetley to show our Remote Service in action…

Case study: Tetley

Tetley GB Ltd is the world’s second-largest manufacturer and distributor of tea. The company’s manufacturing and distribution business is spread across 40 countries and sells over 60 branded tea bags. Tetley’s UK tea production facility in Eaglescliffe, County Durham is the sole producer of Tetley tea bags.

Robots in the plant’s production line were tripping alarms and delaying the whole production cycle. The spurious alarms resulted in much unnecessary downtime that was spent resetting the robots in the hope that another breakdown could be avoided. Each time an alarm was tripped, several hours of production time was lost. “It was for this reason that we were keen to try out ABB’s Remote Service agreement,” said Colin Trevor, plant maintenance manager.

To prevent future disruptions caused by unplanned downtime, Tetley signed an ABB Response Package service agreement, which included installing a service box and system infrastructure into the robot control systems. Using the Remote Service solution, ABB remotely monitors and collects data on the “wear and tear” and productivity of the robotic cells; this data is then shared with the customer and contributes to smooth-running production cycles.

Higher production uptime

Since the implementation of Remote Service, Tetley has enjoyed greatly reduced robot downtime, with no further disruptions caused by unforeseen problems. “The Remote Service package has dramatically changed the plant,” said Trevor. “We no longer have breakdown issues throughout the shift, helping us to achieve much longer periods of robot uptime. As we have learned, world-class manufacturing facilities need world-class support packages. Remote monitoring of our robots helps us to maintain machine uptime, prevent costly downtime and ensures my employees can be put to more valuable use.”

Dominique Blanc, ABB Robotics