Remote support drives a new way of working

ABB provides 24/7 support through its collaborative operations centre.

ABB has developed an enhanced modus operandi that accelerates the detection and resolution of equipment failures at remote mine sites. Safe to Work explores the wonders of ABB Ability Remote Insights.

The mining sector is embracing new ways of working, with progress in this direction accelerating across the world.

While Australia’s mining companies are already at the forefront of technology that enhances remote work, this year has reinforced that it is a top priority.

ABB service manager Thomas Stur has observed a definite uptake in the company’s remote operation diagnostic capabilities, called the ABB Ability Remote Insights, as mining companies seek to become more connected.

The remoteness of Australian mines compared with those in other countries has conveniently positioned them as an early adopter of remote technology.

ABB, a leading global engineering company that connects software to its electrification, robotics, automation and motion portfolio, has existing contracts with companies it supplies its products to, and that includes 24/7 remote support through its ABB Ability Collaborative Operations Centre.

The company has contributed to the sector’s transition to remote work for over a decade. 

“The use of remote insights has been accelerated this year because we haven’t been able to get to site, so we have been using remote insights and other ABB Ability technologies to enable our engineers from Finland, Switzerland and the United States to dial in and assist on-site workers and engineers to solve problems they’ve encountered on our machinery,” Stur tells Safe to Work.

“It’s the same customers we’ve been supporting for many years in Australia, but the appetite for using these technologies has definitely increased.

“We rolled out ABB Ability Remote Insights in October 2019 so we’re lucky to be able to support our customers even when it’s not safe to go to sites.”

Such remote work has been called on to comply with travel restrictions, but also to assist operators in resolving issues that would affect the safety of daily activities.

ABB service manager Thomas Stur.

Stur says a gearless mill drive could experience an abnormal rise in temperature and the operator may not know whether there is an underlying problem, or if it is simply a reaction to hot weather.

ABB Ability Remote Insights is at the operator’s disposal for quick remote support 24 hours a day without having to wait for an email response.

The company’s engineers will then use augmented reality (AR) to investigate issues as they arise before they turn into something major.

“You don’t have to take the guesswork when maintaining large industrial equipment. You don’t have to take risks when you don’t need to. Instead, you can dial in and access assistance from the experts that designed your equipment,” Stur says.

ABB Ability Remote Insights are delivered via a headset worn by both the ABB technician and mining operator.

The technician can see what the latter sees, annotate on the image and provide step-by-step guidance as part of seamless two-way communication.

“AR is where you overlay the real world with additional information. It is, by far, the most common technology at the moment and is being used by ABB extensively in Australia,” Stur says.

“This gives operators the ability to escalate a problem as it arises. You retain a clear line of sight to your equipment and surrounding while receiving support.”

Such mode of troubleshooting is built with safety in mind for it doesn’t require an operator to be caught up and look down at their tablet or mobile phone and be oblivious to an incoming danger in their surroundings.

To Stur, this is the most important point of differentiation between AR and virtual reality (VR) as the latter works by blocking one’s view in real life.

The AR technology doesn’t neglect the importance of personal protective equipment (PPE) either. It comes with full hearing protection modules so that an operator can hear the technician while remaining protected in a hazardous environment.

“Mines of today are better connected than ever. 4G and 5G networks are set up in a lot of mines, facilitating the smooth utilisation of ABB Ability Remote Insights,” Stur says.

“Everyone’s also very tech-savvy so we haven’t had any major issues in companies’ adoption of ABB Ability Remote Insights. After all, we live in the age of smartphones.”

ABB Ability Predictive Maintenance for mining is also proactive for alerting operators before they can see an issue coming.

Equipment receive 24/7 monitoring on the back of automated artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms that predict failures before they occur, stopping an issue from turning into a major failure.

This is part of the ABB Ability suite, which encompasses a different range of capabilities around predictive analytics.

Such is the masterful use of technology that ABB has decided to roll out its next technology.

ABB is working to incorporate AR and mixed reality to create remote training, targeted to operators of ABB gearless mill drives.

The prospects of a cross-over between AR and mixed reality have proven so well that ABB is also working on building remote factory acceptance test (FAT) capabilities to support the mining sector.

A customer who wants to purchase equipment, but can’t travel to the factory to inspect it before shipment can choose to dial in directly using AR and other technology to conduct a remote FAT.

They can watch a demonstration of the equipment, ask for any further information or particular tests to be conducted, and they will be guided in every step of the process.

With the development that is going on at ABB, the industry can see what the future of operational support will look like.

This new slice of reality is being added to the equation without compromising safety.

This article also appears in the Nov-Dec edition of Safe to Work.