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The challenges driving innovation across manufacturing are age-old: efficiency, compliance, safety. But 2020 has exacerbated these, with important new guidelines for health and safety at work making it more challenging than ever for sites to operate at full capacity.

What can today’s site managers do to maximise uptime and drive efficiencies, while still operating within the remits of government regulations and prioritising staff wellbeing?

Remote monitoring systems are one solution, simultaneously giving operators the freedom to monitor heat treatment equipment from a distance and freeing them up to fulfil other duties without ever losing sight of machine performance and warning alerts.

Read on to discover exactly how remote monitoring could improve your site’s performance while helping to keep your staff safe.

Looking for greater efficiency

Traditionally, the need to monitor performance and act in the case of alerts has meant operators are bound to a physical location, typically a control centre.

While vitally important for enabling operators to take regular performance readings and respond quickly in the event of a system warning, this process is inefficient. An operator may only be required to take performance readings on an hourly basis, yet the requirement for them to remain at one fixed location prohibits them from completing other duties. 

At a site management level, this is not effective utilisation of the operators’ time. For one, it raises the requirement for larger teams and all the overheads that come with them. For operations that run 24/7, shift coordination also becomes more costly and demanding.

“By removing the requirement for operators to be bound to one physical location, remote monitoring capabilities can transform an operation’s efficiency overnight.”

The ability to monitor machine performance from a handheld device, such as a smartphone or laptop, frees up the operator to move around the site (or even go off-site), enabling them to undertake additional duties without ever losing sight of the production status. Alerts can be set up to trigger instant notifications, meaning the operator can act quickly and effectively to mitigate the situation and minimise any losses to production.

The benefits extend upwards to team utilisation. Implemented at scale, entire teams will find their capacity increased, meaning staff levels can be reduced and overheads decreased. In today’s environment, when outgoings and profitability are under increasing scrutiny, rolling out remote monitoring systems is an effective way for managers to hit their KPIs while demonstrating strong commercial acumen.

Company-wide visibility

On the subject of KPIs and commercial goals, some remote monitoring systems offer enhanced data sharing abilities. Reports can be sent electronically anywhere, at any time. Such systems make it possible to track and, in some cases, operate heat treatment machines remotely. They also improve the ease by which the data gathered can be shared.

Operators or managers reporting to their superiors can use this functionality to share vital performance data from the phones in their pockets. The C-suite can use it to similar effect to quickly and easily source the data they need to make informed commercial decisions. The performance and, one would hope, the success of a site’s operations becomes more visible.

When used alongside our Energy-Saving System, the VFE Remote Monitoring System lets you send data on energy use and cost savings electronically. Find out more.

A safer perspective

This year has seen the continued rollout of health and safety legislation for the workplace, primarily aimed at limiting the spread of Covid-19 and promoting safe working conditions for staff. While work-from-home policies have evolved and many factories that were temporarily closed have resumed production, social distancing guidelines continue to challenge how manufacturing environments are safely staffed and run.

Giving operators the ability to monitor their equipment from their personal devices opens up the possibility for staff to work from different locations.

“High-risk workers or those required to self-quarantine could continue to monitor operations from home, for example, while normally crowded sites could reduce the number of staff needed on the premises at any one time.”

In instances where control rooms cannot be made to comply with social distancing measures (through lack of space, for instance, or where multiple operators might otherwise be required to work in close proximity to one another), operators can carry out monitoring duties from elsewhere unimpeded.

All of this is to say that production can continue uninterrupted, giving factories the option to not only reopen but ramp-up production as necessary and maximise output.

Some remote monitoring solutions, like VFE’s Remote Monitoring Systems, can even be set up to speak with your service and maintenance providers. Our solution enables us to continue to deliver world-class service to our customers remotely when necessary, ensuring the safety and wellbeing of our customers and our colleagues.

What else do VFE Remote Monitoring Systems offer?

Discover VFE’s secret to perfect production. 

Taking a closer look at VFE’s Remote Monitoring Systems

To meet the varied requirements for remote monitoring solutions, VFE offers four different options. The remote monitoring solutions are per machine and are fully featured as described when installed to FMCS/AMCS controlled machines.

On request, non-FMCS/AMCS machines can also incorporate some of these features. Get in touch to discuss your requirements and to find out what is possible.

Level 1.1 — SMS / Email Alerts

We will supply, install, configure and test an FMCS/AMCS to SMS gateway device to monitor alarm status direct from the control system PLC and send a text message/email alert if an alarm is triggered.

The message includes specific text for the nature of the alarm and the machine which triggered it, so the recipient can get immediate visibility over what has happened. The system is completely independent of the PC, so is also able to send an alert if the PC should fail.

Find out more about Level 1.1.

Level 1.2 — Remote Support Connection for VFE

The hardware supplied for item 1.1 is capable of being configured to provide a secure connection route from VFE to the machine without exposing the computer network to the internet.

A VPN tunnel is created between VFE and the gateway device, allowing us to connect remotely to the machine control network. This gives us visibility over what the operator can see and the ability to remotely diagnose any performance issues or faults quickly.

Find out more about Level 1.2. 

Level 2 — Back-up HMI (Human Machine Interface) with Data Recording and Remote Viewer App

This HMI provides additional recording of key process data to enable verification of cure progress even if the control PC were to fail during a cure. It offers further functionality by enabling us to display machine status on a smartphone (Android/iOS) or tablet to users within the included wireless network range initially, granting operations teams access to the broadest range of remote monitoring benefits previously discussed in this article.

Find out more about Level 2.

Level 3 — Large Format Machine Status Display

At level 3, we will provide a 49” LED monitor for wall mounting in (for example) the clean room, with an HMI processor unit to display the current status of each FMCS/AMCS controlled furnace, autoclave or oven. This unit is display only and designed to provide at-a-glance information about the status of the machine (running/idle, temperature, pressure, etc.), alarms and running duration.

Find out more about Level 3

How closely are you monitoring your operations?

Innovation comes in all shapes and sizes but often the most effective solutions are the simplest.

Using today’s remote technologies to remove the need for operators to oversee heat treatment equipment in person doesn’t reinvent the wheel. What it does achieve is to deliver immediate efficiencies in an area of the manufacturing process that is otherwise inefficient.

The way we see it, the benefits are clear. How closely are you monitoring your operations?

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