In a nutshell, remote maintenance is the ability for a controls engineer or technician to login to an industrial control system remotely and securely over the internet to perform diagnostics and maintenance on a machine located somewhere else in the world. That's it! Pretty simple. This is an enormous benefit to both the user of the equipment and the machine builder, as it provides both the possibility for immediate troubleshooting and potential for addressing an issue in real time. Remote maintenance, drastically reduces costly downtime and increases production while eliminating unnecessary travel and expense on the behalf of the original equipment manufacturer. What's not to like?
Well, for starters, it seems that some (not all) IT groups in manufacturing facilities still don't fully understand the core technology and worry that it will open their network to vulnerabilities and unnecessary risks. This is certainly understandable but needs to be addressed. This article is not going into the full technical details, specifications and certifications that these products meet for network security, but if you have interest in speaking at that level of detail, we can arrange for such a conversation. For now, let's just say that these products provide a highly secure remote VPN tunnel into the machines in which they are installed. They do not allow a user to access anything else on the plant or office network other than the products which are plugged directly into them, which may include PLC's, Drives, HMI's, Sensor Networks, etc. If an IT group still won't allow a machine to access to the internet, or if the equipment itself is not tied to a network, these remote maintenance products can be ordered with cell modems, which can access the internet using a mobile connection.