The year 2020 was exceptional in many respects. Lahti Precision’s sales had been especially active before the beginning of the global pandemic, and even during the pandemic, several weighing devices and systems were delivered to our international customers around the world. However, the issue we were facing was not new to us – our experts already possess years of experience in working via remote connections to customer sites.
What are the things that must be considered especially carefully in projects like these?
All drawings, electrical diagrams and assembly instructions must be done very precisely and updated to match the as-build situation. When this is in order, we can talk the “same language” with the customer.
Pre-assembly and testing
Typically, the accuracy demands for weighing and dosing processes are set high. This requires that every single part and component works properly. Jari Hietala, the Project Manager for plant-, dosing- and weighing system projects tells that normally the pre-assembly and testing of the equipment is already done in Lahti prior to shipping. When the system is pre-assembled in Lahti, it allows Lahti Precision’s professionals to test and calibrate the scales, and to simulate the plant processes for preventive troubleshooting.
The installation of weighing and dosing systems requires professional expertise, as well as the ability to identify any potential risks. Hietala continues by saying that supervision is especially challenging in situations where the supervisor can’t be physically present at the assembly area. For this reason, we have been using online video stream between the customer’s site and Lahti Precision, allowing the supervisor to check the correctness of the assemblies and the operation of the machinery. Another way has been that the customer has built a picture presentation, supported by occasional video clips from the critical assemblies, that we have then reviewed together in an online meeting.
Testing and commissioning
Electrical testing of hundreds or even thousands of IO-points requires excellent diligence and precision. If no one at the customer’s end has professional experience about the equipment being tested, this isn’t an easy task. Only when all the electrical connections have been properly tested, the control system tests may start.
Automation engineer Jani Pietikäinen tells that the first requirement for remote commissioning is that the customer must have a reliable data connection line to Lahti, Finland. When that is taken care of, the control system test procedure can be executed almost the same way as if the commissioning engineer was sitting by the process interface at the customer’s premises. Lahti has found several practices to deal with the challenges of long distance data connections and even short-term network outages, but nowadays our customers are well prepared to enable remote access with minimal interference. Also, the virtualized PC-solutions employed by Lahti are a major advantage when setting up and modifying the control room equipment remotely, making the task of remote commissioning significantly more manageable.
Pietikäinen emphasizes that when working remotely, the focus on safety issues is even more important than normally. No material tests, or tests with large moving equipment can be done unless the safety of the plant personnel has been secured. In case of remote operations where the commissioning engineer cannot be present at the site, this must be carried out with clear and thorough phone conversations or video stream sessions with the customer’s on-site people. Pietikäinen says that his most extreme example of working remotely has been to perform a remote commissioning with three different parties simultaneously through online video meetings and separate remote connections to the customer site.
The experts at Lahti Precision see that this new trend will continue, and they are prepared to be there in changing the old practices of the industry. Weighing and dosing automation systems are under constant development, and new innovative services are designed all the time for serving customers in the best possible way.
The author of the article is our technology director Janne Kousa. He is responsible for the development and design of our company’s key technologies.
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