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Digitisation in service and maintenance

Author : Jörg Hartleb, ECOM Instruments GmbH

09 February 2021

Mobile communication devices such as smartphones or tablets are increasingly important for the industry. Not only do they make data available in plants and industrial environments and facilitate communication between the control centre and the workers, they also support mobile workers in their daily tasks, thus ensuring optimised processes and reliable quality management.

Mobile devices are more than just communication tools
Mobile devices are more than just communication tools

(Click here to view article in digital edition)

In harsh and potentially explosive environments, the use of such Enterprise Mobility Solutions can even be life-saving.

Digitisation offers companies even better opportunities to optimise processes. In particular, maintenance and inspection is being made more efficient thanks to modern technology. Intelligent mobile devices enable more effective planning of work processes and new opportunities for cooperation. Instructions by experts from any given location and digital measures provide mobile support to technicians in carrying out complex tasks directly in the plant. Here, the connection of all assets enables real-time availability of all relevant data. This results in an immense gain in knowledge for companies and employees about the condition of the plant and running processes.

Activation and linking of systems and plants

For this to be feasible within the company, an appropriate infrastructure is required. All data must be continuously fed into a linked back end and evaluated via this. By linking the back and front end, data is available at any time and from any location and can thus be used by collaboration tools to direct actions. Only a reliable data stock and data flow ensure process quality. This ultimately secures that effective planning and implementation of maintenance can be carried out and possible sources of problems can be avoided or quickly discovered and remedied.

The integration of mobile devices and tools helps to achieve the goal of digital production. Specialised suppliers of mobile devices for industrial and hazardous environments therefore adapt their mobile devices perfectly to the needs of the modern mobile worker. They have to support the employee practically in their daily work and at the same time withstand the conditions of a rough industrial environment. Furthermore, devices should be usable worldwide. In addition to general availability, this also involves the fulfilment of various requirements and the ability to be used in various infrastructures. The safety of the worker always comes first. Therefore, devices have to comply with the highest safety standards and measures for fast alerts in case of an emergency.

But mobile devices are more than just communication tools. As part of an overall solution, they also support mobile employees in recording and evaluating data and in reacting quickly and independently to any eventualities.

Inspection and predictive maintenance

Optimal planning of maintenance procedures as well as minimisation of downtimes through predictive maintenance and timely replacement of components are decisive steps for effective operational management. By digitalising processes and using real-time data, provided by sensor technology and digital applications, staff members are quickly alerted in the event of an irregularity. Drastically reduced planned and unplanned downtime and lower costs for new purchases are the positive effects.

In order to evaluate the collected data in the back end, it requires a software that draws the right conclusions from the existing data, both historical and current, and uses those insights to develop better planning for the plant.

Digitisation offers companies ever better opportunities to optimise processes.
Digitisation offers companies ever better opportunities to optimise processes.

For specific hazardous areas, mobile communication devices are specially designed in accordance with applicable regulations, thus meeting the legal safety requirements. At the same time, it is essential for companies that devices can be integrated effortlessly into digital infrastructures to support and make work processes more agile. Today, state-of-the-art solutions are those that guarantee high ergonomics and ease of use as well as reliable protection and global deploy ability. Certifications for hardware and software support as well as for security patches are also part of any such comprehensive mobile communication solution.

Especially for small and medium-sized companies, a functioning Mobile Device Management (MDM) system must be easy to implement and require little time in daily use. A central device management system not only saves a lot of time for maintenance but also guarantees uniform data and security management. In this manner even subcontractors can be easily integrated into the company's security standards.

Remote support and preventive maintenance

A major advantage created by intelligent devices is the possibility of remote support for technicians when carrying out complex inspection procedures. For this purpose, video calls or Augmented Reality (AR) applications can be used via intelligent devices even in hazardous areas. Appropriate peripherals such as headsets and holders ensure a hands-free operation. Real-time analysis of data immediately indicates the success of the maintenance. These options, in combination with predictive maintenance to determine the status of components in operation, guarantee optimum planning of work processes and rapid troubleshooting.

Remote maintenance closes gaps when there is a shortage of skilled workers. Technicians in the field have access to all necessary information at any time and experts can provide support for special problems or questions regardless of their location.

Jörg Hartleb, ECOM Instruments GmbH
Jörg Hartleb, ECOM Instruments GmbH

In this way employees have immediate access to the knowledge they need to always deliver top quality work quickly: a direct link to the right support expert and an overview of all open, pending and completed cases. This reduces inspection times as well as downtime costs with real-time expert support, connects instantly to the right expert or information, and eliminates expert travel costs. In addition, it is possible to create a central knowledge database including incident management and reporting, which is available to employees anytime, anywhere.

Digitisation in service and maintenance

In order to digitise a plant and make optimum use of the possibilities offered by digitisation, it is essential to be able to collect, aggregate and evaluate data centrally and make the findings available to employees at anytime and anywhere in real time. Intelligent devices such as smartphones, smartwatches and tablets, which are suitable for industrial and hazardous areas, play a major role in the development of such an infrastructure. They ensure that employees are not only connected to each other, but also with data and working systems. This way it is possible to plan, share expertise and avoid equipment failures. The results are optimised processes, effort planning capabilities, cost savings as well as a higher productivity. Hardware, software and people form a complex and effective ecosystem.

Whether plant management, inventory management, process automation, maintenance, or applications in transport and logistics, mobile devices optimise processes and minimise risk in industrial environments.

About the author:

Jörg Hartleb is Chief Operating Officer at ECOM Instruments GmbH. In this function he is, among other things, in charge of product management.

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