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Quick fixes

Jul 1, 2006 12:00 AM

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The press technician’s logbook was written in the spare style favored by Dragnet’s Joe Friday:

“A customer out West had a press go down at 6 p.m. I logged into the press from home and identified the problem. I got the press running again and continued to monitor it until I went to bed.

“The next day I logged into the press. The problem occurred again at 12 p.m. This time I had a diagnostic program running and called the customer before he called me. I identified the defective part and had the part shipped to the customer. The problem was resolved, the press is back in production.”

The story, excerpted from the case files of MAN Roland’s Matt Braun, illustrates how remote diagnostic systems are dramatically reducing downtime. Schedule-conscious plant owners can get their iron back on line without the white-knuckled, red-inked wait for a repairman.

A step up from dial-up
Richard Mack, remote service manager for Heidelberg (Atlanta, GA), notes that a modern printing press has three times more electrical components than platforms of a just a generation ago—far too many to cover with onsite diagnostic visits. Hence the necessity of remote diagnostic support, which has been available almost from the time printers first began using dial-up modems to move data around. Florian Spiekermann, manager of electrical operations for KBA North America (Williston, VT), says KBA has offered remote press diagnostics since 1995—initially with modems, and now also via TCP/IP for connections across the Internet.

Faster and more robust than dial-up, Internet connectivity is a relatively recent offering from most of the equipment leaders, which started building the capability into the controls of their newest equipment about two years ago through links to secure virtual private networks (VPNs) or the manufacturers’ own intranets.

These solutions “brought remote diagnosis to a new level,” says Mack. “It is much faster to connect now, we can do it globally from anywhere, and the data transmission rate is significantly increased.” As director of the MAN Roland (Westmont, IL) technical solutions team, Braun administers a diagnostic product called TelePresence. He agrees: “The dial-up predecessor known as RSD, remote service diagnosis, was very limited as to what could be monitored remotely. Compared to TelePresence, RSD could show us only 20 percent of what we can see now.”

Increased data security was another goal. “The VPN technology was necessary when we moved to an Internet-based system because of the various risks in an open Internet environment,” says Kosh Miyao, senior vice president of Komori America (Rolling Meadows, IL), about that vendor’s progress from dial-up to virtual networking.

Nonetheless, the buzz and chirp of modems will continue to be familiar sound effects for remote diagnosis as end users select the type of connectivity that best suits their needs and comfort levels. Mitsubishi Lithographic Presses USA (Lincolnshire, IL) provides remote support only by dial-up, for a reason: “This is a simple system that only requires a dedicated phone line. We have kept it a dial-up system for simplicity and to avoid networking issues,” explains Dan Sullivan, manager of Mitsubishi’s electrical department.

Spiekermann points out that more than 50 percent of KBA’s customers still connect via modem, which he says is perfectly adequate for diagnosing and troubleshooting older machines. KBA also advises those preferring to connect via the Internet to dedicate a backup phone line to the modem that KBA continues to install in every one of its presses, including the newest equipment.

The world on a wire
Whether by dial-up or networking, remote diagnostics is catching on everywhere. Sullivan says Mitsubishi includes modem diagnostics in four out of five press installs and about 50 percent of customers are taking advantage of it. According to Mack, all Heidelberg Speedmaster presses ordered since last September feature Web-based remote service, one of a bundle of benefits the company offers under its systemservice 36plus package. In all, says Mack, Heidelberg supports 10,000 prepress devices and 1,000 presses around the world with remote diagnostic services. Spiekermann says every KBA press is remotely controllable and every KBA customer uses remote diagnostics to a certain extent.

But remote diagnostics aren’t just for the pressroom. Muller Martini (Hauppauage, NY), with a portfolio consisting almost entirely of postpress equipment, now provides modem or VPN access to remote services with all of its mid-range and high-end stitchers and binders. Jamie Blom, the company’s electrical engineering manager, estimates about 80 percent of customers are using or implementing the capability.

