Until recently, briquette/compacting machine manufacturer K.R. Komarek (Elk Grove Village, IL) had to make house calls virtually every time one of its machines had a hiccup at a customer site. The company needed a solution to avoid delays for simple repairs such as adjusting the hydraulic pressure, processing speed or spacing between the rolls at the heart of each machine. The key, they knew, was to find a way to discuss the problem at hand while viewing equipment diagrams with the customer.
E-mail was not an option because many customers lack the software or bandwidth required to receive and read AutoCAD attachments of Komarek’s original manufacturing drawings or PDFs of the company’s operating manuals. In addition, Komarek engineers needed interactive pointing and highlighting capabilities to facilitate problem diagnosis and guide customers through the repair process.
They found the answer in Guardian Meeting Center, a Web conferencing service from Norlight Telecommunications (Milwaukee). The service allows machine illustrations to be shared online while participants converse by phone. Machine operators or other plant personnel can take control of the screen to point to the area of concern with a computer mouse. Komarek engineers can use the same control feature to visually reinforce their verbal repair instructions.
“If a machine needs a minor adjustment or replacement of a worn part or even a broken roll, we can take the plant technicians through each step both verbally and visually while they’re online, so they can get back to making products like charcoal briquets and road salt without waiting for a service call,” says Komarek project engineer Fredi Dangoy. “It speeds up the repair process and reduces downtime.”
To begin a remote troubleshooting session, Komarek engineers schedule a Web meeting through Guardian Meeting Center’s online scheduling wizard. The service automatically issues e-mail invitations to all designated individuals.
At the appointed hour, the Komarek staffer who is hosting the conference retrieves the appropriate drawing from the company server for display on his own desktop. Then he activates the share feature from the conferencing service’s Web interface to enable transmission of the image to participants’ screens. Remote operators need no special software or setup except an Internet connection and Web browser.
Komarek pays standard Web conference pricing consisting of a small monthly fee to reserve the “meeting room” for unlimited use plus a per-minute charge per person-a fraction of the cost of a plane ticket to dispatch an engineer to make a service call.
Komarek also has used the Guardian Meeting Center service to make minor design modifications to some of its machine drawings when engineers are working off-site. Any changes from a remote PC are automatically saved to the master drawing for use when the engineer returns to the office.
But for Komarek and its customers, the core strength of the service is its ability to help quickly restore ailing machines to working order. Whether the problem is misshapen briquets or pellets caused by a worn roll or a complete breakdown triggered by a broken part, the fix is usually only a Web meeting away.