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19 August 2014

Maintenance Management viewed through digital glasses

Imagine a world in which everything and everyone is linked together. A world where digital information is always available and everything is measurable… where machines automatically report their faults… where you – with a tablet or digital glasses – can visualise an information layer over the physical world.

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We are only on the brink of this change, but the onward march of connectivity and ‘The Internet of Things’ (where everything is connected to – and communicates with – everything else) continues to impact our personal and professional lives. Smart-Phones, Smart-Watches, digital and virtual glasses (like Google Glass and Oculus Rift) are all online, providing you with the information you need, when you need it. The work of a maintenance engineer is changing. Compare it with virtual maps like Google or Apple Maps on your smartphone: within a few years these applications have replaced those awkward, foldable maps.

But, how is the maintenance engineer’s job changing? How can technology help now and what lies around the corner?

Scenario 1: explore a building virtually
Imagine if, before visiting a site, a maintenance technician can virtually explore a building – perhaps to enable him to decide what tools or spare-parts he may need. It’s already possible to create a 3D environment using digital photos. On receiving a fault report, an engineer can take a virtual tour of the relevant building, and, for example, find out in advance what keys he will need. Or determine his route in advance, so that he is in the right place more quickly and does not get lost.

Scenario 2: add an extra layer of information
Imagine if an engineer could carry an instrument that could provide information about the technical installations he is passing and indicate whether they have a fault or not. The engineer would be able to work proactively to resolve a fault before it has even been reported. With the same instrument the engineer can also check the key details of an installation.

The number of faults resolved during an initial visit rises, so that the faults process becomes more efficient. For a given faults portfolio, it then becomes possible for fewer technicians to carry out the same work.

Scenario 3: remote help with digital glasses
Imagine that an engineer is issued with digital glasses (such as Google Glass). This would leave his hands free to work whilst simultaneously reading information on the glasses, and let a back-office specialist help solve the problem. Collaboration becomes easier and faults can be fixed more efficiently.

Scenario 4: machines that think
Imagine if faults could be reported – and even resolved – by machines themselves. Many systems already contain sensors that can indicate if there’s a fault. The ‘Internet of Things’ makes it possible for equipment not only to report a fault itself, but it could also indicate the solution.

Is all of this still a vision of the future? The technology already exists, so it’s not inconceivable that it will also be applied in Maintenance Management.

It all depends on users’ willingness. Applications like ‘Layar’ (an interactive print app) have been around for a while, but have yet to be embraced by the public, as there’s no real need for them (yet). It’s different with professional applications. If organisations can work more efficiently and save time and money, then that’s usually the motivation to adopt them.

At Planon we are ready for this new connected world. We have smartphone apps, integration with sensor technology, BIM integration and more. Contact us if you’d like to find out more.

Nico van Dijk
Product Manager Asset & Maintenance Management