Experienced plant operators know that downtime caused by faulty equipment can be very costly; either because of the cost of repair, the cost of the lost production time, or both. Remedying any unsafe working conditions caused by faulty equipment in hazardous industrial environments is often an urgent requirement worth just about any additional costs.
The regular and accurate inspection of assets and working areas is essential to the safe and efficient running of industrial plants. The first line of defense against breakdowns and unsafe conditions are the operators of the equipment. They regularly work with the equipment, and have technical knowledge essential to continuous operations. The inspections conducted by operators are regularly referred to as operator rounds.
- A technician conducts an inspection of equipment on an offshore oil rig (Image source: Xmentoys/Shutterstock.com)
Operator Rounds and Software
To reduce operational risk, ensure safety and compliance, and reduce the costs associated with production loss, operators regularly conduct inspections of plant equipment. For decades these inspections have been done with pen and paper or spreadsheets but over the last few years, many software products have been developed to digitize the operator rounds process. This has drastically improved the inspection process, leading to benefits such as:
- Increased speed of inspections. Operators can add notes on a mobile device and access equipment history immediately on the app.
- Taking photos. Operators can take photos and videos of the equipment and any defect they may find. This is attached to the inspection report and saves time and removes errors such as the photos being linked to the wrong asset.
- Error reduction. With a digital workflow, there is less change of the operator skipping a step of forgetting to check a certain aspect of the equipment, especially if one step needs to be completed to move on to the next.
- A better audit trail. Digital operator rounds mean that there is a better audit trail of when the last inspection was conducted, and who did it. Whereas manually filed reports could go missing, digital reports are safely stored in the cloud as the inspection is completed. This is an important aspect to ensure safety and regulatory compliance.
- Integration with existing systems. Companies have numerous systems that require the information gathered through the operator inspections. Where previously these data had to be manually inputted into these systems, integration allows this information to be synced immediately. This saves time and effort as well as allowing for data continuity.
- Immediately red flag anomalies. If an operator inputs a reading that is out of range, the software can immediately alert him to it and he can take action if necessary. If immediate action is not needed, then the software can still make a note of the anomaly and highlight it as a future action.
Newer technology, such as head-mounted tablets (also called head-mounted displays) provides a new avenue to unlock additional benefits that have thus far been out of reach.
- Industrial worker wearing a RealWear headset (Image source: RealWear)
Operator Rounds and Wearables
Wearable headsets such as the RealWear HMT-1, are increasingly being used to conduct operator rounds, among many other industrial processes. This technology further improves the process by offering an additional layer of assistance to the operator. On top of the benefits already mentioned offered by using mobile devices, wearable technology (with specialized software installed) further improves operator rounds processes by providing:
- Voice-controlled data capture and app navigation. One of the most immediate benefits of using a wearable is that processes and workflows can be completed using only voice. An operator can input data, add comments, search through the equipment history, complete a checklist, or take a photo, all with the use of voice-commands or dictation. This drastically speeds up the process, as voice input is much quicker than having to type information on a mobile device.
- A hands-free process. By being able to complete the task using voice, and have the information displayed on headset display within their peripheral vision, the operator can do their job hands-free. This improves safety as the operator can use their hands to move around in hazardous and difficult to reach places around the equipment. It also negates the need to interrupt inspection processes to pick up mobile devices or laptops.
- Immediate expert assistance. Remote expert assistance is one of the most advanced benefits of using a head-mounted tablet. In this case, the operator can call on an expert (like a manufacturer rep) if there is an issue with the equipment that needs immediate resolution. Here, the expert can view, in real-time, what the operator is seeing, and talk through any issues with them. This allows any critical issues to be addressed before it leads to equipment failure.
- Remote inspections. When an operator is not available to conduct an inspection in person, but one is due, wearable headsets allow inspections to be done remotely. In this case, another employee can wear the headset, while the operator does the inspection remotely through the camera. This means that inspections are not delayed and that experts can also conduct inspections remotely, saving on travel costs.
We have seen customers that made the switch from tablets to headset wearables experience a 50% improvement in productivity. This is particularly driven by the voice-control and hands-free benefits offered by this technology. Operator rounds are a fiscally and strategically important process for manufacturing companies. Specialized mobile apps have drastically improved the process, and wearable technology is the next logical step for companies to take advantage of.
JourneyApps provides a rapid way to build custom apps for RealWear® HMT, mobile and desktop. Voice commands are simple to set up and manage, we provide offline support out of the box, and deploying apps happens with a single click. Comes with prebuilt ERP integrations. If you are interested, please contact us to schedule a demo. You can also visit our RealWear page to learn more and subscribe for notifications about new blog posts.