The 2 a.m. drive to the plant to help out the new tech who you hoped would be as knowledgeable and self-sufficient as you are may be a thing of the past. Plant managers and maintenance supervisors may also finally get to go on vacation—as long as they take a smartphone with them.
Preventive maintenance and electrical safety procedures are accepted and adopted in many plant maintenance circles, but conventional wisdom says they interfere with personal and industrial efficiency. Wireless technology and automated data collection and management systems automate and streamline machine maintenance tasks so they contribute to plant uptime and overall efficiency instead. Some companies invest in comprehensive computerized maintenance management systems (CMMSs). Most still use some combination of manual field notes and desktop/laptop data entry. And those manual systems to little to help maintenance technicians and their managers trying to be more efficient.
Fluke, one of the most well known makers of portable electrical test equipment, last week introduced a smartphone-based data sharing system that connects wirelessly and automatically to a variety of Fluke instruments, allowing engineers to see and share measurement data and video gathered by plant-floor technicians.
“Maintenance technicians make better, faster decisions when they have field access to maintenance records and when they can review measurements in real time with team members and supervisors. Yet records are usually kept back in the office and team members are rarely in the same place at the same time,” said Salvatore Parlatore, vice president of worldwide marketing for Fluke Industrial Group. “The Fluke Connect system solves these problems while increasing the safety of technicians working with energized equipment.”
Fluke Connect adds a whole new level of collaboration and data analysis to wireless Fluke test tools. The tools talk to an Apple or Android smartphone app, which connects securely and automatically to a cloud-based database, so other people with smartphones and secure access can see exactly what the onsite technician is seeing in terms of real-time measurements and even videos of running machines. The live demonstration shown to Automation World delivered quick, automatic syncing to tools like digital multimeters and infrared cameras. More than 20 Fluke tools connect wirelessly with the app today, and more are planned.
“Fluke instruments take millions of measurements a year that are not captured. Now, electrical technicians and their supervisors can share information and insights across plants and across time,” said Fluke Connect Product Manager John Neeley.
Neeley said Fluke created Fluke Connect app and Fluke Cloud storage system to enable three key goals: connect maintenance team members for day-to-day efficiency and quicker troubleshooting, make it easy to store measurements and do exception-based reporting, and to connect people over distances for easier supervision, collaboration and training.
Capabilities within the app seem well-thought-out and smoothly integrated:
- AutoRecord lets technicians capture measurements and infrared images to Fluke Cloud storage from wherever they’re working, without writing anything down.
- ShareLive enables video calls, so technicians can share measurements with other team members in real time, get approvals for repairs or get questions answered without leaving the field.
- EquipmentLog is a database tool that allows technicians to assign measurements to specific equipment and create a cloud-based history of test measurement data for easy access during both troubleshooting and reliability maintenance functions.
- TrendIt enables technicians to instantly graph data, so trends are revealed and decisions can be made quickly. Fluke makes multimeters that can graph data, but it makes the meters too big and you can export the data. “The smartphone is optimized for visual communication,” said Parlatore.
Since cellphone use in industrial environments is no longer taboo, test tool connected app was a logical next step for us, said Parlatore. “It’s even got an acronym now—BYOD, bring your own device.”
Since battery life of test tools is so important, Fluke Connect uses Bluetooth Low Energy technology to connect to most tools, said Neeley. Communications distances for that technology is 20 meters line-of-sight, which allows technicians to stay safe distances from equipment.
Thermal imagers used Wi-Fi point to point, a special version of 802.11. “It’s IT agnostic, so you don’t have to go through the building IT department to use it,” Neeley said. Sample rates vary with each tool, he said. Thermal imagers, for example, have about a 4 second sample rate.
“We’re not trying to solve a new problem with Fluke Connect,” said Paul Heydron, vice president of engineering for Fluke Industrial. “Equipment troubleshooting and maintenance creates a lot of questions: What was that measurement yesterday? Can I talk to someone else who knows something about this machine? Can I show someone what I’m seeing so they can help me?”
Wireless connections and cloud-based data storage enables easier answers to those questions, said Heydron, and helps plant managers who are stretched too thin. “Equipment stays in the factory but people don’t. Knowledge goes away. So you want the knowledge attached to the equipment,” he added.
The Fluke Connect app can be downloaded for free from the Apple App Store and the Google Play Store. More information on the tools it works with today can be found at www.flukeconnect.com