Technology Allows Machinery Companies to Help Customers Virtually

By Ellen Rogers

Today’s world is one where everyone needs everything right now—not in an hour, tomorrow or next week. Now. The construction industry is no exception. Owners, builders, architects and contractors all are pushing to stay on budget and on schedule. Fabricators working to supply custom glass for a high-profile project might feel the pressure to get the job done on schedule. But what happens when there’s a glitch in the system or a machine
suddenly stops working?

“In the past, when an issue required troubleshooting we would engage the machine operator or maintenance tech by first requesting pictures and a description of the issue. This was usually done by email and photo attachments,” says Rick Dominquez, president of Jordon Glass Machinery in Doral, Fla. “Based on what we would receive, we would look to first resolve the issue via phone, often depending on the customer to accurately relay things they saw. This would open up a world of interpretations by the customer, particularly when it came to relaying matters of magnitude and type. For example, asking them to describe colors of fluids or sounds a machine was making was quite the game of analogies.”

While phone conversations and on-site visits haven’t gone away, thanks to new technologies and software advances, fabricators today have faster, more efficient response options than ever before.

Advanced Assistance

When it comes to helping customers troubleshoot, machinery suppliers must take a number of considerations into account before deciding whether a technician needs to be on site. Chris Cullum, sales manager with the CMS North America glass division in Caledonia, Mich., says they review calls on a basis of whether or not the machine is actually down.

“You have small things that can happen and cause an alarm on the machine; it could be something like a valve that needs to be cleaned,” he says. “And  then there is something catastrophic where something crashes a machine.”

Even if the machine completely stops working, Cullum says it’s always up to the customer to say for certain whether or not they want a technician in their facility, particularly now, in light of COVID-19. Fortunately, machinery suppliers have many different ways to work with customers.

“[Working through the pandemic] has been a great [opportunity] for our Internet of Things (IoT) software,” Cullum says, explaining these programs allow CMS to see when a customer is receiving a machine alert, so technicians can start working on it right away.

Ron Lorick, product area manager with Intermac America in Phoenix, says they’re also using IoT technology to better assist their customers.

“In the past we’d have the customer on the phone trying to explain what happened before and up to the error. They’d send us a list of the error codes by email, and screenshots of what they were seeing,” he says. “It was all mostly manual and we needed a human there to get through it and the operator needed to be much more tech savvy.”

Lorick explains Intermac moved away from separated CNC modules and is now all PC-based CNC controlled.

“That means all functions of the machine are controlled by the PC. Because of that, we can dial in through the internet to have full access to the machine and we can go into it and monitor it remotely. That’s something we didn’t have 10-15 years ago,” he says. “Through our platform, if the machine gets an error we are notified at the same time as the customer, and have the information before the customer calls us.”

Michela Lattuada, partner with Lattuada North America, agrees that IoT software provides many benefits to help improve production efficiencies and maintenance.

“Besides connecting machines to each other so we can monitor them constantly, we also provide clear data through an interface that is intuitive and easy to use,” she says.

Tom Bechill, sales manager with Hegla Corp., based in Forest Park, Ga., says while some customer assistance is still done over the phone or through email support, depending on the specific issue, they have also transitioned to other advanced methods.

“We’ve used enhanced online support utilizing virtual glasses to be online together with the maintenance people and see what they see [so we can] guide them by voice, pictures, drawings, etc.”

What are the Benefits?

Aside from the time and cost savings of not having to send a tech to the plant, there are a number of other benefits that come with remote assistance.

“The biggest benefit is reduced down time and more production from the machine. It also means the customer doesn’t have to have an electrical engineering level maintenance person on staff to figure out what’s wrong,” says Cullum.

Lorick agrees that the biggest benefit is reduced troubleshooting time.

“There’s no queue to get through and no waiting. We see the error when you see it and our techs are possibly even seeing it before the customer calls,” he says. “We’re troubleshooting in real time, and with the majority of problems, we figure it out, send the part and the local operator can install it, so in many cases we can eliminate the need for a tech to be on site.”

Dominguez adds, “Having the ability to log into a machine, check out the error log, and then have the customer take their smart phone and show you a certain area is extremely helpful. Depending on the issue, a visit from a technician may be avoided saving the customer time and money and getting them back into production sooner.”

Bechill agrees that these remote assistance capabilities can help get customers back into production as soon as possible.

“There’s also better trained customer service staff from having worked directly with the factory technicians via remote technologies,” he adds.

Another key benefit is in how suppliers can help customers now and in the future.

“We have to run the IoT for a few years, but the whole idea is to be able to predict failure down the road,” says Cullum. “So we can look at, for example, four years of data and we can learn from it what is failing, when, etc. to get those definite results.”

Bechill agrees, “There’s also considerably more focus on preventative maintenance and service contracts to identify future issues before they result in unscheduled downtime.”

Other Tools and Resources

Machinery companies are also finding that smart phones can be a great resource. Dominguez says his company is using the internet to access some machines remotely and combined with smart phone apps like WeChat, WhatsApp and Facetime, and computer programs such as TeamViewer, it’s much easier to diagnose issues.

“The customer can use their smart phone to capture anomalies occurring on the machine in real time and we are able to analyze them as they occur,” he says. “The ability to create groups in chats allows us to involve overseas factory technicians as well as our local technicians.”

Some companies, such as Lattuada North America, have started to assist customers using augmented reality (AR).

“Through the camera of the smartphone/tablet, it’s possible to observe any problem, error, fault or alarm on the machine and solve it more intuitively thanks to 3-D icons and indications applied to the real environment,” she says.

As glass companies search for ways to improve their production efficiencies, machinery companies will respond. Technologies such as AR will continue to become important to machinery suppliers as they look to increase their resources and services for customers.

Ellen Rogers is the editor of USGlass magazine. Follow her on Twitter @USGlass and like USGlass on Facebook to receive updates.

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