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Hazardous area mobile computing – driving efficiency and quality

08 September 2011

The UK is leading the way in the adoption of hazardous area mobile computing solutions, which include ATEX certified personal digital assistants and laptops used in conjunction with specialist software and often wireless infrastructure. When combined, such systems aid more efficient work flow and improve asset visibility providing engineers vital tools to streamline their processes.

While across continental Europe the use of such hand portable computers has been limited to only a few sites operated by some of the larger global manufacturing companies, here in the UK the advantages have quickly been recognised and engineering teams across the country are reaping the rewards such systems have to offer. The popularity of hazardous area mobile computing is largely due to the excellence of British mobile computing software integrators who provide niche packages specifically tailored around the challenges faced in modern day hazardous areas. Software integrators in the UK are able to combine expert knowledge in software development with an understanding of regulatory commitments and working practices often unique to hazardous areas on manufacturing sites and oil platforms. Using their experience British software companies are able to provide robust software solutions, better suited to the needs of hazardous area engineers than more generic software commonly used in other industries.

It is difficult to avoid observing the use of mobile computers in modern day Britain, whether receiving a parcel, purchasing a ticket on a train or walking around a supermarket, handheld data capture surrounds us on a daily basis. Within hazardous areas, applications utilising mobile computers vary widely however more mainstream applications include inspection data capture, paperless work orders, valve management, personal mustering and automation. One such application perfectly suited for handheld computers is ATEX 94/9EC compliance with software built around the directives guiding inspectors through the inspection process and ensuring better visibility of inspection strategies.

So what are the advantages of replacing paper based solutions with mobile computing platforms?

There are several advantages. The most obvious is the efficiency savings paperless data capture create. Due to automatic synchronisation and data upload the need for engineers to manually input results back at the office is eliminated. Many companies now operate ERP systems such as SAP and Maximo and while these are vital business tools aiding efficiency and improved accountability throughout companies, many engineers feel that the software packages are too generic to provide adequate records of inspections and routines common to hazardous area operations. Using specialised software packages designed to integrate with these mainstream ERP systems, software integrators are able to bridge the gap between ERP and inspection data capture to provide engineering tools that guide operators through even the most complex of procedures. These software solutions are not designed to replace SAP or Maximo but to work in conjunction with them, delivering a user friendly interface to the engineers to ensure the risk of human error is dramatically reduced. Using such systems, a number of British Electrical Inspection teams have reported reductions in inspection man-hours of over 30%.

Another advantage of using computer based platforms is the considerable improvement in the consistency and accuracy of the data captured. As many engineering managers will know only too well, descriptions of equipment and faults found can vary widely depending on the engineer reporting the problem. These variations often cause confusion and wasted time when transferred to ERP systems where identical faults and equipment cannot be differentiated due to the variation in their description. By using pre-determined descriptions and fault codes and minimising the use of free-hand text, operators begin to record more consistent data, enabling easier manual (or even automated) analysis. By capturing the data required to populate ERP systems at source you remove the likelihood of incorrect input along with poorly transcribed records which is often the case when data entry occurs at a later time. One opinion held by many is that no matter how complex or expensive the ERP system in place it is only as good as the data held within it.

With the majority of companies reporting a return on their investment of under 6 months for these mobile software solutions, it has become obvious that despite the initial outlay the potential savings are too large to ignore and while still in its infancy the use and complexity of these systems is set to increase, with many new applications still to be found and even more efficiency savings yet to be created.

For more information Contact Carl Henderson of ecom instruments UK on: info.uk@ecom-ex.com or telephone: 01642 465 400


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