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ABB Ability streamlines maintenance tasks

March 7, 2019
Simplifying processes coupled with making tools more attractive gets more personnel attuned to maintenance tasks

ABB’s Miguel Graves guides our author in using the company’s latest digital maintenance tools for instrumentation. Turns out, they’re so easy, even a journalist can use them.

Some plants subscribe to a “fit and forget” philosophy of instrument maintenance: plant personnel install devices then never touch them again. Not for maintenance. Not for monitoring. Not for nothing.

It’s a bad way to run a facility, of course. But the tools displayed in an interactive conference room this week at ABB Customer World are intended to make maintenance so easy that regular checkups happen, well, regularly.

The ABB Ability solutions featured included:

  • Condition-monitoring tools that enable scheduled, remote product-health checks.

  • Dynamic QR-code technology to evaluate product health, with data delivered directly to users’ devices via a mobile app.

  • ABB Ability Verification software to check instrumentation. This offering includes hardware component for applications with legacy equipment that lack diagnostic elements.

  • Two self-service tools, including a video-based app to enable next-gen troubleshooting of devices and AR/VR apps to guide workers through complicated tasks without extensive training. The latter described as a “de-skilling maintenance support tool” that would enable, say, a crewman on a ship at sea to perform a complicated repair with no prior experience.

A common thread with all these tools is simplifying industrial processes. “The simpler the process, the more everyone using the machines can participate in the process,” said Miguel Graves, analytics field service and training manager with ABB. “You don’t always have to have the expert solving the problems.”

Graves and his colleague Dave Lincoln, ABB measurement & analytics digital lead, showcased the ease-of-use of these products by inviting lecture attendees to test out each of the tools, stepping into the boots of the workers who will use them in the working world. With zero training and little guidance, all were easy to operate.

“Customers understand the end result— they want the right information from a high-level point of view,” explained Graves. “They want things fixed and fixed fast. That is their expectation. And from our end, it’s all about instructing the customer in following this process.”

Tools fit for the new generation of workers

Exactly how customers follow processes is morphing in this digital era. “We recognize that the workforce is changing,” said Lincoln. “The new generation—the YouTubers—are not interested in reading manuals or spending a lot of time going through data. For people in their 20s who are running these facilities, the iPhone is their natural tool.”

Likewise, the digital concepts at play here are not as foreign to digital natives as they would be to older colleagues. Artificial reality. Virtual reality. Swiping away from Instagram on your phone to check the pressure within a pipe. A fully functional computer in the pocket of your jeans.

Lincoln detailed the market factors driving the development and adoption of digital tools like these—increased global competition, a limited talent pool and aging workforce, stricter regulations, heightened cyber-threats, and intense pressure on CAPEX and OPEX. He identified clients’ needs in this arena—measurements made easier, lower cost of measurements, enhanced accuracy and greater security.

Fairly common concerns. Uncommon solutions. You wouldn’t be too far off in labeling some of these new tools “toys.” Graves find the artificial-reality tools the most appealing…the most likely to be enthusiastically received by young workers who should be—must be—the ones adopting these tools if they are to be fully implemented in the modern facility. Lincoln, for his part, clearly enjoyed tinkering with the verification program.

And that attractiveness is by design; adoption of new tools is always a concern. How do we get our personnel to learn to use this stuff?

The key, according to Graves and Lincoln, is highlighting the benefits to the user and the larger enterprise. Enhanced productivity. A reduction in the level of onsite skills needed. Fewer (expensive) feet on the ground. “The people who maintain flowmeters are aware of how much these tools are needed,” Lincoln said. “And, particularly if it’s an industry with a lot of regulation, the customers are very happy to have these tools.”