Remote diagnostics: The time has come?

The promise of remote diagnostics, which would let a packaging machinery builder "fix" a customer's in-plant machine problem via a Web connection, has been talked about more than practiced thus far. A key roadblock has been the unwillingness of the IT (Information Technology) manager at a packaged goods company to let outsiders past company firewalls so that they can access the company server. Without that access, remote diagnostics is difficult at best.

A recent conversation with Mark Lorenz, electrical applications engineer at Conflex (www.conflex.com), suggests that IT managers may now be warming to the idea of allowing remote diagnostics to take place. Conflex is a Wisconsin maker of shrink wrap equipment.

"What I'm beginning to see is the IT people are opening up channels to our equipment so that we can get in and 'talk' to it," says Lorenz. The benefits to this kind of Web-based information exchange are considerable, he adds.

"Our distributor technician from the comfort of his own home can go online to an IP address, connect to the Conflex machine, and gain access to real-time data," says Lorenz. "With that kind of access, he can troubleshoot the machine without having to leave home."

Lorenz acknowledges that it's less a technology breakthrough than an evolution in the mindset of today's IT manager. Either way, he welcomes this new development in the relationship between machine builder and machine buyer.

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