Three Ways to Cut Maintenance Costs
How cloud-based remote management can save time and money when it comes to the maintenance of field equipment?
THE KEY to successfully reducing maintenance costs of field equipment is information. By understanding when, how and if equipment is operating, we are able to make better decisions regarding site maintenance and take action when necessary. But how do you gather this information without actually making expensive and time-consuming service visits to your sites? With a remote management system connected to your field equipment, you can see the exact status of your installations at any time. This enables you to reduce costs in a number of ways, all made possible from access to information.
Perform service only when needed
Field equipment such as power generators, pumps, tanks, wind turbines etc. are often serviced according to a pre-determined service schedule. By understanding how the machine has been operated, it is possible to plan service more dynamically. As site visits are costly, service costs can be optimised by simply sending service teams to generators that actually need service.The challenge is to know when service is needed at each individual site. With a remote management solution, operating hours, oil pressure, battery status, fuel levels, GPS position etc. can all be checked online. A notification may also be generated whenever a critical level has been reached, for example if the equipment has been running more than expected. We may then send a notification when the running hours exceed the service interval.By being able to analyze the operation of each installation remotely you will be able to understand their health, and more efficiently schedule service visits in the field.
Test the equipment remotely to reduce start-up problems
Just like a car that has been parked for an extended period, an installation that has not been used in a long time is likely to have start-up problems. A good example of this is back-up power generators that are not operated very often. They need to be regularly tested to ensure that they can start when needed. Remote test starts can be made with a remote management solution that has control capabilities and is connected to the generator controller. With a simple action such as a remote operational test, the likelihood of the generator working the day there is a power outage and the generator needs to perform may be increased.Well-maintained equipment operates better and has lower operating costs since unplanned service visits often mean substantial expenses.
Minimize and reduce the effects of fuel theft
Although this third factor only has to do with fuel-driven applications, it can be a major money-saver. Fuel theft can be a significant problem and in certain regions, as much as 40% of the fuel used for remote installations is reported to be stolen.
Fig. 1. This example shows all parameters for a remote back-up power generator. By accessing these parameters online, we can reduce service visits saving both time and money.
Fig 2. How remote management works – A communication gateway connects to the field equipment and sends data to a server on the cloud. This enables service technicians to access the equipment online.
Avoiding fuel theft completely might be difficult since it is often stolen a little at a time, during transportation, at fill-up, or at the equipment in the field. However, a remote monitoring system that connects to a fuel sensor can be used to ensure that the right amount of fuel is delivered at refill. By using an intelligent level sensor, it is possible to track the fuel level of the tank. The fuel sensor can be calibrated to sense a full tank and by knowing this we can verify that the tank is properly refilled. A good fuel level sensor is able to detect variations down to 3-5 litres.An abnormal decrease in content may be detected and indicate that fuel is being stolen. With a remote monitoring system that supports alarms, a notification is sent immediately when the theft occurs. Even if it might be hard to catch the thieves, we are at least aware that the fuel has been stolen and we can schedule a refill.Tracking the level of fuel in a tank increases the awareness of what happens to the fuel on site and helps users understand when theft occurs. In some cases, where organized theft is common, this may help detect patterns and enable action to be taken.
Remote monitoring puts you ahead of the game
Modern remote monitoring technology enables instant access to data from equipment in the field. While we are able to use this technology to reduce operating expenses as described above, it also brings us other benefits. By being able to have full control 24/7 and be instantly notified of any operational issues, the end-user also receives improved service quality.There are three main elements to a modern remote monitoring solution. The first is the physical layer that comprises a communication gateway that links to your equipment, acquires the data, and communicates it to the remote server. The second is the remote server that collects and stores the data. This is often referred to as “The Cloud” and is basically a server on the Internet. The third element is the software services that provide secure access to the data through a user interface. This also includes functionality such as alarms via SMS or Email whenever certain thresholds are reached.
What about security?
Establishing a secure communication path with a remote monitoring solution requires solving a number of technical challenges (such as secure access through firewalls). Moving data off-site raises concerns over both its security and availability. By using solutions that are “firewall-friendly” and restricts communication to only the intended data, it is possible to limit the amount of information that can be accessed and reduces the possibilities of the remote access being misused. Most remote monitoring solutions also use encrypted communication to avoid eavesdropping on the data exchange.
Fig 3. Service technicians can access equipment online from any location with the use of a smartphone, tablet or laptop.
Another method to ensure the security of wireless communications over GPRS or 3G is dedicated SIM. This means it is not possible to ping or try to access the remote site through any other link other than the intended connection to the data centre.Data storage at the remote server also needs protection. It is common practice to regularly perform so called penetration tests of the remote server to ensure the security protection is up to date and detect any security holes.Access to the remote monitoring system is normally centrally controlled and requires authentication. Multi-level password layers are used to provide permissions to access different functions, and the server authenticates users and ensures their correct access levels. The server may also record all user access as well as attempted access.
Finding your solution for optimal ROI
Custom-made remote monitoring systems will give you the exact functionality you need, but they are often costly to develop and time-consuming to deploy. A readymade remote solution makes it possible to quickly deploy solutions at a lower cost.Modern remote management solutions can be deployed within a couple of days. This helps make a quick return on investment (ROI). The cost of a communication gateway is normally less than the average cost of a service visit and by cutting down on travelling, it is also possible to reduce a company‘s carbon footprint and only carry out service visits when really needed.
So what are the costs involved?
You pay for the communication gateway, which is usually a couple of hundred Euros. This is a one-time investment. You then decide what type of service level you want for your cloud access. Most modern remote management solutions offer different service levels for cloud access. Free versions with basic functionality are often available offering a very quick return-on-investment.No matter which solution you choose, the Return-on-Investment will most likely be quick. A service visit is usually the same cost as a single remote management gateway meaning that you may have a payback time of only a few months.
Henrik Arleving is Product Line Manager for Remote Management Solutions at HMS Industrial Networks in Sweden. Having worked with cloud-based remote management for a number of years in both commercial and technical positions, Henrik is one of the leading experts on M2M communication and a frequent lecturer and writer on the subject.
Henrik Arleving,Product LineManager, HMSIndustrial Networks,