By installing Internet-based remote maintenance and diagnostics software on an industrial robot welding machine, Sims Engineering Ltd is now able to remotely monitor and control the machine using secure Broadband and 3G connections.

The solution has reduced the cost of service engineer call-outs, whilst also saving significant production downtime for the end user of the machine, since machine-related issues can be identified and rectified much faster.

eWON’s Talk2M (Talk to Machines) is an Internet-based remote maintenance and diagnostics service, available in the UK through M.A.C Solutions (UK) Ltd. The software offers a professional platform with all the security, reliability and traceability required by industrial applications. Talk2M is a unique, secure and affordable service that enables OEMs, machine builders and systems integrators to provide remote maintenance and diagnostics for machines in remote locations. Talk2M can be accessed anywhere in the world, using secure Broadband and secure wireless connections.

Established in 1979 and based in Harlow, Essex, Sims Engineering Ltd specialises in the design, manufacture and integration of special purpose machinery, from small assembly machines to complete turnkey production systems. The company provides advice and guidance on the best solutions for the finishing and assembly of products, from initial design of parts, to the most appropriate type of machine for a customer’s production requirements.

“We are renowned for our special purpose machine building and systems integration. Most machines that we develop are built on very short lead times, which means we are often building a machine whilst the products that the machine will make are still being designed.”Clive Sims, Managing Director at Sims Engineering Ltd.

“These days, the issue we are facing, as a machine builder, is that the end customer often doesn’t possess the necessary skills in house, to rectify problems that may arise on the machine, including changing PLC programs. As most of the machines that we supply are quite complex, we sometimes have to send a service engineer to site, even to rectify minor problems. This is costly for us, but is also very frustrating for the customer, who has to wait for the machine to go back online. The lost production can be very costly for the customer, especially if the service engineer has to travel for several hours to reach the machine, before starting to resolve the issue.”

Therefore, in early 2009, Sims Engineering began to look for a suitable solution to offer their customers, whereby service engineers would be able to monitor, diagnose faults and make changes to a machine remotely, from anywhere in the world.

“There were plenty of WAN devices available on the market, but most of these solutions seemed to use randomly assigned IP addresses, which would cause connectivity problems for us and make it more difficult to log in remotely,” says Clive Sims.

“After months of searching, we selected eWON’s Talk2M solution from M.A.C Solutions, as we felt this was the simplest, most cost effective solution on the market.”

In order to test and fully understand Talk2M, Sims trialled the Talk2M system and the associated eWON Router on some machines, in his workshop at Harlow. “Everything worked pretty well and when it didn’t, the guys at M.A.C Solutions provided us with excellent back up and technical support. They really know the product inside out. A few weeks later we had complete confidence in the solution and were ready to roll out the Talk2M and eWON solution on one of our customer’s machines.”

So, in October 2009, Sims Engineering installed an eWON Router on a robotic welding machine, which the company had designed and built for an automotive manufacturer based in Liverpool. The machine is used to weld a variety of plastic bumpers to vehicles. The machine measures 15m by 5m and is a continuous ultrasonic welding machine that incorporates four individual welding stations, a conveyor system and eight ABB robots. The machine was designed to reduce cycle times, improve production efficiencies and to improve flexibility, by being able to accommodate multiple styles of vehicle bumper.

“We installed the eWON Router on the welding machine and in a matter of weeks the solution had paid for itself. The total cost of an eWON device and Talk2M was around £1,000, so the solution paid for itself the first time we didn’t have to send a service engineer to site, to fix a problem. The customer only requires one eWON Ethernet router per machine, which means it is very cost effective. Through the use of the Talk2M service and the eWON Ethernet router, we can securely log-in from our office in Harlow, then remotely monitor the Siemens S7 PLC, make modifications to the HMI terminal and download updates to the PLC program,” clive Sims continues.

The ‘eWON’ range of industrial routers complies with a wide range of serial and Ethernet-based PLCs, including Siemens, Rockwell Automation, Schneider Electric and Omron. Modifications to a PLC can be carried out, including changes to process cycles and system parameters. “With Talk2M, it’s as if the service engineer is physically at the customer’s site, next to the machine, accessing the control panel and PLC from a laptop.”

“Previously, if a fault occurred on the welding machine, or a PLC change needed to be made, one of our service engineers would have to travel from Harlow to the customer in Liverpool, which takes around five hours. Now, Talk2M allows us to instantly monitor and make changes to the welding machine. This means the customer gets a resolution to his problem within minutes, rather than hours.”

Talk2M provides Sims Engineering with a unique differentiator for its machines, as Clive Sims agrees. “Our first customer of Talk2M is very impressed with the technology and the operators are therefore using it more and more. We can now respond very quickly to a customer request, saving valuable time and money. For example, recently we needed to sequence the machine differently. We were able to do this remotely and got the machine back online in rapid time.”

“With the welding machine, we offer to pay for the data-SIM contract for the first year. After that, it’s up to the customer if they wish to keep the service on and pay for it themselves. The SIM-card cost per month is relatively little at around £12 for 3GB of data usage, which is more than adequate, since the PLCs use very little data each month. The cost is no more than that for a mobile phone contract, really.”

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