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Fix presses faster with remote service

Jul 1, 2005 12:00 AM


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Pressroom

Vendors at PRINT 05 & CONVERTING 05, September 9-15 in Chicago, will showcase the power of remote diagnostics. "In the future, every press will have it," says Todd Petzak, pressroom manager at Van Lanen Printing Co. (Green Bay, WI). "It’s definitely the way everybody is going," agrees Gil Ramos, Bobst Group’s (Roseland, NJ) technical service manager for SP folding carton products. "Most of our machines going to [the show] will have it built in."

At LITHExcel (Albuquerque, NM), President Waleed Ashoo also anticipates an emphasis on remote service at the show. "The manufacturers are going to push it and they should," he says. " My decisions on purchasing depend on how I’m going to reduce labor costs and how the manufacturer is going to help me keep the equipment up 98 or 99 percent of the time."

Electrical or electronic failures account for most of the downtime on pressroom and finishing equipment, while software glitches are the gremlins of prepress productivity. None of these departments can afford to sit idle for several days waiting for a technician or replacement parts.

But on the vendor side, manufacturers have been reducing the number of service facilities and centralizing parts inventories. And technicians can only squeeze in a certain number of calls per day.

Real-time information speeds troubleshooting
Thanks to phone lines and Internet connections, a technician can be in several places at once. The vendor’s technical service center can access a press control console, collect data from onboard computers, run diagnostics and even chat with the press operator while both view identical screen displays.

Van Lanen began working with MAN Roland’s remote service system in March. "We can call right from the console of the press, and they can diagnose problems," says Petzak. "It has saved us many, many days of being down," says Ashoo of the remote service LITHExcel has contracted for with Creo for its Trendsetter platesetter. "When we open a call to them they can immediately dial into the machine, and in many cases we get up and running immediately."

Ashoo is further impressed by the remote diagnostic computer’s ability to think ahead. "A lot of times a part just shows up with a note," he explains. The remote diagnostic system, anticipating that a replacement part will soon be needed, automatically ships the new part. If a technician is also needed, LITHExcel is notified so a visit can be scheduled.

LITHExcel recently added the remote service capabilities for its HP Indigo and MAN Roland presses. Ashoo says the MAN Roland service goes beyond fixing problems and anticipating maintenance needs—it also gathers extensive information about press performance. "The system captures everything, even operator errors," Ashoo says. "If anything is not running at 100 percent, it knows it."

"The biggest benefit is that it almost puts me on site," says Bobst Group’s Ramos. "I have the exact same screen as the operator, and I can use debugging tools. We get real-time information." Richard Mack, Heidelberg’s manager of system service business development, says his company can solve about 75 percent of press electrical issues without a tech visit. He adds that about 95 percent of prepress problems can be solved remotely, because this essentially is "just one computer talking to another computer."

Matt Braun, director of MAN Roland’s Rapid Response Team for electrical systems, reports an 80 percent resolution rate via telephone consultations.

Gary Samuels, managing partner at Pictorial Offset Corp. (Carlstadt, NJ), says remote service sped the installation process for a new MAN Roland press. "As we were calibrating the press, we were getting constant feedback from the diagnostics on how to correct any anomalies we incurred during the setup and calibration," he says. "We believe that it shaved off several days of the setup and installation process because of the instantaneous feedback."

IP gives users more data
While it’s possible to use dial-up access for remote diagnostics, MAN Roland’s Braun say IP-based service is a major advancement. MAN Roland’s first Web-based remote service system in North America went into operation in February, and several more are in the works.

Advantages of IP-based access include the ability to gather data from more sources, run more powerful troubleshooting procedures, and avoid disconnects and other line problems. Heidelberg now has about 150 IP-based installations worldwide, says Mack. For any global business, he adds, there’s a big plus in avoiding the welter of telephone and modem standards that apply in different parts of the world.

"Every piece of equipment we sell [is] Web-enabled," Mack says. "We’ve had 10 developers working on it for the last two years." Heidelberg will stage live demos of its IP-based remote service at PRINT 05 & CONVERTING 05.

Security posed the greatest challenge. "We have to assure the customer that there is no intrusion into his own network," he explains, noting that customers are justifiably wary of connecting their own resources to the worldwide, anonymous and infamously vulnerable Internet.

Heidelberg limits customers’ connectivity to a single link with Heidelberg’s service data center in Wiesloch, Germany. "We go through our own net, authenticate our technicians, use data encryption, all the latest and greatest [security precautions]," Mack says.

Braun says IP-based service currently is available on MAN Roland’s 300, 700 and 900-series sheetfed presses, and will be added to the 500 by this September.

Like Heidelberg, MAN Roland drives its worldwide remote service functions from a nerve center in Germany. The customer creates a service request including a description of the problem and the remedial steps already taken, then clicks an icon that sends the information to a server in Germany. This server identifies the appropriate service partner and forwards the request&$8212;U.S. customers’ requests go to Westmont, IL. The service partner connects directly to the computer at the customer site. The entire process takes less than 30 seconds, Braun says.

A MAN Roland technician can see all the computers built into the press together with the machine’s alarm and maintenance history, the status of internal communications loops and other data. The sites interact using a real-time online chat function. Heidelberg’s Mack says 285 of the 300 functions controlled by the press console can be activated remotely. (The exceptions are commands that would start up the press, which can’t be done remotely for safety reasons.)

While remote service still is fairly new, printers already are reaping the benefits of less downtime and faster repairs.

"So much of the work being done today is being done in a high-stress environment," says Ramos. "You can’t afford to have any single thing go down."



See it all in Chicago
Exhibitors at PRINT 05 & CONVERTING 05 will showcase hundreds of ways equipment manufacturers are using networks to diagnose and fix production problems remotely, as well as anticipating and preventing downtime. For complete show details, see www.print05.com.


John McKeon is an independent writer and consultant based in Chevy Chase, MD. Contact him at jjmckeon@comcast.net.