Eliminating Inefficiencies through Workforce Optimization

STEPHEN THOMAS | SME PK TECHNOLOGY

The Current Problem

Planning, scheduling and work execution are the three primary components of the maintenance work process. If this process is well structured and supported by all of the organizations involved it will add value through improved effectiveness and efficiency of the maintenance organization. Planning and work scheduling have been the areas where most organizations tend to focus their efforts. There is a large amount of information available on these two topics, but not as much about how to employ the plans and schedules once they are developed and put into action. This area, work execution, is an unrealized source of real benefit. The problem with work execution is that there are a large number of variables that serve to invalidate even the best plan and work schedule. Examples include last-minute changes in the work, equipment or material shortages, equipment not being prepared for maintenance, weather, resource availability, miscommunication and many others. Yet all is not lost if your organization can quickly react and mitigate the negative variables that are upsetting your plans. The question is how can you accomplish this seemingly insurmountable task? The answer lies in improving logistics and most specifically how you enable the workforce to be able to respond in a timely manner.

Logistics is not just about materialization; it addresses all of the supporting aspects of the work. Problems associated with many of the items that disrupt work execution can be solved if a well thought out work process is developed and everyone follows it. For coordination of the workforce, this is a much more complex problem. In a typical daily maintenance activity, there are multiple organizations involved including Safety, Environmental, Operations and most important the maintenance work crews. The problem with work execution is that once your maintenance resources are deployed major or even minor adjustments to the actual work are time-consuming and often result in serious work delays as adjustments are carried out. This statement can easily be validated by simply thinking about a daily maintenance activity that needed to be changed after the crews have been deployed. If you examine this problem in detail and conduct a root cause analysis, you will quickly discover that one of the major problems is the lack of connectivity of the workforce.

If we step outside of the plant gate, we immediately see that the lack of connectivity is not the norm. Everyone is connected by their cell phones and can easily make calls or send a text message for an immediate connection with friends and co-workers. That does not exist within the plant environment or if it does it’s in a very limited manner. Inside the plant, movement and coordination of resources is a difficult task made even harder once the work crews have been deployed. Typically, a radio call is made to the foreman who then has to go and locate the work crew, shut down the existing job, close out the permits, transport the crew to the new job, establish required material and equipment needs and get new permits all before the work can begin. While all of these tasks are required to change jobs after deployment of the work crews, the current efforts in use are antiquated if you think about how instantaneous communication exists outside of the plant gate. The question is how can this level of connectivity be established within the plant?

The Digital Connectivity Tripod

To truly have a connected workforce, a digital solution is needed. A workforce of this nature is one where all the workers, not just management, have access to a device for quicker, smarter and more proactive decisions and actions. This level of connectivity will vastly improve communication and ultimately reduce risk. There are three elements (the Digital Connectivity Tripod) that must be put into place to provide a connected workforce. They are:

• An inexpensive wearable device for all plant personnel and contractors
• A user-friendly cloud-based technology that supports the overall process
• A reliable, private and secure LTE network with 100% coverage

Until recently the ability to acquire and put into place all the elements of the tripod did not exist. However, PK Solutions has developed the solution that will enable you to reach this desired goal.

The Device

There are several important aspects of this leg of the tripod. First, everyone must have a device that they can wear while in the plant. It’s the same as the badge that is now required of all employees, but it is a whole lot more. It is a Smart Badge that enables total connection within the workforce. Many companies believe that this can be accomplished with an individual’s personal cell phone. This is not the case and surveys have shown that only about 20% of the workforce would install a company application on the personal phone. The majority of those surveyed believe that it violates their personal space and privacy. For the company, the main issue is lack of security and control of the company’s information. The other alternative is for the company to issue cell phones to everyone. This option is impractical, difficult to support and too expensive to be a valid option. To truly connect your workforce you need a device for all personnel that is affordable, easy to use and set up, enables two-way communication and provides many additional work-related productivity applications all on the same device.

The Technology

A device alone cannot digitally connect your workforce. The second leg of the tripod to achieve true workforce connectivity is to have a platform that provides a tool for rapid dispatching of resources to the point of work, real-time performance indicators and many other applications that support workforce productivity. PK Solutions has developed the weavix platform that enables a connected workforce to actually exist. Having a platform of this nature not only provides two-way communication, but it also enables location and activity logs, custom dashboards, access to information at the point of work, confined space monitoring and many others. Without a platform supporting the Smart Badge, the concept of a connected workforce cannot exist.

The Network

The third leg of the tripod is the network that allows the Smart Badge to connect with the weavix platform. The network is the glue that binds the process together. There are many possible solutions that will provide a network for your connected workforce initiative, but not all will deliver to your expectations.

Wi-Fi is not the solution! Most plants do not have a Wi-Fi network that covers 100% of the site. To install routers and the network needed, if one doesn’t exist, is extremely expensive and rules out this approach. Further for large jobs, it would be very easy for a Wi-Fi network to be overloaded even in locations where this network is very robust. This problem would manifest itself even earlier in areas where the Wi-Fi network was not as powerful.

A second possible solution is public cellular networks with private LTE management. This is not the solution either because you often need to pay for data consumption, is limited by the geography of the public towers and if the network is down so is the tool providing a connected workforce.

The solution is a private LTE network that will guarantee the coverage you need in your facility, will provide the necessary capacity as the Smart Badges are deployed to a large workforce and optimum control which allows you to determine which users to connect, how resources are utilized, how traffic is prioritized and provides controlled security of company data.

Conclusion

It is now possible to create a connected workforce that addresses in an optimum fashion the issues that currently exist which reduces workforce productivity. What needs to be understood is that to achieve 100%, 360° true workforce connectivity you need all three legs of the tripod; the device, the software and the network. Creating this tripod through the weavix solution provides connectivity within the plant gate equal to or greater than what exists outside of the plant gate. The ultimate goal of an entire workforce equipped with an inexpensive device that connects everyone everywhere as well as communicates and collaborates within a secure network is now achievable through weavix and the subject matter experts within PK Solutions.

A connected workforce is the solution to reduce the logistical complexity associated with work execution. The result will be improved productivity and a much more effective and efficient effort within the dynamic environment of plant maintenance.