A brief history of ServicePort: ABB’s remote service delivery platform

Taking something that works once when performed manually and making it work automatically is difficult. However, the solution to this challenge became the concept for ServicePort.

The concept for ServicePort grew from consulting work on industrial automation systems that we started in the 1990s. To help tell our customers what we were doing in that consulting work, we packaged our services into three categories: Diagnose, Implement, Sustain. In looking back, we really didn’t have any idea what “sustain” meant, but that was only when we started.

At that time, we knew we could fix issues our customers directed us to, but often the issues were merely symptoms of problems, and we weren’t getting to the sources. Then we started to diagnose the issues, and our diagnosis process evolved to become the defined service offerings that we call Fingerprints.  Fingerprints are very much like the annual physicals you might have done by your doctor, but for industrial control systems.

The growth in demand for fingerprints led us to develop tools to collect data, perform tests, establish performance measures and issue reports that would include suggestions on improving systems. These helped to generate performance KPIs, and led to predictable returns on investment (ROI). Our fingerprints continue to be a good product for us, and help us diagnose issues and offer solutions very fast. The solutions we offered addressed the “implement” phase of our original three categories.

However, the original category that was not addressed was “Sustain”. Industrial processes tend to degrade in performance pretty fast when left on their own, and we saw that we were becoming victims of results erosion. Coupled with the growing cost of travel, our customers asked us to develop a way evaluate performance automatically and on a regular basis.

That meant we had to:

  • Develop a service infrastructure that could be segmented by asset class
  • Automatically collect appropriate information
  • Schedule analysis for KPI determination
  • Store the results in a logical order
  • Provide a user interface that is standard and intuitive
  • Provide a rules engine to enable better notification
  • Provide a service interface
  • And, offer all this to customers as a service agreement rather than an automation product.

No problem (Ha Ha!)

Taking something that works once when performed manually and making it work automatically is difficult. However, the solution to this challenge became the concept for ServicePort.

We quickly realized that some human interaction would be necessary, because items such as grouping, criticality, thresholds, false positive detection require intervention to ensure that an automated solution does not become a dust collector. So ServicePort is a service system that is accompanied by a service agreement that we now call “Advanced Services powered by ServicePort.” And, ServicePort can be compared to being an industrial version of a cable television box that you might have in your home, with several channels and specific “apps” that address specific assets in your industrial system.

ServicePort is a diagnostic service portal that provides regular assessments on key assets to deliver information to you daily. And, it allows us – you and ABB – to local or remote access to ensure continued process improvement. ServicePort has three channel classifications, Equipment, Process, and Industry.

Equipment channels address specific control systems or industrial equipment, such as an 800xA or a Harmony system. These applications are primarily meant for control systems made by ABB.

Process channels address generic process functions, such as loop performance or process sequence performance. These applications are generic, and can be used with systems made by any supplier.

Industry channels also are generic, but address equipment used in specific industries, such as the hoist systems used in mining, or the quality control systems used in papermaking.

The unique aspect of ServicePort is that it is all in one solution. In other words, all channels work together and allow us to configure service strategies to align with our customers’ needs. Our customers tell us that they like the fact that we can bundle solutions with a central location for remote access.

ServicePort gives our customers a sustainable solution to industrial control system performance that they could only get when an expert would come to site once or twice a year. And, ServicePort operates securely through a VPN (virtual private network) provided by our customer or through our own remote access platform. All data analysis is done locally. Process information never leaves your facility.

And, it allows us – you and ABB – to perform local or remote access to ensure continued process improvement by providing on demand phone support and regularly scheduled SCAN service performance checkups.

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About the author

Kevin Starr

I'm a Research & Development Manager for ABB Process Automation Lifecycle Services. I've been with ABB for more than 26 years. I'm currently responsible for the development and implementation of service solutions that result in the increased life cycle and utilization of Industrial Automation systems. I've written numerous papers on process controls, including an article on asset optimization published in the first edition of Pulp and Papers Solution Magazine, and a book on process control, "Single Loop Control Methods". I currently hold 12 patents as a result of my efforts with process control.
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