VOIP is currently the subject of much press coverage as the benefits of this Internet application are explored.

In its simplest form, VOIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol) allows phone calls to be made over a standard internet connection, using either special phone handsets or a microphone/headset connected to a computer. Since there are no call charges over and above the monthly subscription for the internet service, significant potential savings in telephony costs can be made by individuals and commercial organisations – especially for overseas calls.

These ‘free’ calls can only be made between computer users, but a number of companies offer extensions to the service that allow VOIP calls to and from landline and mobile telephones. Although there are charges for this, it is still usually cost-effective compared with traditional telephone charges.

There’s more to VOIP than cheap phone calls, however. Since this is digital technology, other data can be transferred along with the voice communication.

Voice and video data

Italian company Storti has exploited this capability to develop its Remote Global Assistance (RGA) system, which allows simultaneous transmission of voice and video data in real time.

“RGA significantly improves the ability of the engineers to identify problems, advise on adjustments and assist in servicing the machine,” said Justin Peckham, managing director of Woodtech Machinery which represents Storti in the UK and Ireland. “The engineer can also directly access the machine controller and download updates and new or revised operating programs.

“Although primarily focused on troubleshooting, service and maintenance, the system can also be used to provide expert help when training new operators, and assistance with fine-tuning the machine.”

Storti manufactures machinery, equipment and software covering the entire processing chain from raw logs through to finished, stacked pallets, and RGA is available to all customers worldwide.

The system operates using VOIP via a secure firewall-protected proxy server. At the customer site, the machine operator uses a portable webcam and a headset, and the ability of VOIP to transmit voice and video data means that engineers at Storti’s technical support centres can converse with the operator and see the machine running, in real time. The operator can easily move the webcam to view different parts of the machine as needed, and the image can be zoomed in and out.

Information about the problem is documented and stored – along with recorded video footage if needed – on a central server. This is accessible by engineers working at the support centres, which are connected as a LAN (local area network), so customers don’t have to explain the problem again to different engineers.

“We already have customers using RGA on their nailing lines in the UK, Italy, Spain, Austria, Germany, the US, and Australia, and the system is working well,” said Storti’s area manager Mario Cucciari.

Improved communication

“One of the major benefits that customers report to us is that the system eliminates the misunderstandings that can arise with traditional methods if the machine operator is unable to explain the problem clearly. RGA overcomes this because our engineer can view the installation through the webcam and see problems as they occur, which makes finding the solution quicker and easier.

“Customers also appreciate the fact that our engineers can access the machine controller and are often able to resolve problems remotely – saving the time that would otherwise be needed for a visit by a service engineer”.

Storti is continuing to develop the system to further enhance the service and add more functions for customers. For example, the company has introduced new software that allows active on-line monitoring and analysis of the production process and any errors on the nailing line. Already in use by one customer in the UK and one in Austria, the software will be officially launched at Xylexpo in May.