Mobile Technician: optimising digital practice

Triangle Metier

Operating and maintaining industrial or services sites efficiently and productively requires quick access to the right information. Given the quantity and complexity of the data used, it is practically impossible to have all the data on paper. In a previous article (read it here)  we looked at the first step towards digital transformation and the Plant of the Future, consisting in the move towards digital technical documents.

More generally, digitisation needs to provide a response to professional needs and to the technical departments’ requirements in productivity. Fast access to relevant and up-to-date information from any location also perfectly meets these aims.

But optimising practices through digital technology can also be a beneficial factor for other absolutely essential aspects.

Here are some examples:

  1. Providing safety for people and equipment. The rate of accidents in maintenance and operational professions is far too high and well above rates in other sectors. When mobile or tablet digital terminals are used, customised safety reminders can be included and adapted to the job in hand. We can even make use of simple measures to keep the technician on the alert. Too often, accidents are caused by inattention, while the technician is carrying out a routine task.
  2. Technical knowledge can be transmitted more widely by pooling information, as well as by passing on feedback from people on the ground. This kind of feedback has largely disappeared today, since it is often a cumbersome and tedious process for technicians.

There are plenty of other examples that we will be looking at in the future.

Today, we want to focus on improving practices through the digitisation of document processes, while highlighting some of the key measures to help make a success of this transformation, through a few examples in the daily life of a maintenance technician.

Easy access to the right information

Going paperless and having access to digital documents will not necessarily provide complete access to the right information. Taking into account professional needs is essential if we are to supply real added value and involve all members of staff. To work effectively, they need basic data, such as procedures, documentation, diagrams, etc. And so, naturally, we need to set limits on the use made of the documents, and above all there should be a logic involved in accessing them – according to the job, geographic location, through key-word searches, etc. And, quite often, all of this at the same time. And so the technical documentation tool needs to provide intuitive access in line with the practical logic of a technician’s work. It must be a helpful assistant and not a constraint. We will go into more detail about this aspect in the second part of the article.

The technical DMS (Document Management System) helps to centralise and make available documents created internally or provided by outside contributors. It controls access and distribution of these documents, and manages authorisations to modify, delete or validate documents.

The choice of a terminal is another important requirement for the success of the digital project. Some choices are made for practical reasons, as for example cost / volume or negotiations, rather than according to identified needs. This is too often still the case, in fact, and can be a factor leading to failure or to a lack of interest from technicians. For mobile jobs, it is a good idea to provide user-friendly tools similar to the ones we all use in our daily lives. In industry, being able to work offline is often an obligation (absence of wifi and lack of network access is often the rule when technicians are called out).

The next step is to link the technical DMS to an I.T. system and then gradually to integrate it into the system. The first application is naturally the CMMS. But don’t CMMS and DMS take care of these jobs? The question is often asked why we need several tools when a just one should be enough? We can see every day that these tools fail to take into account the specific nature of the jobs as regards document processes.

The CMMS links the documents to the equipment, but doesn’t provide the tools to keep track of it, to update it, archive it, deal with duplicates or the different versions and include them in the procedures… Or simply to manage the mass of information. For example, one food manufacturer who set up a CMMS realised that all his attached documents had disappeared after the network file access path was changed… Another manufacturer told us that out of 3,000 jobs a year, 50% require input documents and that procedures of the TPM type would double his number of documents.

DMSs are too general and don’t meet the needs of mobile technicians. Information is present, but how is it accessed? And with what aim?

The next step is to link document management with processes as such and, at each moment, to provide the technician with relevant information, adapted to the job in hand or giving him details about the task he is working on at a given time. We will come back to this subject in later articles.

Accessing information is a good thing, but accessing the right information is even better. And still better is to ask yourself the question of how I place it in an operational and relevant process!

This will be the main question we will need to ask the managers concerned. They absolutely must take part in a concertation phase with technicians, who will define the standards for tree-views, archiving and access to information. The other aspect of the subject involves standardising and organising data. This is a key issue if you want to guarantee a durable system.

Standardising and organising documents and data

Accessible information: unlike for paper formats, data can be consulted by several people at the same time, if necessary, via a simple network connection and login, irrespective of their location.

To make access to information easier, the documents could be linked to specific equipment, for example (ID designation). A search by specific equipment or using the equipment’s QR Code would then be possible.

The equipment can be shown on a plan, so that it can be seen in its “geographic” context, but also on a diagram for the functional context.

The document administrator could also set archiving standards, as well as standards for documents / forms and share them throughout the plant or in a group of plants.

Efficient access to documentation is essential, as we have seen when working with our customers. For example, on a production line, it took one client an average of 40 minutes to resolve identified breakdowns due to the deterioration of the repair machines. It took about 20 minutes to find the information…

On top of the time saved in the process of searching and reading, almost instant access to the information results in productivity gains: not to be interrupted in a task by a time-consuming search for documents means you can avoid, for example, a loss in concentration.

The situation of another client illustrates the gaps in access to information in a context of stress. You might have 20 minutes to do a job, or otherwise production will come to a halt, with hundreds of thousands of euros at stake. But you have to run to the workshop and print out technical documents (not to speak of problems that can make matters even worse: no more ink, formatting issues, etc.).

Organising documents also means (another example) you can see the impact of changes to a particular installation in real time. Instead of getting out the old files from the archives and looking at the information updates page by page, digital technologies provide simple and user-friendly access using key words, tags, etc. And you can see how the removal of a circuit-breaker, for example, may lead to high risks both for the technician, but also, in the case of a hospital, for the patients.

In conclusion, it is easy to see that all this is part of the continuous improvement of company practices. It places the technician on the ground at the centre of the approach, and calls for methods, maintenance, production and quality to be organised and administered by managers… And this is the basis for developing an even more effective and efficient approach, where the processes are included and taken into account. The technical DMS becomes both a system for collecting data on the ground and a helpful assistant for the visiting technician.

We will return to this subject several times in the coming months.

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