Your challenges in the field of remote control
Increasing digitalization is giving rise to many challenges that need to be mastered in order to ultimately achieve the desired added value from the change. One important trend is progressive automation and the networking of plants in order to increase plant efficiency through an improved cycle time, for example. A high level of plant networking means that the failure of a single machine can result in the downtime of an entire production line.
Methods such as condition monitoring should help to identify damage earlier on, thus preventing unscheduled downtime. So to ensure that you always have an overview of what’s going on, access to production and machine data is indispensable, and should therefore also be possible from outside the plant.
In addition, without remote access, it is only possible to intervene in the production process by means of the master computer, which makes flexible planning more difficult. Consequently, it might not be possible to always fully utilize existing resources.
The benefits of using remote control
In today’s digital era, mobile working and remote maintenance have become increasingly important. To enable the monitoring and controlling of production processes outside the production department, however, a direct connection to the machine in question is indispensable. In some of today’s production plants, it is already possible to monitor and operate the controls via on-site human-machine interfaces (HMIs).
If it’s possible to intervene in the production process in this way, we speak of a production control system. In the case of a production control system, the data is generally saved in a database and can be viewed within the corporate network.
VPN access, for example, can now be used to make the control system available to certain people outside the network, too, thus allowing them to intervene in the production process. This is what we call remote control.
The implementation of a secure remote control system enables the decentralized monitoring and control of your plant from outside. The flexibility and decentralization gained here means that implementing a remote control system can significantly improve efficiency. In addition to production uses, remote control can be used in varied ways but in accordance with the same principle for other use cases, e.g. to control power grids or for smart home functions.
How remote control works
The connection of the plant to the Internet can be realized via various different methods. The figure below illustrates a possible function flow in a completed system. A VPN gateway or VPN server is installed in the existing internal network of the factory, enabling the creation of a separate, secure tunnel. The counterpart of this VPN interface in the factory network is a VPN client with activated access data on an external computer, allowing a VPN tunnel to be established through the Internet between the two points.
Once this connection has been fully established, the external computer is virtually located in the factory network. As a result, the external computer can access the MES or other internal systems. However, this also means that if the internal network of the factory does not allow the connection to Internet services such as Google Search, the external computer cannot use such services while the VPN connection is active. In exchange, the external computer has a secure connection to the MES. If necessary, emerging sensor and production data can be saved in a database in order to enable display access to historical data, too.
For advanced control tasks such as in distributed factory plants (and perhaps also later on for the analysis of sensors), the use of an IoT platform makes sense.
If no MES or similar system that can be remotely controlled is available or if a VPN-based strategy should not be pursued, another approach must be found. Many manufacturers and cloud providers have developed their own solutions for this. In general, these work in a very similar way: One or more Internet-capable devices are connected to an IoT platform directly or via an edge component, e.g. via MQTT, HTTP, or gateways for OPC-UA. The IoT platforms can receive data from connected devices but also transmit data to these devices, thus controlling them remotely. As long as certain minimum reliability and IT security requirements are met, some platforms can also transmit updates or changes to the devices.
Most IoT platforms offer sufficient configuration possibilities to enable the most fundamental IT security standards to be met. Some platforms offer particularly stringent security measures that can be examined individually for each application scenario. To round off an application scenario, data stores, data analysis tools, visualization functions, and interfaces to other systems can be added or are already integrated into the solution.
The diagram below shows a simplified view of the control of a factory using the AWS IoT.
In this model of a factory, AWS IoT Greengrass is used by the cloud provider Amazon as an edge component. Connectors for the connection of machines and controllers can be created on edge components with Greengrass in order to connect these machines and controllers using OPC-UA or MQTT, for example. From the company premises, Greengrass connects with the AWS IoT core, which constitutes the central data platform in the cloud and thus takes on the task of managing the devices, among other things. So-called function-as-a-service (FaaS) technologies are a current trend in cloud computing. The advantage of these functions is that no server needs to be maintained and provisioned; instead, the program merely needs to be uploaded.
The function-as-a-service technology of Amazon is called AWS Lambda. In Lambda functions of this kind, a process logic can be depicted in the programming languages Java, Go, or Python, for example. The process logic in the Lambda function can access databases, cloud services, and functions of the AWS IoT. Through AWS IoT Greengrass, these Lambda functions can also be installed directly and securely in an edge component and executed from there. This means that the process logic can react immediately to changes in the machines and controllers without having to transfer all of the data to the Internet. The use of an API gateway, which takes on authorization tasks, can ensure that only authorized end devices can access the process logic or Lambda functions.
Our remote control services
We want to fulfill our aim to always provide the best possible advice at all levels. Naturally, this includes giving an overview of the technology, frameworks, products, and procedures. Do you want to use remote control for your application scenario? Speak to us to find out more! There’s definitely a way, and together we’ll find out whether it will pay off.
Here are some of our services:
- Analysis of existing infrastructure with regard to the integration of remote control functions
- Technological and economic evaluation of different providers
- Design of a remote control solution, comparison of bought solution and custom solution
- Implementation or deployment of purchased software
Remote control is an advanced digitalization topic, and many people choose to start off with something simpler.
Depending on the level of complexity you’re comfortable with, you might like to take a look at these:
It’s precisely the combination of the new opportunities that can set you apart from the competition. We’ll be happy to discuss this with you further!