No doubt about it, COVID-19 has changed the way most—if not all—businesses operate. While food and beverage processors have had to struggle with supply chain issues, robotics and system suppliers have had to face similar supply chain problems, plus come up with solid methods of service and maintenance support during the pandemic. I asked several robotics-related suppliers how they’ve been affected and how they’ve altered their service/support strategies due to COVID-19.
ABB Robotics: To support customers’ resumption of operations, ABB is offering a support package to help restart production lines, including a special package of digital solutions as well as virtual and field service support initiatives to help businesses restart production lines that may have been idle for weeks or months during the COVID-19 pandemic.
We are also supporting customers with a virtual consultation and audit to help identify issues and support needed and delivery of spare parts to ensure customers have the correct part in stock for a quick and effective restart to production and to minimize risks in the restart process.
—Joe Chudy, vice president and general manager
APRIL Robotics: We’ve been providing 24/7 remote access support to our customers in mainland Europe and the UK for our robotic systems. Fortunately, we’ve been able to resolve any issues that arise remotely with our software engineers, as it’s been difficult to visit sites during this period.
We’ve also been able to use Microsoft Teams to work with customers remotely in the sales and system design phase so that no projects suffer from delays. For instance, a SOLIDWORKS or simulation screen can easily be shared with customers to run through designs and gain approvals. If anything, it’s been more productive and we’re looking forward to using this way of working coupled with more traditional face-to-face meetings in the future.
—Jake Norman, head of sales & innovation
Cantrell-Gainco Group Inc. (U.S. representative for Mayekawa poultry equipment): We have a very effective training system in place with the sale of each Mayekawa. This is both a classroom and hands-on training at our Solution Center in Gainesville, GA. We have expanded this training to all product lines and incorporated the training into a virtual meeting environment to better serve our customers.
We have also greatly increased on service agreement product offerings to better serve our customers and meet the need for better maintenance and service to keep equipment operating at a high level of efficiency.
—Sam Collup, director of sales
FANUC America: FANUC and our network of Authorized Systems Integrators (ASI’s) have implemented many changes to help customers continue to produce in this current unprecedented time. FANUC had previously already introduced a software product called Zero-Down-Time (ZDT) which allows FANUC to monitor robot health and predict possible anomalies so that they can be addressed in a planned manner, vs. becoming unplanned downtime. The ZDT technology allows for some remote monitoring activities to take place that can reduce the amount of on-site work that is required. Regarding system design and commissioning, many FANUC ASI’s have implemented virtual technologies to allow for system Factory Acceptance Test (FAT) to take place remotely.
When it comes to training staff, FANUC early on in the COVID-19 pivoted training activities to offer instructor led virtual training. This still allowed for the benefit of an instructor led training class, but takes advantage of the advancements in many of the virtual capabilities available today.
—James Cooper, executive director global accounts
Festo: Festo is an automation components supplier; hence, we leave the installation and commissioning of systems to our OEM customers. However, we have developed several solutions which aid our customers in terms of service and maintenance, spare parts, and optimizing OEE. One of our latest innovations is our online maintenance software called Smartenance. The software provides a simple, easy to use digital interface which saves time by exchanging feedback to the cloud. An app can be installed on a tablet or smartphone so machine operators, maintenance staff, and production managers have all the machine data at their fingertips. Examples of such data include training manuals, error logs, maintenance schedules with auto alerts, how-to videos, incident management, plant logbook, and much more. This platform is an extremely powerful form of collaboration plantwide, which improves productivity while decreasing the amount of face-to-face interactions. Smartenance is vendor independent—and can be used with any manufacturer’s machines.
—Cory Knight, automation engineer
Mayekawa Robot Products: COVID-19 provided us the increased need of a remote maintenance environment. as it is difficult send engineers across the country and state borders. Even installation supervising for new projects will be done remotely in July utilizing web-conference software. Good operation of control and monitoring device (option to the system) has become more important ever before.
— Kosuke Matsumoto, senior engineer
Omron Automation Americas: Omron is working with key system integration partners in developing UV mobile robots, mobile collaborative robot carts that allow the movement of the robot from application to another to help where needed, and providing these solutions through remote and virtual training.
—Darrell Paul, marketing manager, robotics & motion
Since many companies have restrictions for external visitors, our sales and technical engineers have been providing both on-demand and virtual classroom training sessions for our customers. In the event a customer is deemed essential by the government, we have field staff that can provide in-house support if necessary, and we have added those customers to a special order list in order to support our government’s directives.
