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August 19, 2014

Maintenance management viewed through digital glasses (and three other scenarios)

Imagine it for a moment: a world in which everything and everyone is linked together. Where digital information is always available, and everything is measurable. Where machines report their faults themselves. Where you – with a portable device like a tablet or glasses – can project an extra layer of information over the physical world.

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We are only on the brink of this, but the onward march of smart technologies and “The Internet of Things” is now unstoppable. Smart devices like smartphones, smartwatches and, of course, the digital and virtual spectacles like Google Glass or Oculus Rift are all linked to the internet and provide access to information at the exact moment you need it. The work of a maintenance technician, or engineer, will never be the same again as a result. 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.

Where is the job of the maintenance technician heading? What can already be done, and what still lies in the future? It’s high time we looked at four scenarios.

Scenario 1: exploring a building virtually
Imagine that, before heading out, the maintenance technician can explore the location. For a technician in large locations, it’s often difficult to determine what tools he needs, because he doesn’t have a good idea of what he may come across. There is a solution for this. It’s possible to create a 3D environment using digital photos. From a fault report, the engineer can undertake a virtual tour through the building. For example, he can find out in advance what keys he needs. Of course this is more efficient than having to walk back and forth. He can also 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 to the reality
Imagine that the technician is carrying an instrument which – while he is walking through a building – provides information about the installations he is passing and indicates whether they have a fault or not. This lets the technician work proactively and resolve the fault, even before it has been reported. With the same instrument he can also consult all the relevant 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 using digital glasses
Imagine that a technician wears digital glasses with communication abilities. The major advantage of such glasses is that they leave the technician’s hands free to carry out his work. But he can also request information through the glasses, and he can let a back-office specialist watch while resolving the problem. Collaboration becomes extremely easy like this, with the aim of resolving faults quicker and better.

Scenario 4: machines that think
Imagine if faults could be reported and resolved by machines themselves. Many systems already contain sensors that can indicate when there may be a fault. The Internet of Things – where everything is connected to and communicates with everything else – makes it possible that equipment could not only report a fault itself, but could also indicate the solution. In this way an engineer or technician knows exactly what needs to be done. Convenience serves people and technology can make the work even simpler.

Is all this still just 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 have been around for a while, but have not really been embraced by the public at large because there has been no necessity. It’s different with applications in our line of work. If organizations can work more efficiently and can save a lot of time and money, that’s sufficient motivation to put them to use. At Planon we are ready for this new world!

Nico van Dijk
Product Manager Asset & Maintenance Management