How does it work?
The concept behind remote diagnostic systems is fairly simple. Sensors embedded in the major submechanisms of the press relay their findings to the on-board computer that drives the control console. Once the remote link is established—either by the customer or by the remote service center, with the customer’s permission—it’s as if the technician were standing at the console, seeing what the customer sees and doing what the customer would do if the customer possessed the needed expertise.

Because customers typically don’t have those skills, remote technicians substitute diagnostic software that lets them access and use all of the corrective tools that appear on the console. They also can access the operating history of the press as recorded by mini-computers and software modules resident in the printing units and, in some cases, the press’s peripheral equipment.

Throughout the machine, a network of sensing devices connected to a nerve center called a programmable logic controller (PLC) monitors the states of coils, contacts and other electrical points of interest, compiling a real-time summary of what these components are and are not doing. A communications bus—a subsystem for data transfer—passes it all through to the control console, now being watched in simulation by the remote technician.

Distance disappears
Once the service request has been made by the customer, says Braun, “The virtual technician now can access any data as if he were at the press with his laptop physically connected.” What’s more, because the technician’s virtual toolkit includes a list of all MAN Roland presses with open service requests, “[The technican] can troubleshoot a press down the street as easily as he could troubleshoot a press that is halfway around the world.”

There’s much to keep a virtual eye on. Through VPNs, says Miyao, “All areas of the press can be monitored, including the PLC, resident press diagnostic and maintenance systems, production reports, and the press log, which records all events that have taken place on the press.”

Spiekermann points out that the sensors monitor every electrically controlled function on the press—for example, dampeners and inkers—enabling the remote technician to check fluid levels, pressure and other fundamental operating conditions. The technician can review the press’s fault history and, where safety permits, override sensors and software to make adjustments and corrections. He also can access password-protected diagnostic tools that aren’t available to the user.

Secure in the knowledge
But, customers needn’t fear surrendering control when they open their systems to virtual scrutiny. Mack notes that Heidelberg technicians must ask customers to authorize access to their presses so online connections can be made to the company’s main diagnostic server in Wiesloch, Germany. All data are encrypted for secure transmission, and the customer, who is aware at all times of what the technician is doing, may end the remote session at any point.

It is up to customers to provide the proper connections on their end. Modem dial-up, says Blom, requires a dedicated line that does not go through the plant’s private branch exchange (its main telephone system). For VPN, the customer’s IT department must add the machine as a node on the plant’s network for Ethernet connectivity from the outside in. This enables the remote technician to initiate an authorized connection to the device using host/client software.

What can the systems do?
The manufacturers aren’t shy in their claims for what the virtual systems can do. Says Mack, “Our experts can resolve anything from using the right ink profiles to fixing complex perfector lock-up issues. Today we resolve 60 percent to 80 percent of service calls remotely.”

Spiekermann estimates that after a session of correcting operator errors, finding and overriding malfunctioning sensors, and resetting tripped circuit breakers, he has at least a 50 percent chance of getting the sidelined press back into operation. Failing that, problems often can be dealt with by shipping parts that customers can install themselves—not as speedy as a remote repair, but still preferable to waiting for an onsite service call. And even when there’s no alternative to dispatching a repairman, remote diagnostics minimize the aggravation by pinpointing exactly what needs to be done or replaced before the field technician gets there.

But, as far as sniffing out problems is concerned, logged-in might be just as effective as hands-on. Braun says MAN Roland’s remote troubleshooters can transfer files to and from the press hard drive; read the alarm file as well as all PLC inputs and outputs; operate the positioning drives and ink slides; check the communication throughout the press; access the dampener, ink fountain roller and coating pumps; and slow down wheel drives.

The fix is in
Customers don’t just stand by twiddling their thumbs as the invisible assistance is rendered. “The virtual technician will guide the onsite personnel through whatever is required to be done via the telephone or the ‘chat box’ at the press,” says Braun. “We will even put a Web phone at the press with preprogrammed buttons so the customer is one button away from electrical, mechanical, printing, networking and parts support. When the customer calls, we can tell who it is before we answer.”

