Strypes is taking the concept of remote diagnostics one step further. Adding remote monitoring and proactive software management to its remote machine handling platform, the industrial automation specialist offers additional opportunities to reduce cost and travel time – the latter being particularly important in the Covid era.
Working for just about every major equipment manufacturer in the Netherlands, Eric Damhuis has seen it time and again: the patchwork of in-house developed software tools that interact with equipment in the field. “Let’s say a malfunction needs to be diagnosed. It’s typically a time-consuming task to gather the required information, rooting through different databases. So people write a tool to make their lives easier. In fact, they would probably quit their jobs if they weren’t allowed to do that,” says the sales director of ICT Group subsidiary Strypes.
While such makeshift tools are extremely useful for, say, a service engineer to do his job, on a higher level they pose a problem. “If you let these tools sprawl, you’ll lose control. At some point, very few people will know which tool to use in any given situation. Or how to use it. In that respect, things become opaque, requiring a steep learning curve to master. Not to mention the maintenance nightmare you bring upon yourself,” Damhuis explains.
Industrial automation specialist Strypes offers a way out of this: a platform that provides an interface to extract the required data, in whatever form is preferred. “In some instances, a service engineer may be happy with a simple listing of log data. In another instance, a polished dashboard for real-time monitoring of certain functions is required. It’s all about having easy and remote access to the available data and having it presented in the most convenient way. This not only saves costs, it can also reduce travel time drastically, which is always useful but particularly important during the ongoing pandemic.”
Strypes’ platform approach isn’t just about data extraction for remote diagnostics, though. It extends to remote software management and monitoring purposes. “We’ve been working on these functionalities for a long time, but only recently, we’ve started integrating them into a single platform. We refer to this as remote machine handling, which in our opinion represents the next step in effective remote machinery management and maintenance.”
Over the past two years, Strypes has been working with two Dutch high-profile equipment manufacturers to implement its remote machine handling platform. The software outfit can only reveal the identity of one of them: Lely, a Maassluis-based manufacturer of agricultural equipment.
According to Strypes’ philosophy, equipment makers shouldn’t have to bother with anything else than the data they want to access or the actions they want to perform. “We’ll take care of everything else under the hood. Our base is a data layer that handles data management. On top of that rests a business layer, which houses the functional needs that derive from the data. It also handles security issues such as user access rights. And finally, there’s the representation layer – in other words, the user interface,” says Strypes’ technical outsource manager Peter de Winter.
“The UI is key to making data available. After all, data is collected for a reason: to do something with it, be it engineers diagnosing a problem or the sales department measuring key performance indicators. Accessing, combining, organizing and visualizing data conveniently and effectively really goes a long way in improving machinery management,” De Winter continues. “Engineers retain the freedom to extract and manipulate the data in the way of their choosing; our platform provides all the necessary building blocks,” adds Damhuis.
“We expect that, in time, more advanced functionality will be added, such as machine learning algorithms to implement predictive maintenance. The combination of planned service actions, remote updating to minimize the number of different software versions out in the field and easy access to data will greatly contribute to the effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of machinery management,” says De Winter.
You’d think that any equipment maker would want to move in that direction, but many of them still have cold feet, Damhuis and De Winter notice. “It’s a classic chicken-and-egg situation. Uncluttering remote management requires time and effort, which companies can’t spare because they aren’t working with optimal tooling. But they should realize that front-runners in equipment manufacturing are already focusing on remote monitoring. In a few years, it will be a standard feature that the market demands,” states De Winter.
“Implementation of our platform with all its bells and whistles takes quite a bit of time,” Damhuis admits. “The good news is: it’s not necessary to do everything all at once. One of our customers originally hired us to implement remote diagnostics functionality. That’s a great way to get the ball rolling. In a relatively short amount of time, the customer will have some return on his investment. At the same time, a base platform has been built, into which additional functionality can be plugged at a later stage.”
Delivering a platform that fulfills all the customer’s needs requires very intimate contact, Damhuis stresses. “We like to get to know every relevant part of the organization, to find out what their needs are. We want to understand what problems our clients are dealing with. We want to feel their pain.”
“We don’t simply take inventory of what the client thinks he needs. We dig deep, challenge assertions, show where the shoe pinches – and explain what’s the best solution to remedy that. It’s a bit strange at first, but our customers end up appreciating it greatly. It’s a surefire way to deliver a robust yet flexible solution, which allows them to make the most of today’s equipment’s remote functionalities.”
This article was written in close collaboration with Strypes.