12 Ways to Use a Smartphone as a Maintenance Tool

Jeff O'Brien

In the past few years, the cellphone has evolved from a humble gadget used to make calls and check emails into a sophisticated device with features and functionality that can transform the way maintenance is performed. Many organizations are already using Web-based computerized maintenance management system (CMMS) software on their phones or tablets, allowing technicians to update work orders in real time as they perform work. This eliminates the need to take notes and re-enter them later.

Mobile CMMS enables technicians to access asset logs, meter-reading history, parts inventory and warranty information in the field as they work. Using mobile CMMS technology can also improve accuracy and efficiency by eliminating redundancy and reducing the time needed to manage work orders.

Today, a constant stream of new mobile technologies is fueling a fundamental shift in the way smartphones are used for maintenance. As a result, the modern smartphone could overtake the wrench as the tool of choice in the maintenance technician's tool belt. The simple reason for this shift is the extraordinary technology inside your smartphone. Certain features and apps can turn your phone into a must-have maintenance gadget. They can enhance your CMMS experience or provide the tool needed to perform a task without having to search for specialist equipment or tools. Below are 12 such features and apps, although many more are also available.


Use the camera functionality on your smartphone to upload images and videos directly to the asset record or work order in your CMMS. It can be difficult to describe an issue over the phone, so images and videos are a great way to document repairs. Senior technicians or factory support can review the work order images and videos from the office and recommend actions quickly. In the future, technicians can review the work order videos and images when faced with similar issues.

Voice Recognition

Modern smartphones come with built-in voice recognition software, such as Apple's Siri. Technicians can fill in work order details by simply talking into their phone. This saves time when entering large amounts of work order information into the CMMS. Rather than using a small keyboard, simply dictate repair actions into the built-in microphone and include them on the work order record. While cellphone speech recognition is not 100-percent foolproof, it is getting better. Soon we'll do less talking through our phones and more talking to them.

Barcode and Quick Response Code Scanning

Some CMMS vendors integrate barcode and quick response (QR) code-scanning capabilities into their mobile app to convert your smartphone into a scanning device. After scanning a QR code or barcode with a smartphone, technicians are taken directly to the asset, part or work order record in the CMMS. This saves time navigating through long lists of items in the CMMS. Technicians can update asset records, enter condition states, log meter readings and flag necessary alerts quickly and easily. Also, unregistered CMMS users can scan codes on equipment, walls or doors to be taken to the guest request form where they can log an issue against the asset. By scanning the code on the asset, the maintenance manager then knows exactly which issue to address on a particular asset. To see how it works, view this video or visit www.maintenanceassistant.com/cmms.

Near Field Communications

Smartphones enabled with near field communications (NFC) can be used to identify assets through radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags. RFID tags can be purchased for a few cents and placed on assets throughout the facility. By tapping their phone against the RFID tag, users are taken directly to the asset record in the CMMS where they can log their issue. Alternatively, NFC and RFID technology can be used to provide proof of presence for safety-related work orders. The tapping motion is recorded digitally, proving the technician was physically at the asset when the work order was completed.

Maps and GPS

The majority of smartphones come with maps and GPS technology, allowing you to use satellites to pinpoint the latitude and longitude coordinates of your current location to within a few feet. This enables technicians to locate dispersed assets in the field without the need to search through reams of outdated maps. A maps app can guide you to the work order asset in your CMMS.


Need to look into a dark corner inside a machine? Don't forget that you can use the camera flash on a smartphone as a flashlight to illuminate the area of interest. There are also many flashlight apps available for your smartphone.

Unit Measurement Converter

If you can't convert meters to feet in your head, download a unit measurement converter app. These apps are ideal for quick conversions in the maintenance shop or out in the field.

Strobe Lights

Strobe lights (or stroboscopes) can be used to study the behavior of rotating, oscillating or vibrating equipment. They are often employed as tachometers to accurately calculate the running speed of belts and motors. The technician adjusts the frequency of the strobe until the belt or motor appears to freeze. At this point, the speed of the motor can be calculated and adjusted if necessary. A stroboscope can also be used for balancing, verifying alignment and checking for looseness. There are a number of apps that turn the camera flash into a stroboscope. Simply search your app store for “stroboscope” or “strobe tachometer” to download and test for yourself.

Vibration Analysis

In predictive maintenance applications, vibration analysis can help identify bearing defects, shaft misalignment, imbalance and structural resonant frequencies. Sensors are embedded in the equipment or technicians use meters to monitor vibration at regular intervals and report vibration readings in real time. Modern smartphones have a built-in accelerometer or gyroscope that can be used for vibration analysis on pumps and motors. For example, the three-channel accelerometer in the iPhone is sensitive enough to analyze the vibration of moving machinery. Simply turn on the app, place your smartphone on the asset to be measured and start recording.

Magnetic Field Detector

Your smartphone comes with magnetic field sensors to determine magnetic north. Several developers have designed magnetic field detector apps that can be used to measure magnetic fields around the smartphone. The apps use the embedded magnetic sensors in the smartphone to turn it into an electromagnetic field (EMF) meter. These apps are ideal for simple tasks like checking for power lines behind drywall. However, use a proper Gaussmeter if you need exact measurements.

Metal Detector

The magnetic field sensors in your smartphone can also be used to detect metal objects. The strength of the magnetic field increases as the smartphone is brought into close contact with metal. The metal detector apps can be used for a variety of applications like locating metal studs in walls and iron pipes in the ground. 

Sound Level Meters

Sound level meters measure the level of sound intensity in decibels at any point in time. A number of apps can convert your smartphone into a basic sound pressure meter. These apps use complex Fourier transform algorithms and the smartphone's built-in microphone to measure noise in decibels. The apps are limited by the hardware on the phone, so it may be difficult to measure in extreme cases. However, they are reliable and accurate enough for non-critical applications. If you need precision accuracy, buy a proper sound pressure level (SPL) meter.

Mobile CMMS has the ability to transform the way maintenance is performed by providing instant access to the CMMS database from any Internet connection. Those who have embraced mobile CMMS continually sing its praises. It's now time to take it to the next level by using some of the advanced features and functionality as outlined above. With a plethora of maintenance-related apps now available, you can make your smartphone a crucial maintenance tool. While the apps are not 100-percent accurate yet, they can give you the precision needed for simple jobs. Just be sure you have your smartphone charged and in your pocket so it will be ready when you need it.

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About the Author

Jeff co-founded Zoidii—the maintenance solution that gives you real-time visibility of maintenance cycles, labor assignments, parts allocations, and maintenance costs. Jeff has managed ove...