The plant world is remote! Successful remote access solution in the field of plastic processing.

Kiefel relies on solutions from MB connect line for secure remote access.

For more than 60 years, KIEFEL GmbH has been a supplier of machines and systems for plastic processing and one of the world market leaders in thermoforming and joining technologies. The main areas of application are packaging, medical technology and the refrigerator industry. Worldwide, thousands of Kiefel machines are in operation at customers in the EMEA, NAFA and Asia regions – and for many years, most of them have also been equipped with the secure remote access of MB connect line.

This fact was instrumental in helping Kiefel install new equipment, especially during the pandemic, as service technicians were not allowed to travel to the countries or companies due to restrictions. Supported by cameras, mixed reality goggles and video conferencing tools, the machines were successfully set up and commissioned in collaboration with the plant operator’s personnel. After commissioning, the further operation of the plant could be ensured by the MB connect line remote maintenance solution. Due to these service interventions via remote, the machine availability and thus the production at the customers could be guaranteed in the past months.

For more than 20 years, Kiefel has been focusing on digitalization and the associated remote access. The advantages are obvious: service technicians can connect directly to the plant and access the relevant data. Possible faults can thus be detected in the first step and ideally rectified directly.  This not only saves a lot of travel time and personnel costs for the deployment of the service technician, but above all downtimes and thus increases overall equipment effectiveness (OEE). If the technician can rectify the fault immediately online, the machine then continues to produce straight away. If the remote intervention is not sufficient, Kiefel helps customers in a timely manner through its large global service network.

The pandemic and the associated travel restrictions have once again significantly increased the importance of remote access – with long-term consequences: “Covid-19 has given the digitization of many processes a huge boost and this will be maintained in the future,” emphasizes Markus Penninger, Global Director After Sales Service Division at KIEFEL GmbH. Remote operations have become such a matter of course for customers that many service calls will take place remotely much more frequently even after the end of the pandemic.

Markus Penninger, Global Director After Sales Service Division at KIEFEL GmbH. ©KIEFEL GmbH

Highest IT security through cloud-based user access

Common for remote access is cloud-based user access: A computer architecture, the cloud, establishes a secure VPN connection between user and cloud and between cloud and router. These two VPN tunnels are connected via the cloud. Software certificates, authorized user credentials, and strictly regulated assignment of rights to the routers in the systems ensure that unauthorized access by third parties to the systems and thus to the company’s network can be ruled out – Markus Penninger also confirms this: “The cloud-based solution has been extremely proven in terms of security for many years.”

“The cloud-based solution has been extremely proven in terms of security for many years”

Markus Penninger, Global Director After Sales Service Division

Many Kiefel machines are equipped for remote access via MB connect line. ©KIEFEL GmbH

Own hosting creates trust

When it comes to IT security, Kiefel has trusted the products of MB connect line from the very beginning. The expert for secure remote access, industrial IoT and industrial security offers mymbCONNECT24.virtual, a personal remote service portal. Kiefel has integrated this solution into its own company. This means that the entire hosting of the remote service platform is also carried out and operated by Kiefel. For the system customer, Kiefel is and remains the sole point of contact when it comes to this system. “The fact that we operate the hosting ourselves definitely increases the acceptance of the remote maintenance system among our customers,” Markus Penninger states with conviction. In-house hosting is also often used as a winning argument in communication. Thus, there is no further interface between the plant builder and the plant operator. And the trust between these parties is definitely there.

Switchable access in the case of remote access

The mbNET router, which combines two tasks, is located between the system and the Internet access on the machine side. On the one hand, it acts as a firewall between the OT and the IT network in the company. At the same time, the router also controls access to the various components within the plant. The individual user rights are stored in the cloud. The router ensures the correct assignment between the respective authorization and the corresponding VPN endpoint in the plant.

A wish repeatedly expressed by plant operators is to disconnect the plant from the Internet if the connection is not required – even though access rights are strictly regulated and unauthorized access by third parties is ruled out. A quick, but absolutely not recommended option is to pull the network or power cable. This variant also carries the risk that connectivity will not be immediately available when needed.

A better variant is the mbNET.rokey router, which is equipped with an integrated key switch. This allows connectivity to be safely interrupted with a single turn of the key. If remote access is planned and desired, the key switch is turned to the appropriate switch position on site and access from outside can take place.

©KIEFEL GmbH

Connectivity in a wide range of areas

Of course, the main task of a remote maintenance system is to establish connectivity to the individual plant components. But that is by no means everything – in fact, that is just the beginning! Kiefel also uses these access options in other areas and is constantly expanding them. For example, AR glasses will soon be part of the standard equipment of service technicians (commissioning engineers) to provide customers with even better remote support. In addition, they and also Kiefel’s customers can access a great deal of further-reaching information on the machine, the latest documentation or training, and order spare parts via the online Kiefel portal. This is possible around the clock. These services are constantly being developed in parallel. “Remote operations and the digital provisions for them ensure our full ability to act now and in the future, regardless of location – for example, in times of a global pandemic,” Penninger concludes. “Despite all the possibilities, remote deployments cannot replace the real deployment of our trained service technicians in every case. But we will of course continue to work with remote tools in the future and expand the possibilities. This brings benefits for both the customer and us, for example in terms of cost savings and speed.”

As trust in remote maintenance systems increases and their use becomes more normal, so will the scope and opportunities they offer.

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