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Mobile computing, maintenance and supply chains

Friday, March 13, 2015

The Autumn meeting of oil and gas e-commerce standards organisation PIDX looked at the best way to use mobile computing to improve maintenance and supply chain management

'Mobility solutions' - work processes involving mobile devices - is about changing people's roles and improving processes so people can make better decisions at the point of incident,' said Jason Vick, Manager, Mobility Technical Sales Consultants with Schneider Electric.

Or in other words, if you implement a software system running on mobile devices with the sole aim of replacing paper, you'll 'typically spend a lot of money,' he said. But you won't see the biggest returns.

He was speaking at the Autumn European meaning of oil and gas e-commerce standards organisation PIDX.

Achieving reliability is easy to describe, in that you want to prevent component failures (such as seals and bearings), find failed components, and make sure you keep the plant running, he said.

Achieving this means getting many areas of the business working together, including your operations management staff, your maintenance staff and your 'reliability' professionals (who usuelly work project to project),

It helps if you have a good understanding of the condition of all you asset and equipment (even parts which are not instrumented), you can follow standard operating procedures and you optimise you work scheduling, Including the many maintenance tasks which are not covered in the computerised maintenance management system (CMMS).

You also want to make sure tasks are done properly, since 'over 50 per cent of maintenance cost are directly related to improper operation of equipment,' he said.

89 per cent of all components fail randomly, but these failures are most often caused by neglecting the basic care of equipment, he said.

'Secondary equipment failures and production slowdowns are 8-10 times more costly than primary equipment failures. These failures are often caused by Reassembly Errors, Part Defects, Installation Errors, and
Improper Operation.'

Companies have tried to come up with processes to manage all of this based on paper and software systems, but it isn't hard to see how you could put together a better system with mobile computing at the core of it, he said.

To begin with, mobile computing makes it a lot easier to collect information, and people like to do things which are easy, he said.

A mobile computing system can also guide the user as they enter information, telling them straight away if it is good or bad, or within a safe operating range.

The mobile software can help ensure the all of the procedure are followed. 'I saw a mechanic almost electrocuted because an operator had missed one item on a procedure,' he said.

With typical logbooks systems, a worker writes down something he sees (such as high vibration), enters it on a computer, and it is viewed hours later.

With a mobile system, the user can start by scanning the item's barcode or RFID tag, and then enter the data directly into the system, with an automatic time stamp. 'Advice messages' can be issued automatically.

Through better staff co-ordination, you can improve your maintenance workflow management, improve material co-ordination, improve planning, improve scheduling and workload balancing, increase field supervision, decrease travel (because mechanics have the right materials available first time), and measure progress.

Mr Vick estimated that through good use of mobile computing, companies might be able to increase asset uptime by 10-30 per cent, reduce maintenance costs by 5 to 30 per cent, improve workforce productivity by 20 to 30 per cent, also reduce re-work and improve compliance visibility.

There is a lot you need to get right. Field workers don't want to carry multiple devices, so one device must have software to do many tasks, including manage worker rounds, provide training materials, act as a log book, collect non instrumented process data, understand alarms, and record what the person has done and when for compliance reasons. It can also give a sequence of instructions for start-up and shut down.

People in different roles will want different screen sizes. Some employees will need a device small enough to fit in their pocket, so their hands are free. Other employees might want a larger screen device, so they can view plans.

Phillips 66

Clint Brown, business analyst with petroleum downstream and refining company Phillips 66 (owner of the Jet brand), talked about how the company developed a mobile system for its employees and customers, to help manage a range of business tasks.

Before the project started, users were sureyed to ask if they wanted a mobile system and 'the majority [said they] saw little or no value in receiving data on a mobile device,' he said.

But after a pilot, 'they couldn't wait to get their hands on our app.'

The app was designed around 'mobile moments', times during a working day when a mobile system could add value, such as to place orders, receive invoices and make payments, or make approvals.

The company has made apps for customers to track loyalty card points and find gas stations, he said. Employee scan also capture 'safety observations' with a camera on their phones.

It is critical to make sure that people agree with the purpose of what you are trying to do, he said. 'People don't buy what they do, they buy why you do it.'

One challenge is that mobility is being 'continually redefined', with phones getting bigger and tablets getting smaller, he said. You have to 'get the right amount of data at the right time.'

There were discussions about the best balance between making an app which worked quickly, and an app which looked impressive but was heavy on graphics. 'It was the business department (not IT) which wanted all the 'shiny things',' he said.

GE Oil and Gas

Mobile computing is also being used to help GE Oil and Gas provide better services with its 1,000 field services engineers, said Elena Lorenzi, global Field Services IT Leader with GE Oil and Gas

GE Oil and Gas is involved in many areas of the industry including subsea, drilling, measurement and control, turbomachinery, and downstream.

It has 1,000 field service engineers, of which 2/3rds are out in the field every day, many in remote locations under extreme conditions, she said.

Providing services 'is seen more and more as [a core] part of the company strategy,' she said. And 'the field services market is gradually changing
'from transactional to personal.'

'We believe technology is an enabler for this strategy.'

To provide effective field services, you need to deliver the right services at the right time. This requires detailed planning of which jobs your personnel will do and when.

GE has many systems to improve the way it does this, including a mathematical model to work out the optimum way to organise tasks, and systems which show the location of staff on a map 'so we can quickly know who we have despatched where,' she said.

You need to be fast, to minimise equipment outage time, since most service work is done during planned outages. This means doing measurements in the quickest and most effective way.

The company is developing a range of tools to make work easier, including systems for gauges to send data directly to the handheld mobile devices (via Bluetooth), and automatically generate field services reports.

The next stage of development might include more analytics and wearable technologies, she said. There could also be simulation tools for remote training.

Machine to Machine

'I have a dream that [one day] all devices will be connected,' said Tamás Bóday, mobile to mobile (M2M) business development manager with mobile phone company Vodafone.

'I believe machine to machine communications can enhance your business by large amounts.'

'Our job is to get all this information from the field.'

The company has done a trial with automatic well monitoring systems on a well in Romania, sending data by GSM automatically.

There had been problems with people tampering with the well head valves, in order to try to steal oil, he said. It is not easy to steal oil from a well head, but it can be a problem if people leave certain valves open.


Many oil and gas companies are still doing paper based transactions, and it can take 100 days to get from order to payment, says Emmanual Thirley, COO of electronic invoicing company Amalto.

Paper based systems can be very inefficient, with operators having poor visibility over what they have authorised, service providers having to wait a long time for their money, and lots of employees required to manage all the paper and chase approvals.

For a supplier with a revenue of $1bn/year paying 8% interest on capital, if all of the money is delayed by an average of 60 days, that costs $13m a year, he calculates.

If you can cut it to 50 days, you save $2m a year. Plus you receive further savings from streamlining the process.

Suppliers often say they see it as 'controlled chaos,' he said, with many delays and inefficiencies in the process, and people who end up getting buried in paperwork, and unable to access critical information.

Many field workers do not have regular internet connectivity - they connect in the morning or once a week when they go to the office, he said.

Amalto has developed software tools to manage the process, working together with software company

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