May 27, 2016
Moving to Mobile
This article was included in the May/June 2016 issue of Biofuels International Magazine.
Despite common complaints that people spend too much time on their phones, making use of a mobile app can help plant operators save time and money.
These days, just about everything has gone mobile, and computerized maintenance management systems (CMMS) are no exception. A good mobile CMMS can make a plant run more efficiently by making it possible to create work requests, add attachments, run reports, and approve purchase orders right from the floor.
When a piece of equipment needs repairs, normally a worker would make note of it and then trek back to their desktop PC to put the request in their CMMS. However, when a mobile app is used, the worker can create the request right from the floor, which can be a huge time saver. The worker is not forced to remember the details of the needed repair whilst going back to their desk, potentially forgetting something. Being able to create the request from the floor helps eliminate human error while saving precious time. If a critical machine were to go down suddenly, downtime could halt ethanol production and cost plants thousands. These risks make saving time very important.
Ordering a part is a lot easier with a mobile CMMS as well. In the vendor screen, a user can simply click on the phone number or email address to contact that supplier right away. Being able to contact them right from the floor can help eliminate errors, since the employee can stand directly in front of the machine while ordering parts, instead of going back to their PC to complete the order.
When necessary, managers will get a mobile alert when a purchase order needs their approval. Knowing when a PO needs to be approved right away can speed up the part ordering process and help keep things running smoothly.
Add some media
A mobile app does not just help create the work request, it helps employees make sure things are accurate, through the use of attachments. As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words, and with a mobile CMMS, this is really true. A good mobile CMMS app will allow users to add attachments to work requests, which can really help avoid confusion. Instead of taking the time to write a detailed description of the problem, users can simply snap a picture and attach it. Not only will this help avoid confusion on what the actual issue is, but it can help decrease downtime as technicians can look at the picture and usually determine right then and there what tools and parts they will need to fix it. Without a picture, the technician would have to go to the actual piece of equipment to assess the problem, and then gather the necessary items after that.
Along with images, a good app should also allow documents to be added to equipment or work requests. Attaching a manual or warranty information to a piece of equipment can be helpful as when repairs are being done, the technician can read the manual directly on their mobile device, instead of wasting time trying to find it around the plant, or worse, not using it at all. Having warranty information on hand can be helpful during repairs as well, especially if a worker needs to contact a vendor about the issue.
The ability to attach a web-based video in the attachments tab on a piece of equipment can also come in handy. This can be beneficial if the plant has how-to videos on repairs or preventive maintenance tasks. Instead of spending time reading a manual or directions, workers can simply click a link and watch the video while actually making the repairs. This can help workers complete the task in a more timely fashion.
After creating the work order and adding any necessary attachments, the order must then be dispatched to a technician. Another saying that rings true in ethanol production is "time is money". When a work order is dispatched, it is imperative for the worker to know right away that they have repairs that need to be made. A successful CMMS app will send an alert right to a person"s mobile device when they have a work order or preventive maintenance task that needs to get done.
Solution at hand
Mapcon Technologies released the mobile version of its CMMS, which features all the mentioned capabilities, a few years ago. The app has helped many ethanol plants around the US optimize their maintenance schedules.
One ethanol plant that has seen the benefits of using a mobile CMMS is Absolute Energy, located in St. Ansgar, Iowa. Prior to having a mobile CMMS, inventory and cycle counts would take a lot of time and manpower. The plant would have to assign several employees to spend entire shifts counting inventory by hand, which was then entered into their CMMS via their desktop computer. Generally, it would take several employees two to three full days to get the counts done.
Mapcon"s mobile app has streamlined this process and made it easier. Instead of having several employees go aisle by aisle counting parts, the plant now uses the barcode scanner on their mobile devices to scan parts directly into their CMMS. This has helped not only reduce the risk for human error caused by miscounting, but it has also saved Absolute Energy money. As opposed to having several employees spend countless hours on inventory, now they have just one or two people scan items over a few hours.
A mobile CMMS can be used for daily tasks also. Conestoga Energy, located in Liberal, Kansas, uses Mapcon’s mobile CMMS to their advantage on a daily basis. Along with cycle counts, Conestoga has also found the app to be advantageous in other ways. According to maintenance manager Allen Bryant, one of the best parts of the app is the ability to do things on-the-fly, instead of relying exclusively on a desktop computer.
Along with work order creation and completion, reporting has also proved to be a useful capability in the mobile app. According to Bryant, the reporting tool in Mapcon Mobile is one of the features he uses most frequently. When he is at a meeting, or even out of town for a trade show, he is still able to complete tasks such as approving purchase orders and work requests simply by pressing a few buttons on his phone or tablet. He also enjoys being able to run reports from anywhere. This ability is especially helpful during meetings where certain reports are beneficial to have ready.
"If I need a report during a meeting that I didn’t print off beforehand," he explains, "I can just simply bring it up on my iPad instead of having to run back to my desk to get it. This has saved me lots of time in the past."
Bryant is also able to run reports from his mobile device when he is out of the office that let him know how many work orders have been completed, and how many are still outstanding. This gives him the ability to still manage his team and make sure things are getting done, even when he is not actually at the plant.
Many people view being attached at the hip to a mobile device as a bad thing. But when it comes to maintenance management, that mobile device can be a lifesaver. Whether it is receiving a critical work order right away or being able to run reports on-the-fly, a mobile CMMS can prove to be a critical addition to a plants’ maintenance plan.