The business of equipment maintenance seems to be changing just as fast as the technology around it. As workforce trends reveal that employees stay in positions for shorter time periods than previous generations (about three to four years in the same role as opposed to life-time equipment experts that stuck around for decades), new challenges have emerged around properly maintaining complex equipment in an efficient way with a more generalized talent pool.
So what’s a supervisor to do to ensure equipment is properly serviced? When it comes to new employees, it’s virtually impossible to train each person on everything they will encounter on the job given the factors of a less specialized workforce and equipment that continues to become more complex. When maintenance workers do encounter a problem they are not familiar with, there are generally three options available to them:
- shut down the equipment and wait for a trained expert to arrive onsite, which can often result in downtime of hours, or sometimes weeks, leading to an unacceptable amount of revenue loss;
- try to repair the equipment with limited support, with the risk of doing it incorrectly (for example, an audio call from a support desk might be all he can expect); or
- find a way to ensure that they have the most up-to-date expert information on how to repair the equipment at that time.
Luckily, more and more organizations are exploring option three, realizing efficiency and time savings are the keys to success in every industry. The way to do that is to ensure the workforce has the expert knowledge in their hands and knows exactly how to repair any type of equipment correctly and in a timely manner. This results in an evolution of equipment maintenance, going from “shop floor training” and paper documentation to fully integrated procedures designed to put the expert knowledge of the organization in the hands of the workers when and where they need it, with the added ability to document the process for accountability and knowledge retention.
How are organizations essentially making maintenance workers experts at, well, everything? Organizations are forming innovation teams to actively seek out cutting edge technologies that can improve their operations and better capture and disperse the expert knowledge that exists within their workforce for years to come, and not depend only on those who are available at that time. Those that are integrating the use of these technologies, such as IoT and AR, into their existing technology infrastructure are seeing that they are able to support workers in equipment maintenance at any time, in any location, to ensure efficiency, accuracy of procedures and the ability to document the process for future review at levels never seen before.
They are doing this by putting the necessary information (literally) at the fingertips of the worker, which is possible through IoT information and predefined support procedures displayed through AR and VR technologies. With AR, the worker can visualize predefined instructions on top of the equipment to show exactly the right steps, regardless of previous training. Augmented reality instructions replace the need for outdated paper manuals and ensure that the correct procedures are always being shown. In addition, experts can now support the worker from afar with an over-the-shoulder view and ability to show the worker the proper process.
Imagine a field worker being able to service a variety of models of a generator that are similar to, but not exactly the same as the one trained with, and knowing that the maintenance will be completed with the correct procedure every time and documented for future reference. This is all done while maintaining the involvement of the senior employees (trained experts) who are able to be in the office creating AR instructions and supporting the field workers in real time. AR technology is providing the tools for expert support, ensuring efficiency and saving time and money for the organization.
Beyond using these technologies to empower workers to repair and maintain equipment, they’re also giving organizations unprecedented amounts of data and insight that can be used for compliance and accountability reporting, evaluation of workers’ performance and identification of areas within a specific procedure or instruction set that can be improved. For example, a maintenance supervisor can see if Worker A completes a procedure in 15 minutes as compared to Worker B who took half an hour to complete the same procedure. Is Worker A just more efficient, or is he skipping steps? If either worker is not completing the task with full knowledge, can an expert improve the process with live support? This data can also be integrated into the organization’s ERP system for the ability to document work completed, plan for future work, optimize parts ordering and develop updated training and support materials.
As equipment becomes increasingly complex, the practice of properly and efficiently maintaining it doesn’t have to be, as organizations that are onboarding breaking technology such as IoT and AR into their existing technology infrastructure are quickly realizing is the case. Those organizations now have a leg up on competition by being able to support workers in equipment maintenance to ensure efficiency, correct procedures and also be able to document the process for future review, saving time and money, which is valuable to all parties involved.