—Laura Studwell, industry marketing manager, packaging
OnRobot, Americas: We have seen a surge of interest in our online webinar series during COVID-19. OnRobot’s free online seminars address a wide range of topics related to the pandemic, from advice for those considering automation adoption for the first time due to COVID-19 all the way through to educational seminars related to specific applications for our products. We have two seminars coming up later this month; one on using OnRobot products with Techman collaborative robots, and the other, offering tips and insights for those going through the process of choosing a robot gripper.
We’ve also seen increased interest in support technologies that enable remote robot troubleshooting and maintenance.
— Kristian Hulgard, general manager
Quest Industrial/ProMach: Food and beverage production and distribution are considered essential industries relative to COVID-19, so keeping these facilities up and running is critical.
To begin with, Quest products are designed for streamlined commissioning, and user-friendly operation and maintenance. In the event service is required, much of it can be performed by in-plant personnel, equating to faster uptime. Quest is a FANUC Authorized System Integrator and Certified Vision Specialist, so the company has a deep robotics knowledge base to solve nearly any customer challenge either in-person or remotely.
Quest offers a full line of high quality OEM parts manufactured to exacting specifications. Its technicians understand what parts are needed to keep robotics and packaging equipment running efficiently.
With system integration, Quest’s integrated modular solutions extend its robotic cells and help connect the new automation to existing plant lines or processes. The company takes its robotic expertise, combined with what it has learned about a specific plant application, and delivers an automated solution to optimize the plant’s process. The resulting solution integrates seamlessly into the plant and is customized to fit its unique requirements.
One of the ways in which Quest supports its customers is through its online Quest U™ tool. Here basic training videos on the machinery are loaded and can be accessed. This provides access to all available videos that pertain to an installation’s equipment and technology surrounding it. It is a useful tool to help new operators get trained on the Quest machine and its relevant technology.
— Naomi Holdvogt, director, marketing, ProMach Robotics & end of line
Sidel: To keep our customers` production lines running at any time, Sidel has developed Remote Video Assistance, building a bridge between our specialists and clients. Wherever in the world our clients are and whatever Sidel equipment they have, this solution provides the means to conduct standard to challenging operations on production lines. Firstly, we provide reliable guidance: with live video sharing, through phone, tablet or virtual reality headsets. Sidel specialists can see what operators see on the equipment, to enable them to achieve expert work at any time. Our customers can rely on augmented reality and a great variety of functionalities to be precisely and efficiently guided in reaching respective production objectives. Secondly, with this solution we can react fast: with Sidel Remote Video Assistance, we save time by quickly connecting to our experts remotely whenever there is a critical situation or need. Our partners benefit in real-time from the know-how of their original equipment manufacturer.
This solution extends capabilities to handle any situation across time and distance, such as equipment installation, factory acceptance test, troubleshooting, maintenance operations, performance analysis, format changeover, line conversion and equipment retrofit.
— Didier Saussereau, packing product manager
Universal Robots, USA: We have made tremendous strides in reducing face-to-face interactions during the pandemic while still providing the same service, support and presence customers expect from Universal Robots. In late July we launched the largest virtual Cobot Expo in the Americas. It was a rich experience with an extensive range of product news and demonstrations, featuring more than 30 different booths, insightful keynotes, interactive QAs, and live chats with automation experts. We are planning a similar event in October.
Our Sales & Support team have been doing virtual product demonstrations with all field teams equipped to do live online demonstrations and introductory training. Sales Support Engineers are equipped to do remote training, trouble-shooting customer applications. Our North American service center has remained in operation throughout the crisis. Split shifts allowed social distancing while maintaining parts and repair activities.
UR+ partner Hirebotics also developed a cloud-based utility called Beacon to assist in remote operation and troubleshooting of UR robots. Our free UR Academy now has 90,000+ users from 130+ countries offering online training courses available in 8 languages: English, Spanish, German, French, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and Thai. The Application Builder is another online tool that help guide users through some of the most common cobot applications such as machine tending and packaging.
— Joe Campbell, senior manager of applications development
For more information:
ABB Robotics, https://new.abb.com/products/robotics
APRIL Robotics, https://www.oalgroup.com/april-robotics
Cantrell-Gainco Group Inc., https://cantrellgainco.com/
FANUC America, www.fanucamerica.com
Kawasaki Robotics, USA, https://robotics.kawasaki.com/
Mayekawa Robot Products, https://mayekawa.com/americas
Omron Automation Americas, https://automation.omron.com
OnRobot, Americas, www.onrobot.com
Quest Industrial/ProMach, www.questindustrial.com
Universal Robots USA, www.universal-robots.com