This post was authored by Kirk Norris, who retired from his position as senior vice president of strategic manufacturing solutions at MAVERICK Technologies, a Rockwell Automation company.

Are you leveraging remote automation system support to increase uptime and reduce the cost of maintaining your technology investment? Many manufacturers utilize remote support technologies, but they often fail to take advantage of a comprehensive approach that employs the latest technologies and methods to address their challenges and provide a real competitive advantage.

In many process industries, even an advantage as small as 1-2 percent in product yield, energy cost, labor usage, throughput or capacity utilization can be a game changer, but these days even small improvements are not always easy to come by. Clearly the health and reliability of your automation systems will have an impact on all of these critical performance indicators.

If you operate a plant in this type of industry and are not taking full advantage of the benefits of remote support you may want to consider teaming with an automation solutions provider that understands this area of expertise.

A survey conducted by Maverick Technologies found that companies that did not utilize remote support for incident management, real-time monitoring, and software updates, patches, edits and backups describe themselves as understaffed and significantly more likely to expand the workforce required to perform these tasks over the next year.

Conversely, companies that have embraced remote support are not nearly as likely to feel shorthanded and don’t have the same expectation of increasing headcount in the near future. With the dire predictions of automation workforce shortages over the next several years it makes sense for plant management to partner with an automation service provider that can perform these tasks efficiently and effectively with knowledgeable, qualified resources on an as-needed basis. Outside support is common in IT, machine maintenance, chemical usage control, and spare parts inventory management and this same business case should be considered for automation and operational technology support.

When choosing a partner for automation support it is imperative that they not only have a deep understanding of automation and related operational information systems on multiple platforms, but also expertise in the specific manufacturing processes they are being hired to support.

The support should include an escalation process where higher-level experts are made available when more difficult problems arise. The service should be available 24/7/365 with a true support center infrastructure and the ability to dispatch local support if needed. Finally, the automation solution provider should demonstrate a proactive active approach capable of ongoing network monitoring and regular system backups to reduce the risk and impact of serious incidents.

I understand not all manufacturing firms will look outside for these services, however to remain competitive many firms can benefit by choosing this cost-effective approach − especially those struggling to perform the necessary support activities required to maximize operational capabilities.

About the Author
Kirk Norris, now retired, had leadership responsibility for MAVERICK’s operational consulting business. He joined MAVERICK after a long career at Anheuser-Busch InBev, where he held several corporate and plant positions including brewmaster and plant manager. Kirk served as president of the Anheuser-Busch Packaging Group, a vertically integrated packaging materials manufacturing subsidiary.

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