The Corona pandemic, and particularly the spring 2020 lockdown, sent the global industry into a tailspin. Supply chains stopped functioning, production lines were at a standstill and plants could not be commissioned. A SCIO customer in Malaysia also had to deal with the last scenario.
The initial situation
A while ago, a customer of the SCIO Group ordered three linear stockers with 200 mm cassettes for its cleanroom production in Malaysia. As usual with clean room projects, these stockers were first assembled and commissioned at our site in Osterhofen. For this purpose, we have our own test cleanroom where all scenarios are tested. After testing, these stockers were disassembled, packed and flown to Malaysia by air freight - including three of our fitters who were to supervise the assembly and commissioning on site. On arrival in Malaysia, two stockers were completely reassembled mechanically and electrically. But then came the unimaginable: in mid-March, the Corona lockdown in Germany forced SCIO to bring the assemblers back from Malaysia.
For the project itself, this meant a standstill and thus a serious setback in the customer's schedule, which needed the stockers promptly for production.
In cooperation with the customer, we therefore looked for a solution on how to continue the project over the next few months.
"Due to the strict confidentiality regulations and patent rights, it was out of the question for us to involve an external company on site in the project," says Karl Kagleder, commissioning engineer, explaining the difficult situation.
In the end, it was agreed that the customer would assign an employee from its own staff who would act as an extended workbench for our commissioning engineers in Germany. This on-site employee was instructed by us and familiarized with our system. Remote access was established to each machine. In addition, the customer installed webcams above the plant, which allowed our colleagues in Osterhofen to observe the processes while sitting in front of their computers. Sitting in front of the computer in Germany, equipped with webcams and remote access to the plant, the colleagues gave the customer's employee precise instructions on the assembly and testing to be carried out.
A major challenge was the lack of visual contact during commissioning: the cassettes had to be positioned and placed on the shelf with an accuracy of 1/10th of a mm to prevent particles from being generated.
Missing equipment and tools also delayed the process in some cases and had to be procured first. Furthermore, there was a time difference of 6 hours to Malaysia, which only led to minor delays thanks to the flexible work schedule of the commissioning engineers and fitters in Osterhofen.
Finally, the on-site safety acceptance test posed a particular challenge. Here, we first had to develop a strategy, as no remote commissioning had been carried out before. Also, in this case, in collaboration with the customer, we worked out a procedure in order to be able to sign a CE declaration in the end without second thoughts. While the on-site worker carried out the technical tests according to our instructions, the colleagues in Germany recorded everything.
Digression: Linear Stocker with 200 mm cassettes
SCIO's group company Schiller Automatisierungstechnik GmbH is the technical specialist for effective cleanroom technology intra-logistics and particle-reduced warehouse storage. The Schiller Linear Stocker is the scalable and reliable decentralised storage system in a cleanroom. Manual I/O ports and the connection option to OHT or conveyor systems enable flexible use of the Linear Stocker in the production environment. The Linear Stocker may be flexibly arranged for transport and storage of individual, customer-specific products, e.g. product carriers, 200/300mm cassettes and much more.
By now, the two stockers are running in test mode. As soon as the signatures for the safety-related acceptance from Malaysia have been received, the integration into production can start. A solution is currently being sought for the third stocker, which was not reassembled before the lockdown.
Overall, communication worked very well, and the people involved on both sides were always committed to carrying out all assignments quickly and carefully. The remote commissioning, which was carried out for the first time, shows that even difficult circumstances beyond one's control do not have to lead to a project being aborted/stopped. Remote commissioning has potential for the future, for example to reduce the need for the company's own personnel resources to be deployed at the customer's site.
"All in all, however, remote commissioning in this case took several times longer because the customer's employee had to be trained first. For the prospect of the future, we must plan with our own personnel to see whether remote commissioning is worthwhile in terms of time and costs," says Kagleder, explaining the future viability of remote commissioning.
The fact that it is an alternative under difficult circumstances has already been shown.
Find out more about the clean room portfolio of our group company Schiller here.