3 Crucial Ways Connected Worker Platforms Improve Preventive Maintenance Efforts

Eric Whitley, L2L

Modern maintenance management is complicated. Melding diverse data, regulatory demands, safety concerns, company processes, and worker capabilities into a working formula increases procedural complexity and cost. Additionally, it makes staying ahead of complex maintenance demands more difficult.

Research suggests we are losing the battle: McKinsey claims maintenance productivity is declining, with workers spending less than 50% of their time on the tools. However, coupling modern digital work management with connected workers offers hope for stopping the decline.

Let’s dive into three crucial ways a connected worker platform can help your organization’s maintenance processes:

#1: Data Availability, Relevancy and Reliability

Since the birth of the scientific management theory in the early 1900s, people have measured the time maintenance technicians spend working on equipment, but we've begun measuring efficiency and effectiveness rather than time on the job. Unfortunately, gathering and entering data, locating tools and requisitioning spares still take up a good portion of technicians’ days.

Mobile devices and wearable technologies offer a solution by enabling technicians to access critical information without leaving the workplace:

  • With the ability to zoom in and link to supporting information, maintenance tasks and data are available in greater detail.
  • Inventory lists and spare parts catalogs promote remote scheduling and ordering.
  • Training materials and videos offer guidance for complicated processes.

Technicians can also enter data directly into a computerized maintenance management system (CMMS). This makes the data available for analysis immediately and removes the time delays and human errors inherent to paper-based manual data entry forms.

Using mobile and wearable devices also improves data relevancy and reliability, which are key aspects of a robust quality system. Mobile and wearable devices ensure planned maintenance tasks can link to task-specific data, removing ambiguity when tolerances and torques differ by component model or modification state.

CMMS software improves data reliability by removing the option to keep uncontrolled data in workshops and toolboxes for convenience. The electronic source becomes the sole truth for processes and procedures.

#2: Access to Guidance and Subject Matter Experts

Once a technician leaves the safe confines of a maintenance facility, they must rely on their product knowledge, maintenance capabilities and flexibility in dealing with multiple variables. After they access the asset needing maintenance, they must have the tooling, spares and maintenance data necessary to complete their task efficiently. Failure at any point can result in costly delays and dissatisfied clients.

Driven by increased digitalization and the use of connected workers, ABI Research predicts that technologies, like industrial augmented reality (AR), will near $70 billion in market value by 2025. Boeing, Bosch and ThyssenKrupp have already invested heavily in AR for their maintenance workforce and are reporting a 40% to 75% improvement in quality and productivity. 

Augmented Reality

Advanced computer-generated, interactive simulations that enhance the real world.
Source: Reliable Plant

Benefits of this technology include 24/7 remote access to:

  • Technical documentation.
  • On-screen instructions.
  • Checklist overlays.
  • Guidance from subject matter experts.

For instance, in 2016, ThyssenKrupp issued AR technology to its 24,000 service technicians, allowing them to visualize the asset, understand the fault, and identify possible solutions before ever arriving at the client's site.

While on-site, AR links them to their service center, enabling access to all technical documentation. If the fault proves difficult to solve, they can collaborate with a specialist from anywhere in the world and solve the problem together.

ThyssenKrupp claims that maintenance interventions have been four times faster since the introduction of AR technology.

#3: Improved Safety

Connected safety refers to a safety strategy that uses a connected worker platform to link workers and Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) devices for real-time monitoring and data display. It's a broad concept that covers many applications, including:

Physical and Environmental Monitoring

Physical and environmental monitoring tracks each worker’s condition, location and immediate environment. Wearable technologies monitor the worker's physical state for several factors, including heat, stress and fatigue. Additionally, it offers fall recognition and environmental monitoring, sending alerts when predetermined characteristics exceed acceptable limits.

Geofencing, which overlays wearable technology inputs with sensor data, can flag when a worker breaches safe zones and can even automatically stop equipment to prevent physical harm. They also provide location services for emergency assistance workers.

Failure Prevention

Failure prevention uses sensors to monitor critical equipment and provide early warning when monitored data exceeds preset thresholds. Often used for preventing failures that impact production and revenue, these sensors help prevent worker and bystander injury due to high-energy asset failure. Additionally, early failure recognition helps lower maintenance worker exposure to safety hazards.

Post-Incident Investigation

Once an incident occurs, a prompt response is essential to prevent escalation, resolve the problem and implement corrective actions to prevent reoccurrence. Digitized incident investigation workflows let maintenance workers:

  • Provide first-response support.
  • Log issues.
  • Share incident data.
  • Take photos.
  • Alert and mobilize trained investigators.  

Logging the investigation in the safety system initiates an audit trail of actions, which requires a complete review and corrective action before the incident can be closed.

Parting Thoughts

Connected worker platforms solve the decline in preventive maintenance productivity by ensuring workers have all the required data at their fingertips and immediate access to specialized assistance regardless of location. They also make workplaces safer for maintenance employees, preventing lost time and legal consequences caused by safety incidents.

If your maintenance team isn't using a connected worker platform, now may be the time to investigate their potential for your organization.

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About the Author

For more than 30 years, Eric Whitley has been a noteworthy leader in the manufacturing space. In addition to the many publications and articles he has written on various manufacturing topics, yo...