The future of customer service is here now

2014-12-17 - How Remote Service and the Internet of Things can change the way you interact with your robots for increased uptime and less worry.

Ever since humans started building tools, there’s been a need to fix them when they eventually break. As these tools have turned into ever more complicated machines, such as industrial robots, the ability to fix them subsequently becomes a more complicated venture. It’s this complication that sometimes results in extended downtime that can significantly affect factory output—and in the case of some operations, every hour of downtime results in hundreds of thousands of dollars of lost revenue.

To address this growing issue, companies around the world have increasingly focused on improving the reliability and durability of their machines—and ABB is proud to be known as a world class leader in providing reliable and durable industrial robots and automation solutions. But our focus on up-front reliability is only part of the story, because even the most reliable, well-built and durable products eventually need maintenance. This is especially true in industries that take machines to the limits of their capabilities, such as foundry environments or high speed automotive welding lines.

Our newest products, such as the IRB 6700 and IRB 1200 robots, are built with ease of maintenance and low total cost of ownership as key design features, so that it is easier to access the most frequently maintained parts quickly and innovations such as Lean ID and underline connections reduce wear and tear on the most exposed parts.

After 40 years of delivering these kinds of innovative and reliable robotic solutions, ABB Robotics has developed deep experience in understanding and evaluating the most common types of maintenance situations across a multitude of different industries in the more than 53 countries around the globe in which we operate. But even these innovative solutions only serve to prolong the inevitable maintenance.

What if there were a way to operate robots that avoided catastrophic downtime entirely, and could predict any issues before they turned into larger maintenance problems?

Now, by connecting our deep experience in customer service with the power of the Internet, we have made it a reality for our customers to change from a “break and fix” conventional approach, into a predictive, proactive, and immediate support mindset. This is accomplished by merging our Remote Service platform with the burgeoning explosion of the Internet of Things.

“We talk about ‘Industry 4.0’ sometimes,” says Bertil Thorvaldsson, ABB Robotics Product Manager for Software. “The first industrial revolution was the steam engine, then it was the assembly line, then it was electronic control systems, and now it’s the Internet of Things. But this is not just for Things—it is People, Things and Services, connected all the time. Once this happens, it becomes possible for us to collect data, turn that data into valuable information and valuable advice, and finally into action. With the Internet of Things, we can get a snapshot of what’s happening to our robots and equipment in real time, all the time.”

ABB’s Remote Service product monitors the health of your robots 24 hours a day and 7 days per week year round through a wireless connection to the Internet. This continuous monitoring generates an automatic alert if the robot condition changes or a problem arises. Clients can access this actionable information from smartphones and tablets at any place and any time, and, importantly, our central Service Intelligence Unit is always monitoring it as well. Altogether this provides analytics to optimize robot usage, and sends data to cloud servers for back-up, reporting, diagnostics and benchmarking.

“Before the days of the Internet of Things, customers would maintain their robots according to a certain schedule,” says Rene Nispeling, ABB Robotics Product Manager for Customer Service, “but not every robot is used in the same way. Thanks to the Internet of Things we can see how a robot is used via a ‘black box’ that we can install in our robots that provides us with data over the Internet. Things such as torques, loads, and usage hours are communicated in real time and allow us to adjust maintenance schedules to each individual robot and predict maintenance needs. That reduces the cost to a customer and increases the lifetime of that robot.”

With these technologies, up to 50 percent of unplanned stops can be prevented, while robot systems can be brought back into production remotely, avoiding expensive production losses. Via ABB’s MyRobot webpage, a companion to Remote Service, valuable and up-to-date information about your robots is available at your fingertips at any time, at any place and on any device.

“Now, we can actually connect to the robot and get the information first hand,” says Thorvaldsson. “And this way, quite often we will be able to help the customer correct the problem without even having to send a service person to the customer’s facility, saving greatly on cost and time.”

“Let me put it this way,” says Nispeling, “to supply a robot to a customer is one thing, but to have a device that produces all the time for a customer is another thing entirely.”

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