It’s not entirely realistic to try and cover ‘maintenance’ as a global topic as there are so many different domains to consider: the technician working on a precision wafer deposition machine may not immediately recognise a team of rope-access technicians hanging over the side of a North Sea oil platform as peers. Nevertheless, there are many common threads that unite these apparently different scenarios, and all the ones in between.
Some of them almost go without saying: operator and site safety is such a fundamental requirement and often so ingrained in day-to-day operation that while rarely overlooked, it’s often possible to forget to challenge as to whether it could be handled more efficiently even while increasing effectiveness.
An area that has perhaps demonstrated more scope for innovation has been the scheduling of maintenance and the use of predictive maintenance to increase plant ‘up time’ and ensure that the right balance is struck between minimising the impact of preventative maintenance and not risking a break-down.
In an era of leasing a capability, rather than buying a product and ‘power-by-the-hour’ this is a topic of particular significance.
Finally, there’s the question of expertise and experience. Years served by a technician is still a somewhat useful measure of expertise, but not an infallible one. The high levels of variability in configuration for even nominally ‘off-the-shelf’ machines means that even those who’ve been-around-the-block a few times can regularly face configurations of equipment or installations that are new to them.
In these cases, it’s often the case that their experience demonstrates itself mainly in being able to confidently wade through the vast documentation and complex wiring diagrams to decipher what is of relevance in this particular case.
Hardly an ideal scenario.
There is no magic bullet to easing the burden of complexity and risk in modern field operations, but effective communication must be regarded as the minimum requirement for an effective organisation. What makes this easier to say than to actually deliver is the fact that what’s effective changes rapidly over time, between regions, cultures, professions and even departments. This before you add in the context of the situation the recipient finds themselves in: under pressure, tired, working remotely and a host of other factors that may limit their capacity to absorb critical information.
If visualisation has a role to play at all, it’s to eliminate much of the cognitive load that a colleague would otherwise have to apply to truly comprehend and absorb new information.
The superpower we refer to so often in our messaging is with reference to exactly this: being able to achieve that understanding - either of another’s problem, or of the particulars of a complex scenario - within seconds. Visualisation has the proven ability to place you in the appropriate context and situation, no matter how removed from your immediate surroundings, without requiring you to invest a lot of your valuable cognitive resources to achieve it.
Of course, people have been managing to overcome this hurdle for as along as teams have worked together, but it’s a costly, error prone and wasteful affair. Visualisation can be route to shortcut this process.
Why ‘can’ and not ‘is’? Simply because a visualisation - no matter what technology is used, no matter how well produced - is not necessarily enough. It’s got to be part of a more structured approach to communication. This is why in Virtalis Reach we’ve been focusing on the entire information pipeline, reducing the level of effort to produce and distribute visualisations at one end; removing some of the barriers for accessing at the other. Ensuring that information is controlled and maintained throughout.
The result? Creating pipelines for items such as service bulletins can be made a largely automated process, using source data from the engineering group directly, with unnecessary or sensitive data stripped out and relevant service information added. Field technicians can call up this information on their hand held devices and interact with it as and when needed. Work on larger or remote installations can be planned in advance with the latest information on layout displayed in an immersive 3D environment. Tasks can be run multiple times virtually to ensure that everyone understands their role and snags are identified and avoided before anyone goes onsite.
Effective visualisation for maintenance and repair isn’t only, or even largely, a function of rendering technology or delivery method. It depends upon an organisation being able to responsively, flexibly and routinely delivering comprehension and understanding to those at the sharp end.
This is the superpower we’re looking to bottle in Virtalis Reach I hope it begins to explain why we’ve placed such a premium on information flow, accessibility and security (these last two go hand in hand: the irony is that sharing information freely can only really happen when you can do it securely). This is something I’ll delve into a little further in my blog on the contextual digital twin.
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