If you have ever tried to help a friend diagnose a home computer problem over the telephone or work through a complex software installation problem with someone at the other end of the telephone who was not completely understanding your instructions, you have probably made the statement, "If I could sit down at your computer, I could figure out what was going on and fix it." Now on some PC-based controls there is a way to see the screen, operate the keyboard, control the mouse and even see and talk to the operator by remote access. This article tells how Tree Machine Tool Co., Inc. in Franklin, Wisconsin, has solved this problem on their CNC machines.
The remote access method that Tree has developed is a process called Interactive Support (IS). IS is a technical support tool that allows interactive communications via voice, data, and video. By utilizing IS, Tree's technicians, engineers, or its distributors can interface with a machine operator over a regular telephone line using a desktop computer and modem at the technical support end, and a Siemens PC-2100 control and modem miles away at the machine end.
Tree's IS patent-pending process allows voice, video, and data to coexist over a standard telephone line without the performance degradation that occurs in conventional remote access software. What this means to an end-user is that a service technician at Tree, or at one of Tree's distributors, and a machine operator can both see each other and talk to each other. This capability is desirable in itself but the real power of Tree's IS system comes when it is combined with the touch screen capability of the PC-2100. Since all control functions are presented to the operator as Icon touch targets on the operators display, they are also available to the remote technician by mouse control. This allows a technician at a remote location access to: error messages, servo setup parameters, tool data information , offset tables, part programs, and so on and, gives the capability to look at and change any settings, values or parameters that can be done at the machine except activate cycle start. Also, with only minimal manual intervention by the machine operator, the role of the video camera can be expanded. The camera, which is normally mounted on top of the operators station, can be repositioned by the operator to allow the technician to look at various parts of the machine, look at tools, and even watch the part being machined.
Tree created their IS system around the ability of the PC-2100 to run third party software and hardware for handling video, audio, and remote access of data. Additionally, they have added custom software to the package to coordinate all three of these functions over a modem. Tree envisions their IS system as a powerful support tool for the company with many uses.
- As a diagnostic tool, the fact that a technician can access both the control alarm journals and the hardware level diagnostics, gives him all of the diagnostic resources that he would have if he were standing in front of the machine. Also, once the problem is diagnosed and it is determined that a service call is required, the technician will know what the problem is before leaving for the job and will be able to take the necessary parts to make the repair.
- IS can be used as a software upgrade tool. It is common practice today with the fast changing pace of control technology to have frequent software updates. Currently, update disks are mailed to Tree's distributors. Once the disks are received, the distributors must make an on-site service call to install the software. If the disks get damaged in the mail, the upgrade is delayed. But, IS can eliminate this delay by performing software updates through the IS modem.
- As a management tool, IS allows a supervisor to inspect machines on the shop floor without leaving his office. He can log onto a number of machines and monitor them simultaneously on his office computer.
- The system also can be used as a training tool. By using headsets, simultaneous audio allows a service technician to explain to an operator why he is making a change, while he is making them. The operator can watch his screen as the technician makes changes or demonstrates how a certain function should be executed. Also, with this capability a technician can watch the steps an operator goes through when performing a function. Being able to watch and talk with the operators as they work, makes it easier to correct mistakes and answer questions. It is as interactive and effective as the technician looking over the shoulder of the operator.