Mobile processes – the perfect sidekick for predictive maintenance

The production line is idle. “What’s the problem now?” asks the production manager, somewhat stuffy. “Can’t you take a look at the machine and take some measurements? It isn’t rocket science, after all!” The maintenance company’s technician shrugs his shoulders apologetically. “I don’t have any measurement equipment with me, but I don’t have to take a look. The latest real-time data from the machine is available on our cloud back-end.”
“And what does your cloud back-end say?” “Sorry, I have to call the customer support line first. They need to look it up for me.”

The service technician gets out his mobile phone and places a call, but is immediately put on hold (and beads of sweat start to form on his forehead as the customer slowly comes to a boil…). This is a work of fiction. The roles are played by two actors. Any resemblance to actual maintenance situations is purely coincidental. Or is it?

Predictive maintenance as service feature

These days, predictive maintenance is more than just a buzzword. Analysts are singing the praises of connected production and its incredible importance to Germany as a country of manufacturing and engineering. The Hannover Messe will surely feature many exhibits and demonstrators in the coming days. We will see escalators, elevators, dehumidifiers, compressors, major plants, and more that feature efficient predictive maintenance. Predictive maintenance has already established itself as a business model and/or service feature. The benefits of shorter downtimes, greater capacity utilization, and new pay-as-you-go billing models are just too attractive to ignore.

Mobile collaboration complements Industry 4.0

Mobile collaboration is the perfect complement to predictive maintenance – with the emphasis on “collaboration” (this is a collaboration blog, after all 😉). It’s great, of course, when a service technician can get someone on the phone and obtain support at short notice, but it’s hardly the pinnacle of mobile collaboration – and I mean no offense to the value of interpersonal communication.

Mobile process integration

Wouldn’t be much better if the service technician – whether a direct employee of the plant engineering company or a representative of a subcontractor –had all the necessary tools and information at hand immediately? And even be able to add the current findings to the knowledge base directly?

If the technician’s mobile device is integrated in the service workflows, instead of simply serving as a means of voice communication, it would streamline the processes significantly. In the case described above, the service technician could access the database directly via app(s) (or even a progressive web app), which contains the original data of “his” patient, as well as the cockpit for the analysis software. He might even be able to install a software patch directly, to get the machine up and running again. After a successful repair/maintenance, he documents the changes he made in the central equipment management system and shares this data with the customer’s system.

Capture the possibilities of mobile integration

The mobile device – smartphone, tablet PC, or whatever – is thus promoted from service sidekick to “equal member” of the service landscape – becoming as indispensable a tool as a wrench. And mobility can unleash its true potential by making the resources and functions available locally, on site, that have been consolidated in central back-end systems (or distributed across multiple sites) in a cloud approach.

To achieve this, however, the service processes must be designed to be mobile and scalable from the start. And it becomes even more important to safeguard the mobile devices and their access methods appropriately – through smart methods such as a system for unified endpoint management or enterprise mobility management. When properly deployed, mobility can generate one-of-a-kind productivity gains, which will pay off in increased efficiency and customer satisfaction.

Will we ever have a wrench app that will save the service technician from having to carry a toolbox around? That sounds like something Gyro Gearloose would dream up…

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