Toshiba Mitsubishi-Electric Industrial Systems Corporation (TMEIC) offers products and engineering services to support manufacturing bases of various industries including steel, paper, chemical and food. Excelling in quality control technology, the company strongly supports manufacturing plants in Japan and around the world. TMEIC has always recognized that it is essential to allow engineers to provide coordination and after-sales support remotely to ensure that equipment performs at its best. To address this challenge, Secomea has implemented its industrial IoT gateway SiteManager and its optional LogTunnel feature.
It has become increasingly difficult for customers to maintain manufacturing equipment on their own due to the shortage of experienced service engineers in their plants, and the corona pandemic has made it impossible for TMEIC engineers to visit overseas plants to take on the task.
TMEIC sells, installs and services systems and electrical products, as well as develops and manufactures monitoring and control systems, power electronics devices, and motor drives (variable speed drives) for manufacturing industries. While the company’s contribution is not directly visible to consumers, it supports the equipment and systems of the diverse manufacturing industries that shape our lives.
TMEIC offers remote maintenance services for its customers in Japan and abroad as a means of following up and providing after-sales support for its products. Hideho Goudo of TMEIC explains the background of their employment of remote services.
“It has become increasingly difficult for our customers to solve problems with manufacturing equipment on their own due to a shortage of experienced maintenance personnel in their plants. In such cases, our engineers have had to visit their sites, because communication over the phone or via email can be inadequate for those unfamiliar with the processes involved, and they may make an operational error. However, there has always been a shortage of available engineers, especially during periods when regular maintenance schedules were tight. That is how we came to need remote access so that skilled experts could understand the situation and provide support while remaining in our office.
TMEIC opened its Global Remote Service Center (GRSC) in March 2018, launching its remote service operation two years before the Covid-19 outbreak. With experts providing remote support through the GRSC, TMEIC was able to accelerate the entire process from understanding the failure to total recovery. The company also offers consultations on system customization and business improvement.
At first, this service mainly targeted domestic customers, but later the company began to expand the application to overseas customers as well.
“Due to the pandemic, it has become difficult to provide on-site maintenance and troubleshooting for our customers, both in Japan and abroad. For overseas customers in particular, the use of remote services is expanding rapidly, especially in Asia, as it has become extremely difficult for us to visit their plants„
– Yuji Kamimoto. Service Planning Group,TMIEC
TMEIC’s remote service has been introduced in two stages, in Japan and then overseas. The first stage serves as the base of the entire process, a secure IP-VPN closed network that covers services in Japan. Overseas services use the same closed network from the GRSC to the local subsidiary site plus a separate remote access solution for the part of the network actually connected to customer plants, due to various constraints such as communication lines and costs.
“Many of our customers’ facilities have high security requirements, so simply connecting to the internet is not secure enough. When pursuing a solution, we prioritized a high level of security, then looked for one requiring the least manpower and cost for implementation and operation„
– Hideho Goudo. Process Control Research Section, TMEIC
Kamimoto also comments, “Not only our client companies’ equipment engineers but also our remote support engineers are sometimes not expert in IT devices, so we were looking for a simple solution that did not require advanced network knowledge or special skills.”
Secomea’s solution does not require any special software installation on the client PC or in the control system, and the GUI for connection permission via GateManager is easy to understand. We valued the fact that it could be managed and operated without advanced knowledge or skills. SiteManager’s small size and portability also make it ideal for remote access in a mobile environment. In addition, our customers’ factories have different types of equipment and tools that require different maintenance services. The LogTunnel feature was needed in order to reinforce the versatility of maintenance services,” Goudo explains.
Multiple solutions were compared in the selection process. One solution required the client PCs in the control system to be connected directly to the internet, which was a security concern. TMEIC also explored the application of a standard SSL-VPN, but as advanced knowledge and skills were required for server protection, operation and maintenance, it was difficult to ensure security in terms of access management. The company needed to seek a solution that better suited their needs.
After thorough consideration, TMEIC chose Secomea’s SiteManager (hardware version), which connects customer equipment to the remote access network, and LogTunnel, an optional feature that enables remote equipment maintenance via client PCs.
SiteManager is an industrial IoT gateway that allows remote connection only to pre-registered devices. When implemented in both customer plants and TMEIC, SiteManager becomes the only direct connection to the internet in the entire solution. Client PCs used for remote equipment tuning and maintenance, the plant control system, and remote access PCs at TMEIC are all isolated from the internet and cannot be connected to the outside world, creating a highly secure environment. TMEIC was introduced to Secomea by its Japanese agent, and the company decided on implementation after conducting its own trials.
TMEIC engineers can now perform maintenance remotely and more flexibly, sharing information with customers and analyzing data from screens and logs. This has made it easier to manage and operate facilities without requiring local maintenance staff to have advanced knowledge or skills.
Thanks to the Secomea solution, remote access is now possible without directly connecting control systems, client PCs, or TMEIC remote access PCs to the internet, allowing for more flexible maintenance while sharing information with customers remotely. In particular, based on screens and logs, TMEIC engineers can efficiently analyze the data and take any corrective action, resulting in reduced downtime at customer facilities. Furthermore, its customers are relieved of the burden of acting against cyber attacks or updating their systems, because their servers are operated and maintained by Secomea.
“Customers have told us that even if they don’t understand the detailed equipment specifications, they can easily install and operate the solution by following the manual. For our part, as we see news reports of unauthorized accesses and exploitation of vulnerabilities, we are pleased to have implemented Secomea’s solution, which provides high robustness and ease of use at low cost. It has achieved a very high level of security, and we consider it the best solution for remote access outside the IP-VPN closed network main area, especially abroad. We are able to remotely provide services that previously required travel. It is faster and saves costs for our customers.„
Goudo talks about their future prospects in light of the current situation, where the pandemic has accelerated the use of remote services.
“Current implementation is only part of the plan, and we are still expanding its application. We are seeing clear improvement, and demand is steadily increasing. We would like to expand our remote services to create an environment that allows us to respond quickly to any event.”
Toshiba Mitsubishi-Electric Industrial Systems Corporation (TMEIC) offers products and engineering services to support manufacturing bases of various industries including steel, paper, chemical and foods. Excelling in quality control technology, the company strongly supports manufacturing plants in Japan and around the world. TMEIC drives industry globally through a comprehensive offering of unique systems solutions including variable frequency drives, motors, photovoltaic inverters and advanced automation systems for a wide range of industrial applications. Established in 2003, Toshiba Mitsubishi-Electric Industrial Systems Corporation (TMEIC) resulted from the integration of Toshiba and Mitsubishi Electric Corporation’s industrial systems divisions.