Thanks to the rise of the IIoT, a new business model has emerged: Machine-as-a-Service. Not only does this represent new revenue streams for machine builders, it also gives them a means to verify the feasibility of new technology in specific applications before charging customers. In addition, it increases share of market by allowing customers to rent instead of buy machines outright, which may have been cost-prohibitive before.
For example, Rolls-Royce engines are no longer sold to customers. Instead, customers are charged for hourly power generation and comprehensive maintenance services.
Machine-as-a-Service requires machine builders to focus more on the “service” aspect. Fortunately, by adding IIoT-connected sensors to machines, operational data can be sent to the cloud for big data analysis. This makes for improved services, especially predictive and remote maintenance.
Predictive maintenance ensures smooth, uninterrupted operations by performing maintenance in advance of a breakdown, therefore reducing unexpected downtime. Remote maintenance not only slashes maintenance costs by minimizing site visits, it also streamlines resolution of problems that may arise.
However, in order to perform any of these services, secure remote access to machines is mandatory.
Remote Access to Machines
While remote access isn’t a new concept, the most commonly used software-based solutions have shortcomings that can dissuade machine builders from using them. The first method is remote desktop software. This requires a machine to be connected to a local terminal running the software, so that machine builders can quickly establish a dedicated link to the machine. Yet these remote connections run a high risk of data theft due to a lack of strong encryption.
If implemented poorly, remote desktop software allows malicious actors to gain unauthorized access to the business owner’s intranet, leading to a host of serious problems.
The second method is to establish virtual private network (VPN) tunnels. Sound simple? It isn't.
IT staff must set up an IP address, domain name, key ID, a suitable encryption algorithm, and then maintain the entire network. VPNs require considerable IT support to ensure that their use will not interfere with intranets. For many larger or remote projects, this level of IT support staff is not readily available or cost-effective.
Furthermore, each maintenance project requires a dedicated VPN connection to the remote site. From the perspective of a machine builder, each VPN connection must be configured and managed separately. A single VPN tunnel already mandates a significant investment in manpower to support. Multiply that by hundreds or even thousands, and the amount of overhead required explodes.
With such a huge number of devices scattered between different customers and locations, the cost of establishing, organizing, and maintaining connections and IT equipment will be overwhelming.
The IIoT Alternative
Fortunately, with recent developments in IIoT and cloud platform technology, the issues that plague these traditional solutions are solved. Instead of managing individual VPN tunnels, you can now employ IIoT technology to build a centralized platform that monitors and manages all of your connections.
Machine builders can manage remote machines with web-based software running on a cloud platform. By using cloud-based software, machine builders can easily access machines anytime, anywhere. They can also choose which sites need to be connected, and the connections can be automatically set up to link the machine builders to their client’s machines.
This greatly simplifies the tedious burden of configuring and organizing VPN settings for every remote connection—dramatically reducing maintenance and IT personnel costs.
Currently, there are few manufacturers with industrial-grade hardware and software integration capabilities. Selecting the right partner can be crucial for machine builders that need to manage thousands of connected devices. An experienced partner will provide machine builders with a scalable solution to create secure connections between humans and machines, making remote maintenance and Machine-as-a-Service possible.
Moxa MCR Networking
One means to leverage Machine-as-a-Service is Moxa Remote Connect (MRC), an easy-to-use, highly secure, and exceptionally versatile networking solution designed to seamlessly bridge field devices, engineers, and application servers together over the Internet for industrial applications. The solution combines Moxa MRC Servers, MRC Gateways, and MRC Clients:
- The MRC Server is a connection management platform that determines how the MRC Gateways and MRC Clients are related. The MRC Server gives administrators enhanced control over the remote connection including selecting the periods of time when it can be accessed and the kind of features that are available.
- The MRC Gateway is a secure gateway that connects Ethernet-ready devices at remote sites to the MRC Client.
- The MRC Client is a software tool that allows engineers to choose which remote device to connect to from a user’s laptop.
MRC users can choose either the BYOS (Build Your Own Server) business model to have full control of Moxa MRC, or opt for MRC Quick Link, which is a remote connection service hosted by Moxa that minimizes maintenance efforts and allows customers to focus on their business.