Teemu Heusala, product manager at Trimble Energy, has put a lot of thought into the maintenance processes, studying the current workflows at utilities and discovering ways to streamline them. “The problem with the traditional maintenance planning is,” Teemu explains, “that even though the foreman tries to optimize the field work efficiency, he or she doesn’t have all the information that is available in the field.” There might be field groups on different assignments at locations where there are also maintenance needs, or, at worst, a field crew is assigned a maintenance task only to realize they were just there. This causes idle driving, which, as we all know, gets expensive.
Situations may also change in the field. Teemu continues: “For example, after finishing the maintenance planning in the office, it’s possible that unexpected network failures occur or you get new customer feedback which then cause a need for more repairs. The original plan will then be already outdated.”
So why spend your resources on pre-planning at the office, when it could be done much more flexibly on the go? Teemu emphasizes the benefits of empowering the field crews to do the work planning independently, basing it on whatever makes sense in the situation at hand in the field.
Food for thought: Maintenance planning by field crews
Then, there’s the documentation. There are still a lot of field crews working with pen and paper, and then returning the papers to the office for documentation. First of all, it takes time, since the documentation is actually done twice, first on paper in the field and then at the office to get it into the digital form. Second, it’s prone to errors. “You easily make human errors in these sort of processes, trying to read the bad handwriting and interpret what the papers say,” Teemu smiles, and continues: “The field groups have all the information, they know exactly what they have done out there. If they pass the documentation task on to someone else, some depth to the information is immediately lost.” As a result, the documentation can easily end up being of a lower quality. That’s why Teemu claims that doing the documentation directly in the field makes it much more reliable and significantly improves the data quality.
“If the field crews pass the documentation task on to someone else, some depth to the information is immediately lost.”
Until now, the used IT systems or the level of digitalization hasn't allowed for streamlining the process, especially when it comes to field work. However, the shift is already happening, and fully embracing it can be extremely beneficial - for everyone. “For example, if you think about contractors, the more inspections they do, the more they earn. And if they can do 60 inspections instead of 55 during the day, that benefits really everyone, the contracting company, their employees, and the utility. That should motivate everyone.”
IN THE SPOTLIGHT
“So this is not just about embracing the new technologies, it’s also about changing the way of working both in the field and at the office,” Teemu concludes. You can always give your field workers a new piece of software and a tablet to go out with, but it’s only by looking at the big picture that you start making maximum use of your tools. “So really, the goal must be to truly make the whole work process from the planning to the field execution as smooth as possible.”
Of course, efficient field work management is not all there is to maintenance planning. The next step higher is to tie it in with your investment planning, to make sure you never do maintenance again on assets that are soon to be demolished anyway. But that’s a whole other story to return to - later on.
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