If you were a control system technician twenty or more years ago, you have likely spent hours with a laptop in front of a piece of machinery troubleshooting and correcting issues as they were conveyed to you.

There was not much of a choice in the matter as network connectivity and remote connections were somewhat available, but not widely adopted.

Image by Brandon Cooper

Fast forward to 2021, we troubleshoot as many issues in our living rooms as we do next to the machinery we are manipulating. Certainly, this great privilege comes with great responsibility.

A little disclaimer, but the safety and responsibility piece of remote connectivity is a piece of itself that must be handled with extreme caution and care.

The person or persons troubleshooting the system or making any kind of system changes must have the experience and discretion necessary to make remote changes and know exactly what they are doing.

VPN Access

What allows a control system technician to remotely and securely troubleshoot from a remote location is a VPN (Virtual Private Network).

This allows a private network to send and receive data over a public network from the remote location as though the remote location was directly connected.

This VPN is created by establishing a virtual point to point connection through the use of tunneling protocols or dedicated circuits over existing public networks.

Image from Ewon Website  

VPN Devices

A VPN Box is a generic term for a device that can be installed at a machine location and accept a VPN connection through existing networks.

There are many devices and doing a quick internet search will reveal all sorts of options from many vendors.

I device that I found interesting was from EWON and they have a line of different WAN (Wide Area Network) as well as cellular devices. This device when configured can provide a VPN connection for remote users to securely gain access to a machine when needed.

Another similar device in the Remote Connect gateways from MOXA, and who will be coming on you new Automation Tech Tips show to demonstrate it's use (ed.):

Image from Moxa Website 

VPN Network

One thing remote connectivity products likes Moxa and Ewon offer are VPN servers spread out across the globe.

This type of network infrastructure, as well as features aimed specifically at industrial automation systems, make products like these a good fit for many facilities:

Image from Ewon Website

Image from Moxa Website

Conclusion

Every company and every site will have different needs and will accomplish their remote access in different ways.

A VPN device is one way to allow a control systems technician or OEM vendor to access needed equipment from elsewhere in the world.

With the current pandemic and no end in sight, the need for remote access is as important as it has ever been.

More people are working remotely than ever before and if it has to be done, it has to be done securely and as safe as possible.

Written by Brandon Cooper
Senior Controls Engineer and Freelance Writer

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