Situation Awareness: Making Mobile Technology Work for You

By Greg Alvarado, Chief Editor at Inspectioneering. October 27, 2014

engineer-on-phoneThis blog post is the third in a series of posts discussing situation awareness (SA). The first part of this series introduced SA (defined as the gathering and utilization of data in real time and using it to improve work processes) and introduced an example of how real-time SA can be applied to plant turnarounds to better achieve your turnaround objectives. The second part explored how SA can be applied to turnaround planning for a crude unit.

Now that the stage has been set (via parts 1 and 2 of this series), let’s see what we can do to improve the efficiencies and effectiveness of the work execution processes. Who knows? Maybe even cut a few days off the turnaround in the process.

Designing the Work Flow, Providing Protocols and Procedures

Now that the planning is done, you should know what to do, right? For most, instructions of how to do it are contained in standard operating procedures (SOPs) and in the knowledge of subject matter experts (SMEs). These SMEs might be inspectors, engineers, technicians and mechanics; or other trusted minds at your facility. Some companies have highly detailed procedures in certain areas and less detailed protocols in others. Some may be totally dependent upon SMEs, who could verbally describe the work and decision making process. At some point, no matter how detailed the procedures, SMEs will need to be engaged. For example, SMEs will be the best source for deciding exactly where to inspect and what to inspect for.

I have found that most people are averse to change. They also take pride in work practices they feel are effective and that they have had a part in building. When introducing new technology it is imperative to introduce as little disruption to the practices and work processes to which they are accustomed. They want to know the change will make them more effective with minimal added work and disruption.

However, many software technologies are introduced in just the opposite manner. The software provider sells a package at a high level in the organization. Then management pushes it down to the field workers and demands that they use it. When the workers tell them it does not make sense (assuming they have the courage or consideration to do so) they are told they have no choice in the matter. It is forced upon them. 15 years later the organization is still struggling to get everyone on board to use the software to the full ROI value they originally envisioned and used as justification for the purchase. Many times the software takes a long time, sometimes years, and a substantial amount of money to configure, and at the end, the solution might not mirror what the SMEs recommended and workers and their managers might still not understand all of the ways the software could be used.

Make it easy on us – What a novel idea!

A recent Forrester Report presents information on what they call customer facing software applications that are built in a “low code” environment. This is a game-changer! In plain talk for us inspectors, reliability, and maintenance types, it means that software tools built in this environment exhibit the following characteristics:

  1. Without further software coding development, these off-the-shelf tools are extremely flexible and easily customizable to what the plant worker wants.
  2. Savvy users are able to quickly mirror their current workflow.
  3. With proprietary software that exists today, users can quickly (minutes to hours) recompile SOPs in any electronic format to appear as fully interactive work instructions and tasks, on any handheld device. This allows users to confirm that tasks are complete, enter data, take pictures, and provide signature sign-offs. These procedures and protocols may come from an EAP system or from an SMEs computer, and may be many pages long. Macro-tasks may include things such as inspecting the T-101 tower (imported from your CMMS or similar planning tool), erecting scaffolding, sanblasting, etc.
  4. Detailed task packages are downloaded from your IDMS, EAP, or a similar program. In absence of task packages, they are built using Mobile software (i.e. WFMT, UT, AUT, VI).
  5. If SOPs are too vague or do not exist, SMEs can be interviewed to explain the steps in the work process to transform this into work instructions.
  6. This creates a mirrored workflow with detailed instructions, to the level of detail desired for presentation in a handheld phone or tablet. In effect, it builds a documented and available work execution framework that mirrors best practices for the company that is in line and congruent with culture. Change can incrementally and easily be incorporated over time as new practices are identified by SMEs and adopted by the company.
  7. Technology exists that enables the device to capture every touch of the screen, capturing the time, date and location if needed, of the individual or group doing the work.
  8. This information is then fed to the proper coordinators, leaders, chief inspectors, and senior inspectors, to allow monitoring of the status of all work activities

Here is an example of how this process might look during a crude unit TAR:

  1. Sandblasting of the tower is complete and ready for inspection.
  2. The inspectors show up and identify that surface prep is insufficient for visual inspection and WFMT.
  3. The inspectors also note that scaffolding is not correct.
  4. The inspectors immediately enter their findings via their smartphone or tablet.
  5. The field coordinator sees the work stoppage along with reasons in real time.
  6. The coordinator immediately re-dispatches the cleaning and scaffolding resources, while the inspectors move on to the next task item on their task lists as shown on their mobile devices.
  7. The coordinator indicates that the re-clean is complete via mobile device.
  8. Available, qualified inspection resources are redeployed for inspection and WFMT.
  9. The inspection is marked as completed according to procedures.

Findings and other information can easily be communicated to the associated platforms and others to update them with the specific types of information they need. Time saved in reporting conditions and subsequent actions can easily be between 3 and 12 hours, and inspection resources did not skip a beat for one item alone. One can imagine the same process applied to the turnaround work request work execution process and management of thousands of work packages, automating the entire process and providing real time awareness of all work status. Who knows how much wasted time can be saved using this type of software and working process within a program that is intuitive and friendly to field workers and coordinators alike.

What's Next?

The next installment of this series will dive into the critical details of coordinating communications between field workers, inspectors, maintenance workers, contract maintenance workers, coordinators and managers, and how in automating any process, proper communications are vital to efficiency, compliance, management, and safety.


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