Requests for assistance can be instructional as well as remedial. Sometimes, says Spiekermann, a remote session serves to answer customers’ questions about controls, displays and operating procedures—a frequent occurrence during warranty periods.

What can’t the computers do?
What can’t these programs do? Blom notes that remote diagnosis can’t do anything about purely mechanical breakdowns, fix problems in which the diagnostic equipment itself is involved, or help when the connection is dropped or the controlling computer crashes. Print quality issues, says Braun, still require onsite examination by a specialist or submission of the spoiled sheets to the vendor’s headquarters for review. Faults in auxiliary equipment—dryers, fountain solution recirculators, chiller pumps—often aren’t accessible through the diagnostic hardware that monitors the press.

Eat your heart out, HAL
Remote diagnostic systems aren’t intended to squeeze humans out of the loop. The technology doesn’t preclude the need for preventive maintenance (PM), which can be performed only by people who are onsite with the equipment. But even here, remote diagnostics can lend a hand with features that encourage good PM practices—assuming the customer is paying attention.

Miyao says, “Komori presses have an embedded maintenance system that tells the operator in simple terms what needs to be done and when. When Komori looks at the system through the VPN, we can tell instantly if the operators are following the maintenance schedule or not.”

KBA equipment does the same thing, Spiekermann says, by sending reminders about upcoming PM tasks. By analyzing press history, the remote technician also might be able to make recommendations about potential PM improvements. Maintenance Manager, a feature found on MAN Roland’s TelePresence, tracks all required upkeep on the press and provides a graphical display advising operators about pending and overdue maintenance chores. Automatically generated e-mail alerts get the ball rolling with lists of needed tools and consumables. Step-by-step instructions on the press monitor refresh operators’ memories. Maintenance Manager even gives a projected time for each maintenance event, the better to help pressroom supervisors build PM routines into crowded production schedules.

What’s the cost?
With one exception, the vendors we contacted charge for long-term remote diagnostic support. Most press vendors offer it for free during warranty periods and at varying rates after that. Blom says Muller Martini considers remote diagnostics an extension of telephone support and provides it gratis for eligible machines of all ages.

Thirty-six months of Web-based remote service for new Heidelberg presses with the appropriate control consoles is part of the appeal of systemservice 36plus, included at no extra charge in the purchase price of the press. For older Heidelbergs, says Mack, remote service costs between $2,000 and $4,400 per year, depending on press model. Mitsubishi’s modem diagnostic system, which Sullivan says can support about 90 percent of the installed base, sells for $3,000 including parts, installation, and setup. Post-installation, there’s neither a per-incident charge nor a fee for ongoing service.

KBA’s remote diagnostic service is free throughout the press’s warranty period and available on a per-call basis or for a flat annual fee after expiration. Likewise, Komori bundles its VPN service at no cost with warranty protection. After the warranty is over, says Miyao, “The monthly cost is nominal and varies depending on geographic location.”

MAN Roland’s model for TelePresence is a bit different. According to Braun, the cost of use for a new machine is included during the warranty period. If TelePresence is retrofitted to a Roland 300, 900, 900 XXL, or a 700 manufactured since 1995, the cost is included in the first year. The annual cost after the warranty or the first year following retrofit is $1,595—not per machine but per plant, regardless of the number of presses supported. KBA’s Spiekermann maintains, “Every call is a success,” because every remote diagnostic session helps reduce downtime. “Customers are always happy when we can get the press back into action again,” he says.

Ed Halbur, general manager for Tru Line Lithographing (Racine, WI), a Garvey Group Co., has used KBA remote diagnostics on the company’s recently installed Rapida 105 10-color perfector as well as its existing 105 press. Halbur says the diagnostic tools were used extensively during the installation process to gain feedback on press performance. Remote diagnostics also monitor roll-to-sheeter operation on the new press. “The feeder is actually talking to the sheeter,” says Halbur.

