Power in Your Palm: Plant Monitoring and Maintenance with Mobile Technology

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NIST_Industrial_Control_Security_Testbed

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You might not think much of those nifty new iPad computers floating around coffee shops and other small businesses. You can’t afford to use them, and they look a bit high-tech and fragile. Sure, it’s cool for customers to use their finger to sign their name on a smudged screen that looks like it’s seen a thousand faces, but you don’t do retail. You have serious needs as a plant supervisor or operations manager.

 

You do maintenance at your company, or maybe you just have to be able to have a lot more complex information at your fingertips than what a mobile app could ever provide, right? Not so fast. You might be surprised by what industrial-grade apps are capable of and how they can help you.

 

Thinking The Unthinkable

 

When Dee Cutino, superintendent of San Francisco Water’s West Bay Facilities, first heard of mobile apps being used in municipal utilities, he was sceptical. But, he found that it made the operation much more efficient, “The primary operator is responsible for instrument calibration, while the secondary operator is devoted to routine maintenance. The secondary operator would have to stop working and take over monitoring the control room when the primary operator needed to leave, for example, to calibrate turbidity meters. Now the primary operator can take a tablet with him so he can start and stop equipment, acknowledge alarms, etc.,” says Cutino.

 

The secondary operator doesn’t have to stop working. He can stay on his rounds. That means more work gets done and that’s good for the facility and for taxpayers.

 

How Mobile Changes Your Work Environment

 

Mobile applications change how you use your equipment at work too. Instead of having to rely on just text-based instructions, they can give you visual cues and sometimes even rely only on images for instruction.

 

For example, instead of having to read through a manual on an iPhone or tablet device, you can instead be presented with a screen showing a detailed, colour, schematic of the machine you’re working on.

 

The schematic can be interactive, showing you which part may be faulty or in need of repair. You can also get cues as to what you should be testing. The equipment can be tied into the mobile app and send diagnostic data directly to the tablet or phone too. That cuts down on reporting time, and allows advanced analytics to be done in minutes, instead of hours or days.

 

Vendor Offerings Are Growing

 

The Flir Viewer App lets you send thermal images and data from a Flir E-Series or T-Series camera to any iPhone, iPod touch, or iPad. You don’t even need to connect any cables or swap SD cards – it’s all handled wirelessly.

 

You can share the images with anyone on your team using Wi-Fi.

 

The ProSoft i-View is another app that was launched back in 2010 that allows remote process monitoring and control on any Apple device. That means you can control or monitor any computer system or machine in your plant without having to be right in front of it.

 

As more and more manufacturers come online with commonly-used and needed solutions for plants and manufacturing facilities, expect to see more uptake by management.

 

Will You Be An Early Adopter?

 

It’s hard to be the first one in your industry to do something. A lot of businesses are afraid to stick their collective necks out to test-drive something. But, the companies that do are always the ones who end up on the cutting edge. Yes, they experience bad programs and they make a lot of mistakes. However, they also step up to the plate and get first crack at the most innovative solutions.

 

You’ve already missed your chance to be the first ones out of the gate with new mobile industrial apps. You don’t have to wait until everyone else has left you behind though. Newer mobile tablet devices have special coatings that make them more waterproof, drop-proof, and resistant to the kind of environments common in plants. Are you ready?

 

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