Digital inspections support quality control and preventative maintenance of the future

Published on September 6, 2018

In a world where big data rules, two jobs have been left behind: operators and technicians. They have not been integrated into companies’ digital ecosystems, and this is detrimental to efficiency, traceability and compliance. Mobile work execution platforms help operators to get the job done right and automatically collect and communicate data to backbone systems, thus alleviating many of these concerns. 

Do things still look good on paper?

How did the operator get stuck in the 20th century in the first place? It’s because of paper. Paper has been around for centuries and it probably won’t disappear anytime soon. It’s certainly handy for listing groceries and writing love letters, but in terms of boosting productivity, it just doesn’t cut it anymore. Ten sheets of paper will always remain ten single sheets of paper. Whereas ten data entries in a database can be used to generate a quality report or trigger maintenance actions.

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Roughly 80% of the prospects we visit still fill out checklists and inspection forms on paper. The data often remains unprocessed and all paper documents are simply stacked in a drawer. When it’s time for an audit, everyone panics after noticing that the drawer contains only 70% of the documents, of which 30% are illegible. Things just don’t look that good on paper. A fair number of our prospects enter certain valuable data in Excel. Yet, typing it over is error-prone and mind-numbing work. On top of that, it doesn’t add any value as it is simple re-work. There are better ways to allocate those resources.

During this year’s talk at Augmented World Expo, Peter Verstraeten touches upon these limitations of paper for inspections and broadens the discussion to digital work instructions and smart glasses. You can watch the entire talk below.  

Digital data collection on the shop floor

The digital era should have spelled the end of paper, because of the economies of scale of databases. It is no surprise that industrial companies have invested heavily in building vast databases from scratch and connecting them with BI-tools to create meaningful reports. Today, those databases are primarily fed with machine data and can only be consulted by the happy few. By restricting operators’ access to basic machine data and excluding them from data input, companies are missing out on the input of some of their most knowledgeable employees. Operators spend by far the most time on the factory floor and know the ins and outs of all processes and machines. Their input adds an interpretative layer to machine data. One that machines, engineers and managers cannot offer.

Introducing a data collection system for operators

Up to this point we’ve focused our attention on the problem. But what would a good solution look like? There are three minimum requirements for viability: (1) the operator should be able to consult and insert data easily, (2) the responsible engineer should be able to extract inserted data easily, (3) the solution should be easily deployable. This means you need an existing application and a database (potentially synchronized with your own database).

Levelling the playing field for operators is therefore not complicated at all. It’s in fact something Proceedix provides straight out of the box and it meets all three requirements. Depending on the use case, there are also some nice additional features. Let us briefly illustrate two of them:

Preventive maintenance

Technicians can view previous data inputs in the app. They can immediately compare today’s input with input in the past. This improves problem identification, which in turn helps with problem solving. The testimonial from Philips Lighting explains why Proceedix can be so beneficial for preventive maintenance.

Digital quality control

Communicating non-conformities promptly is a huge obstacle for any quality control team. It is particularly cumbersome in assembly, where communication needs to happen across teams. This is why Proceedix came up with ‘actions’. Whenever a defect is found, the operator has the possibility to send an action (a ‘to do’) with contextual information to a third party. The latter will be immediately notified and is assigned a follow-up procedure. This is the most efficient way of communication, as the quality control inspector doesn’t need to pause the inspection to alert a third person.

In short, implementing a data collection system for your operators is not time-consuming and addresses a real need. Desk workers have been bombarded with productivity tools in recent years, but shop floor workers have been neglected thus far. Increasing their productivity with simple tools will benefit industrial companies across their entire operations.