When a heat sensor went out on one of Tru Line’s presses, the problem was resolved quickly. “A screen pops up with a number on it,” explains Halbur. “You call and [the technician] plugs into the press and tells you what to do. It’s almost instantaneous.” While Tru Line has had few occasions to use the online tools, Halbur says it’s a must-have. “It’s like a cell phone,” he says. “If you’ve ever had one, you’d never go back to being without one. If you’re down for a day, your schedule is lost. It’s all about being up and running. That’s why this is such a good tool.”

Saving 15 hours of downtime
Dan Sullivan, manager of Mitsubishi’s electrical department, recalls a customer who spotted a semi-automatic plate change error alert on the console during second shift. “When he called in, we hooked up to the modem on the PLC and found that the press had a bad sensor that was not completing the circuit,” says Sullivan. “We directed him to the sensor, and we had the press running in less than 20 minutes. This saved at least 15 hours of downtime and the cost of the service call.”

Troubleshooting & training for UV systems
Remote diagnostics can extend to press accessories. This screenshot illustrates Air Motion Systems’ (Arvada, CO) remote support for its UV and IR/TA systems. “This is an example of a technician instant-messaging with a customer during a live run of a print job,” explains Steve Metcalf, president and CEO.”It shows support data as it happens—and exactly what the operators see. We’ve used this not only for fast remote diagnostics and troubleshooting, but also for on-demand operator training. It saves our customers thousands of dollars annually.”

Reducing unplanned press downtime
At PRINT ’05, Heidelberg unveiled an extended service package said to be the first of its kind in the U.S. market: systemservice 36plus. Heidelberg’s systemservice 36plus extends service coverage for a period of 36 months with the purchase of a new press. Unlike a warranty extension, systemservice 36plus has a preventive maintenance element—it is designed to help reduce unplanned press downtime while improving overall efficiency.

A 36-month package
Heidelberg president Jim Dunn says systemservice 36 plus stirred interest “beyond expectations” when it was announced last year.

Available for all new Heidelberg presses except the Printmaster QM 46 and GTO models, systemservice 36plus triples the duration of the services—repairs, travel costs, parts and software updates—that are covered under Heidelberg’s basic 12-month warranty.

It then adds 36 months’ worth of supplemental services designed to help press owners maximize uptime: an “eSelfhelp” Internet portal; direct priority access to technical experts in Heidelberg’s U.S. headquarters via a special 800 number; the same access, on a 24/7 basis, to the company’s global expert network; Web-based remote diagnostics; and operator training.

Taking the PM pledge
The preventive maintenance component is the customer’s agreement to perform weekly and monthly equipment checks specified by Heidelberg and to undergo maintenance inspections by its technicians at 10-, 20-, and 30-month intervals.

Dunn says this proactive partnership is the essence of systemservice 36plus. “A one-year warranty typically means, ‘Who pays?’ We thought, ‘Let’s find a way to keep it from breaking in the first place.’”

Call management system debuts
SERVaccess (Marietta, GA) has launched a call management system for the service industry. The proprietary solution automates the service process and dialogue between the printer and the service technician.

SERVaccess offers one-stop shopping for technical support regardless of equipment brand; on-line call management and updates via text messaging to cell/PDA and/or any device connected to the Internet; and a large network of independent service professionals.


‘We never would have found the problem’
Richard Mack, remote service manager for Heidelberg, shared this customer testimonial:

“We had pileup in our delivery unit, and by the time I [the customer] was brought into the problem, we couldn’t print. After 45 minutes of frustration, I finally called remote service. They got the system up and said, ‘Something has tripped that sensor in the finisher, and you need to reset it.’

“Remote service was able to direct me right to where it was. I guarantee we would have been waiting for a technician to walk in to flip that sensor and get us back and running—we never would have found it. It kept registering that there was a piece of paper and a jam.

“We were in the middle of the run, and we were looking to keep any damage from being done before we could get a tech out there. That probably saved us about $3,000 on that one job alone.”

Patrick Henry is the director of Liberty or Death Communications. Contact him via