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The market for industrial manufacturing technology is a global one. Modern communication and transportation make it possible to sell machines and plants to customers in all corners of the world. The task of maintaining those assets, however, can be a daunting challenge. To avoid flying service technicians and engineers halfway around the world, OEMs are increasingly relying on remote maintenance. We sat down with B&R's product manager for Industrial IoT René Blaschke and had him walk us through the process of deploying B&R's Secure Remote Maintenance solution.

In only a few simple steps, users are able to connect to a machine and control it as though they were right there on site.

Machine builders have tended to shy away from remote maintenance solutions in the past. Why is that?

René Blaschke: Remote maintenance has a reputation for being quite complex in terms of the resources and technical know-how it takes to set up the necessary routing, firewalls and VPN tunneling. On top of that, many companies are concerned about the security of sensitive machine data being sent over the Internet.

What can be done to address these issues?

René Blaschke: We've created a solution that is remarkably easy to deploy, while at the same time providing the necessary security. The hardware and software involved can be combined and scaled freely and tailored to each user's unique situation. In a few simple steps, the remote maintenance solution is up and running – and they can connect to their plants and machinery from any PC, smartphone or tablet.

What does a user need in order to implement a remote maintenance solution?

René Blaschke: What we offer is an easy-to-use complete solution. And of course assets in the field can be retrofitted with Secure Remote Maintenance at any time. All they need to do is order the necessary components, and after a quick setup they have the access they need from anywhere in the world, whether in their office or on the go.

"We have created a solution that is remarkably easy to deploy, while at the same time providing the necessary security," says B&R's product manager for Industrial IoT René Blaschke.

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Can you walk us through that process?

René Blaschke: Even before they receive the hardware they've ordered – called SiteManager – the machine builder is able to log into our system and set up their user interface. How it structured is entirely up to them, whether by country, customer or machine.

And when they get the hardware?

René Blaschke: When their hardware arrives, is just needs to be connected to the structure they've already set up. If they're deploying in a series-built machine, that can be done directly in our Automation Studio engineering tool. Then the SiteManager can be sent right to the end customer. At that point, the user can establish a secure connection in a matter of moments and then run diagnostics, adjust parameters and resolve any faults as though they were right there on site.

What kind of technical know-how does the user need to have?

René Blaschke: The user really doesn't need any specific previous knowledge. Secure Remote Maintenance is easy and intuitive to use. In the web portal, for example, access rights are assigned via drag-and-drop. And you don't need to be an IT specialist to make the necessary configurations.

You mentioned a web portal. How do users connect to this portal?

René Blaschke: The machine builder can open the intuitive portal in a web browser. At the same time, the SiteManager, which is connected directly to the machine controller, also establishes a connection to the portal. In the portal, users have an overview of all connected machines and can simply click to access them. Users can lease the web portal from B&R as a software-as-a-service (SaaS) solution or install it on their own server. Either way, they are guaranteed the same level of secure data transmission.

How do you ensure that the data is protected against hackers?

René Blaschke: Secure Remote Maintenance functions in accordance with all the latest IT and cybersecurity guidelines. We employ state-of-the-art encryption and security mechanisms like those used for online banking. All access is logged in detail and archived for later traceability. And there's no need for additional open ports.

So, it's possible to deploy the remote maintenance solution in an existing company network?

René Blaschke: That's correct. To access a plant or machine, they simply access the Internet from their company network. No public IP addresses or open firewall connections are used to do this – only standardized encrypted web protocols. For those who don't have a company network or would prefer not to use one, there are also secure mobile options.

To perform service, the technician establishes a secure connection to the machine via the Internet.

Could you finish by describing how the solution works in a real service situation?

René Blaschke: To access the machine, the technician simply logs into the web portal – for which they need nothing more than a web browser and a connection to the Internet. The machine also connects to the web portal via the SiteManager, protected by its integrated firewall. If authentication is successful, the VPN connection established and the technician can access the machine.

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