Would it be overstating things to say there’s a critical shortage of support options for manufacturing plants? In the last few years, it’s become a luxury to have a fully staffed maintenance and engineering department that can not only fix control systems when they fail, but handle the preventative maintenance needed to keep them running.
Through our Support Group there are plenty of “they called us and we fixed it” stories, and we’ll look at a few examples to share where we help the most. The really cool part, though, is when you stand back and look at the variety of situations in which Avanceon has been able to lend a hand. It’s a diverse list that has a few themes.
Safety Circuit Troubleshooting – One of our support contract holders couldn’t get their bagging machine to run because of a problem in the safety circuit. These circuits are notoriously tricky to work with because of the level of redundancy and signal verification. The technicians on-site were more comfortable with mechanical issues, and needed some help decoding the electrical schematics in order to find the wiring fault. After a quick phone chat, we sent one of our engineers out to take a look. Using the drawings, our engineer guided the technicians in what to test (and how) in order to track down the problem to a failed contact on one of the relays. A quick trip to the parts room and all was back in order, plus the technicians got a little OTJ for similar situations in the future.
VFD Replacement – We got an unsolicited call toward the end of the day about a palletizer that kept faulting out. Normally, we like to connect remotely in order to do the first round of troubleshooting, but the plant’s IT folks had left for the day, and VPN access wouldn’t be an option. After arriving at the plant a couple hours later, obtaining the PLC code, and getting online, we saw that one of the VFDs had an intermittent overvoltage fault, which we determined was likely due to a problem with the drive’s internal brake. A little testing showed this to be the case, and we recommended that the plant’s technicians replace the VFD. At this point, Avanceon’s engineer had been working well over 12 hours, and decided to call for backup. Specifically, he called another one of our engineers who had experience configuring the VFDs in question. Our well-rested engineer arrived just as the new drive was ready to power-up, and he was able to quickly enter all the parameters and get it running.
Vision System Adjustments – This is more an example of teamwork than Avanceon’s own fix-it prowess. We were able to remotely connect to a packaging line to determine that their excess reject rate was due to a vision system that intermittently stopped communicating with the supervisory PLC. Having isolated the problem, and realizing that we didn’t have a strong background with this particular system, we suggested the end user call one of our partners. The Avanceon connection helped get a service technician quickly to the site, and after changing some communication parameters, we verified that the system was stable.
PLC TLC PDQ – Every maintenance manager, technician, and operations manager is afraid of thunderstorms. And it’s not (only) because of the monsters. Lightning wreaks havoc on electronics, and when a power spike and outage is coupled with a dead battery, it’s a recipe for trouble. After connecting via VPN and quickly determining that the PLC was out to lunch, our engineer diagnosed the main problem as a fried Ethernet Module. Replacement of the module took only a few minutes, but the LEDs were also telling the sad story of a program that needed to be reloaded due to a dead battery. Fortunately, this customer used FactoryTalk AssetCentre, so obtaining and downloading the correct program was a snap. Since the machine had died mid-cycle, the technicians had to clear out the machine and reset everything to home position. Our engineer was able to reduce the time needed for this by jogging the servos via the PLC program, and the system was up and running within a couple hours.
Plant-wide SCADA Maintenance – The middle-of-the-night break/fix stories tend to be more dramatic, but regular preventative maintenance helps keep you out of those situations. We provide monthly remote PMs for a customer to help bridge their IT/OT gap. Having researched manufacturer recommendations, and along with our own experience and best practices, we collaborated with the customer to create an SOP for periodic maintenance on their SCADA servers. We connect monthly to perform the SOP and provide a summary report to keep the system chugging along.
Those examples give a cross-section of the support we provide to manufacturers every day. We understand the effort involved in keeping a plant running, and how our Support Services plays a key role and someone to turn to make life easier in times of trouble.