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Our in-house engineering experts share their insight into how IoT is enabling the rise of the remote engineer.

With the UK in a second lockdown and the pandemic causing instability across the world, those who can are preparing to continue working from home for the foreseeable. The unforeseen and prolonged periods of remote working have undoubtably been enabled by advances in technology that have allowed a seamless move from the office to home. Whilst the stereotype of a ‘WFH’ employee is often those who were once office-based, many engineers have also been using technology to remotely monitor and manage physical infrastructure and, in some instances, even take corrective action to address machine faults. So, are we on the cusp of an end to the ‘call-out’ culture of machine maintenance, and the beginning of the remote engineer?

Some forward-thinking organisations were already leveraging the benefits of remote machine management across high-asset count environments long before the pandemic – for example, the food retail industry. Many retailers had already embraced innovative technology that provided effective remote capabilities. With such solutions, engineers had the ability to look at a particular store’s asset performance and health data, such as a refrigerator or air conditioning unit, without the requirement of an on-site visit, and were able to either perform a remote fix or triage a problem.

 However, previously this was simply seen as a ‘nice to have’ tool in an engineer’s kit – now, the onset of “work from home if you can” and social distance regulations has accelerated the move towards centralised, remote engineering capabilities. The ability for an engineer to carry out root-cause analysis, implement corrective action to fix a fault and continue with essential maintenance work on critical assets without having to enter a crowded shopping area is crucial to maintaining a socially distant and COVID-secure food retail environment.

 So, how exactly does the technology work?

 Advanced Internet of Things (IoT) solutions can be integrated into environments, such as a food retail store, as a software layer over existing machinery and infrastructure. The solution gathers, monitors and manages the raw machine data and drives automation and optimisation to deliver huge efficiencies, for example in energy, waste and maintenance, across entire estates at the touch of a button. Collected machine data from multiple machine disciplines are translated and accessible to engineers on a single online platform. This provides them with an extremely advanced digital tool – an instant, real-time view of machine health and performance. When this remote capability is combined with the ability to pull detailed historic asset data – such as former faults and historic fixes – an engineer has a full overview of a machines health. This means they can easily identify intermittent issues, new faults, parts required or fixes necessary, all from the one coherent platform. The benefits? Unrivalled efficiency, informed decision making, saving of an engineers time and retailers money, all while ultimately ensuring, in the COVID era, that as much as possible is being done to ensure critical machine efficiency without the need for an on-site engineer.

Andela, the global talent network that helps companies build remote engineering teams, conducted a survey that indicates many organisations will embrace remote work for the long term. Results of the survey found that prior to COVID-19, only 13% of engineering teams were fully remote. As a result of the pandemic, that number has increased to 74%. In addition, the survey found that 66% of engineering teams believe they will continue to allow remote work after the threat of Covid-19 has subsided.

Of course, all being said, the requirement for an on-site engineer to fix a physical machine problem, such as a gas leak or mechanical failure, will never be replaced by software. Technological advances now mean software is an instrumental tool in enabling engineers to make better decisions, diagnose, prioritise, contextualise and fix faults remotely – but what we are seeing is the evolution of the engineer, rather than an overhaul. With the immediate requirement, and projected long-term desire, to secure a remote working environment for engineers, along with the demonstrated efficiency this enables, there is no doubt that the era of the remote engineer is here, and here to stay.