YASKAWA Electric Corporation is a global leader in mechatronic products, including industrial robots, servos, controllers, and inverters. The equipment it offers is used for manufacturing products used in our daily lives, such as automobiles, food packaging, home appliances, and smartphone LCD screens. In February 2021, the company will launch its Connect Service, a remote maintenance service for user companies. This service will be supported by Secomea’s industrial IoT gateway, SiteManager.
If Yaskawa took action only after being notified of a problem, it caused downtime in the user company’s production line. Limited human resources was another problem.
Industrial robots are precision machines, and it goes without saying that after-sales services such as maintenance and trouble-shooting are important. Yaskawa Electric has provided comprehensive after-sales services and attentive care to problems with robots delivered to user companies. However, in the past, it was an inbound service that waited for the customer to contact its call center after a problem occurred, so the time required for recovery was inevitably long.
“When they called us, the equipment was already out of order. From that point, we had to analyze the situation, procure the necessary repair parts, and arrange to send a service engineer. This process slowed our reaction and the customer production. It was our challenge to improve this situation,” says Ryuichiro Kuroishi, Head of the Service Planning Team.
Kuroishi adds that the human resource constraints on service engineers and their variation in experience-based skills were also issues. Sudden robot breakdowns are not frequent events, so it was difficult to increase the number of service personnel sufficiently.
However, many robot breakdowns cannot be handled by the user, and the longer it takes to recover, the longer is the equipment downtime, and the worse it is for production. There have been past cases when service personnel and necessary parts could not be secured immediately, leading to extended line stoppages.
Yaskawa Electric has long been aware of the need for remote maintenance services to restore robots quickly in the event of sudden breakdown, reduce downtime, and keep customer facilities running. “There was also a need to create a practical system that would allow the limited number of service personnel to preplan maintenance and perform it efficiently,” Kuroishi explains.
In order to put this remote service into practice, Yaskawa Electric first assessed various remote access solutions.
“Security was our first priority when implementing a solution,” states Kuroishi. In fact, many customers expressed their concern about the security of remote access during the hearing conducted before designing the services.
“We also focused on the constant monitoring function to detect any signs of impending failure in order to carry out maintenance before an actual failure occurred.”
The company selected Secomea’s industrial IoT gateway SiteManager (hardware version) after a number of reviews focusing on these two points. Kuroishi explains the reasons for the selection:
“From a functional standpoint, the deciding factors were the optional LogTunnel function that constantly connects our data collection server to the customer’s robot, the mail relay function that immediately notifies us by e-mail in case of an abnormality, and the security certifications obtained by Secomea. Furthermore, unlike many other remote access devices that are difficult and complicated to set up, SiteManager is easy to set up, and even those of us who do not have advanced IT knowledge can easily implement it„
– Ryuichiro Kuroishi, Head of the Service Planning Team, Yaskawa Electric.
Kuroishi also says that durability was important, since the system would be used in the harsh environment of a factory, as well as its high simultaneous connectivity for use among multiple locations. Before deciding on Secomea’s solution, the company compared it with general-purpose VPN products from other companies, but found Secomea to be more beneficial in terms of function and cost.
Yaskawa Electric first encountered Secomea three years ago, seeing the product at an exhibition. “After the briefing, I was interested in their products and asked about SiteManager. The person in charge came all the way to our head office in Kitakyushu to explain it. That’s when we learned that, unlike conventional VPN routers, SiteManager could easily and affordably provide the remote services we had always wanted to implement.”
The first implementation was in 2018. After trials within the company, Yaskawa Electric launched remote connection on a trial basis with some of its customers by the end of the year. It established new remote maintenance service menus by listening to customer opinions during the process. Participants in the trial commented: “Now we can visualize the robot utilization rate on a graph and understand the production status at night.” “The function that notifies us by e-mail when there may be an abnormality is very useful.”
The Connect Service was finally ready for full-scale operation in 2020. SiteManager was installed both at Yaskawa’s call center (YASKAWA Contact Center) and at user companies. The server PC at the call center is the master of the LogTunnel function, and the user company robot is the client, remotely checking robot statuses and providing support. The service is scheduled to begin seeking new contracts in December 2020, with actual service provision to be launched in February 2021.
“Connecting the customers and our company through SiteManager has enabled us to obtain detailed information on robot operating time, outage time, and abnormality occurrence statuses. The LogTunnel function constantly monitors robot statuses and automatically detects abnormalities,” Kuroishi explains, as a result of this installation. Since the Connect Service is targeted at relatively new robots, there have been few breakdowns, but in the trial stage, one abnormality alarm went off and the robot indeed had a problem. “We were able to recognize the problem before it reached a critical stage, and the response time was much shorter than with the conventional inbound system,” Kuroishi says about the improvement.
Although the service is still in its early stages, Yaskawa Electric hopes that this initiative will help solve the problems of user companies that do not want to stop their high-production (sometimes 24-hour) operation due to robot breakdowns, cannot stop their production lines every time they need maintenance, or do not have their own maintenance department, making in-house maintenance difficult. In addition, it is expected that this service will be utilized by companies whose locations are far from its service offices, making immediate responses difficult.
The ability to monitor the system remotely at all times has allowed Yaskawa Electric to locate abnormalities and detect signs of failure immediately, significantly shortening its response time and enabling it to carry out maintenance as planned.
2020 was a year hugely affected by COVID-19. Like many other companies, Yaskawa Electric was unable to send service engineers to customer production sites during the government’s declared state of emergency, making maintenance difficult at times. Kuroishi also shared his expectations for the future: “If a similar situation arises in the future, the remote access system will be a powerful weapon against service interruption to our customers.”
YASKAWA Electric Corporation is one of the world’s leading manufacturers in the fields of drive technology, industrial automation and robotics. The equipment it offers is used for manufacturing products used in our daily lives, such as automobiles, food packaging, home appliances, and smartphone LCD screens.