Industrial enterprises can benefit enormously in terms of productivity and data quality from digital, mobile solutions. However, experience shows that – due to a lack of budget, compatibility or the necessary certificate of compliance – many tasks are still performed with a clipboard and paper. Mobile computers are only used in offline mode and essential devices or peripherals turn out to be incompatible. These archaic methods bring increased risk and inflexibility to the business, being error‐prone and inefficient while creating potential safety issues and affecting the well-being of the workforce.
One person who was dissatisfied with the traditional maintenance process is Oliver Wichmann, Head of Mobile Solutions at Bilfinger Maintenance GmbH. “I was displeased that the mechanics had to document their maintenance work in writing and then again in the SAP system”, he says. “We were therefore considering how to avoid this unnecessary duplication of effort, reduce paper consumption and simultaneously improve the quality of the documentation.”
“Predictive maintenance” was the answer: particularly in industries with extensive terrain or hazardous areas, consistent, preventive maintenance activities call for new forms of communication and data exchange. “Ecom is the ideal partner to help us improve the quality of documentation processes in potentially dangerous working environments using mobile solutions – making them more efficient while saving time and money”, Wichmann explains. Thanks to digital mobile solutions, maintenance workers, technicians, experts, teams and project groups can work together faster, more flexibly and in real time, whether in manufacturing, maintenance, plant configuration and control or machine, tools and inventory management, supply chain management, inspection rounds, repairs or plant security checks.
Maintenance now more targeted
Daily inspections in chemical plants, refineries and other hazardous areas are vital but time-consuming for businesses seeking to ensure the smooth running and reliability of their facilities. Maintenance technicians typically carry out such inspections throughout the day and afterwards enter the results into the company’s maintenance management system. The reaction time between damage detection and repair is needlessly slow – with risks for personnel, assets and production. For almost a decade, Bilfinger Maintenance has developed practice-oriented mobile solutions for maintenance purposes. Ecom’s smartphones, tablets and peripherals, which are Ex-certified up to Zone 1/21 and Division 1, are the technology underlying these interconnected applications.
Modern mobile devices and apps let mobile workers pursue a more targeted maintenance strategy. Specific procedures and measures can be individually assigned to each technician or mechanic. In other words, each mobile worker only actually sees the jobs for which they are personally responsible on their smartphone or tablet display. Historical maintenance records can be consulted on their mobile devices, showing how often a particular defect has occurred in the past and how it was rectified. Wiring diagrams or manufacturer information can also be visualised, providing an additional technical resource. Once a job is done, the mobile worker can document the procedure on the mobile device and log the completed process steps or tasks, the amount of time needed and the materials used. Modern apps automatically sync this information wirelessly with an ERP system, and even without device data connectivity it can also be read offline, updated and then uploaded the next time the company network is accessed.
New maintenance technologies
Bluetooth beacon technology, well-known from the retail and consumer markets, has the potential to fundamentally improve maintenance activities as well as the way businesses operate, secure and manage their assets or plants in hazardous areas. Loc-Ex 01 BLE beacons from Ecom combine digital and physical data into a single, unified business intelligence unit. For example, if a technician approaches a particular asset, information specifically tailored to the relevant task, person and access authorisation can be visualised on the screen of the tablet or smartphone with an app, without having to manually navigate to the right content. The device promptly initiates the appropriate workflow and enables data reception.
At the same time, these beacons provide a cost-effective, largely maintenance-free option (even at maximum transmission power, the battery only needs to be replaced after four years) for collecting asset data and connecting it to back-end systems. They require only a single access point to deliver information back to the company, quickly identify potential threats or downtime or help improve workflows, with the result that engineers can cut down on the time they spend on administrative tasks at the end of every day and significantly increase wrench time. In addition, BLE beacons allow in-depth insights into operational procedures and asset information such as plant drawings, login data, the number of deployments and the average dwell time – even temperature measurements and other metrics can be implemented.
When used together with the right apps, beacons, smartphones, tablets and sensors offer fast access and a compact overview of data, knowledge and information. The system warns of potential downtime or risks. Employees in charge of production and plant operations can evaluate the data live. Based on this, they can detect deviations or anomalies, act proactively rather than reactively, identify trends and make data-driven predictions. In short, they prevent possible causes of lost production before they have a chance to occur.
“Maintenance 4.0” is essentially all about one thing: networking. Flexible and secure communication over long distances is therefore a must. A powerful mobile enterprise concept, taking both hardware and software into account, is key to greater efficiency, productivity and flexibility. Businesses realise competitive advantages such as more effective workflows, predictive maintenance and streamlined decision-making processes which deliver higher margins.
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