MRO Magazine

Solving problems Anywhere! Anytime!

In maintenance, as in many other things, time is money. And it’s never been truer for companies with operations spread across the globe. Equipment downtime, lost production and high travel costs to troubleshoot problems can kill the...


Machinery and Equipment Maintenance

June 1, 2011
By Marieke Wijtkamp

Industries

In maintenance, as in many other things, time is money. And it’s never been truer for companies with operations spread across the globe. Equipment downtime, lost production and high travel costs to troubleshoot problems can kill the bottom line.

If the best engineer is located in Calgary or Houston and the assembly line is in the Far East or the equipment is at an oil rig off the coast of Newfoundland, costs mount quickly when decisions are delayed. Typically, the expert (or a whole team of experts) would board a plane to go and try to solve the problem, causing further delays and incurring expensive travel costs.

With mobile video collaboration, no one leaves their desk, let alone the country. Finally, this technology is being taken outside of the boardroom. The development of new mobile technologies has expanded the opportunity for video collaboration from face-to-face meeting rooms to the plant floor and into the field.

Today’s mobile technologies securely extend the power of video collaboration across an enterprise. Enterprises are already experiencing the benefits of mobile video for maintenance, repair and operations (MRO) applications, including an increased rate of first-visit problem resolution, reduced non-chargeable service calls, better warranty decisions and returning machines to service faster.

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Mobile technologies include wireless video devices for use at remote locations and collaboration software for the remote experts’ desktops. Plant or field workers use the mobile device to share video, voice, telestration (onscreen drawing) and images with the experts, who interact live through the collaboration PC software, allowing the experts to help plant floor personnel or field technicians no matter where they are located.

For many manufacturers, their plant floor operation contains competitive, sensitive information. In many large companies, potentially ‘rogue’ video devices, such as smart phones, must be checked at security. To overcome these security concerns, enterprise-grade mobile video devices provide security, encryption, authentication and even centralized administrator control.

Reducing downtime on the plant floor

Production equipment downtime costs can be staggering, ranging from $1,500/hour to $8,500/hour for a production cell, to as much as $3,500/minute for an entire auto factory line. Trying to troubleshoot an equipment problem through pictures via e-mail, or waiting for an offsite specialist to travel to the problem site, adds costly hours that can be avoided with mobile collaboration technologies.

For one major consumer packaged goods manufacturer, mobile collaboration now allows it to perform remote production line equipment maintenance and repair. In the past, when a machine was down and the right engineer was not available onsite to troubleshoot the problem, downtime rapidly escalated. With mobile video collaboration, plant technicians can now show a remote expert the failed equipment, removing unnecessary delays from the repair process.

Improving repair decisions in the field

Heavy industrial equipment manufacturers face the challenge of servicing equipment around the globe. In some cases, these manufacturers are 100% liable for any downtime and repair costs associated with their equipment. Often, field technicians have significant decision-making power and costs can escalate tenfold if the wrong choice is made in the field.

Another benefit of mobile collaboration relates to the problem of experienced field technicians approaching retirement, meaning it is becoming more difficult and expensive to provide in-person coaching of junior technicians. Travel costs alone can range from $2,500 to $5,000 per trip.

For one industrial equipment manufacturer, implementing an enterprise-grade mobile collaboration system was the answer. It can now bring remote experts into key field decisions quickly, delivering a positive financial impact on the profit contribution of the contract. Its previous attempts to diagnose field situations using home-grown solutions such as webcams and cell phones were unsuccessful. These solutions lacked the real mobility, interaction and detailed optics that enterprise mobile solutions delivered.

Network requirements

It is important to consider infrastructure requirements for the mobile collaboration system. Mobile devices require either an Ethernet or wireless network connection to access the Internet. Wireless connectivity (i.e. 802.11 b/g) is         the most common method used in facilities such as a repair depot or plant. The bandwidth consumption typically ranges from 250 kbps to 1 Mbps, depending on the existing infrastructure.

For field-based applications, it is more common to see bandwidth consumption below 128 kbps due to narrow bandwidth backhaul connections. However, even with only 128 kbps, mobile collaboration can include live video, voice, telestration and image sharing between the field technician and the remote expert.

Another alternative to consider is the use of 3G or 4G cellular networks through mobile Wi-Fi hotspot devices such as the MiFi or Cradlepoint. By using a hotspot device, a wireless network can be created anywhere that offers adequate cellular coverage. Heavy industrial equipment manufacturers often use cellular connectivity to perform live collaboration from the field.

Now, engaging in a full video collaboration session has become as simple as making a phone call. MRO

Marieke Wijtkamp is vice-president, Librestream Technologies Inc., Winnipeg, MB. For more information, visit www.librestream.com.

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