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How 21st Century tools empower the water industry workforce

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  • How 21st Century tools empower the water industry workforce
  • Written by John Boville (EcoStruxure Enablement manager in the Industrial Automation Team at Schneider Electric). 

About the entity

Schneider Electric
Schneider Electric is leading the Digital Transformation of Energy Management and Automation in Homes, Buildings, Data Centers, Infrastructure and Industries.
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Themes

Other articles in this series have talked about the potential of modern technologies to bring new levels of asset performance to the water industry. We’ve talked about how digitization gains access to lots of information and how advisor software can distill essential business insights from this sea of data. So now what? How do we put these insights to work to improve asset performance and thereby indeed business performance in general? How do we use insights to empower those who can really make a difference [to your bottom line]?

Let’s zoom into Augmented Reality. Augmented reality (AR) was first created in the lab in 1992. The technique differs from Virtual Reality (VR) in that it superimposes information (dashboards, insights, performance data) on top of a physical view of the real world rather than displaying an artificial world of sorts. When first created it was not practical to use this technology in industrial environments. Today however, plant personnel can open an app on their mobile device (e.g. a tablet), point it at a particular asset, and gain access to real-time data superimposed on top of a view of the asset.

If we take for example a pump station, this data can convey information such as water flow vs energy use, operating efficiency and any unusual operating conditions, which if left unchecked could cause downtime. In addition, should the system actually be down, AR will quickly show the worker the reason and display the recommended corrective action. This results in reduced errors and improved response time, which cuts back the amount of stress and cost that usually comes along with unplanned downtime.

Empower your changing workforce

We have all heard a lot about how the industrial workforce is changing. Industrial environments are complex workplaces in which experience usually correlates to employee effectiveness. Understanding how various assets work together, even helps with simple things like knowing where to find the right documentation; how to keep the plant running at its best; and what to do when things stop functioning.  As younger workers increasingly replace an experienced workforce, finding a way to train and impart this necessary know-how is an essential part of helping the new workers become more effective in less time.

With Augmented Reality, just by pointing a tablet at a pump or any other asset, access to maintenance tips, operating manuals etc. can be available to any worker on the plant floor. No more need to sift through reams of data or hunt for information which may be missing (or out of date if they do find it). In many cases there will be no need to open panel doors to figure out what’s going on.  I really like this last one since it improves worker safety by reducing the chances of contact with hazardous energy.

Putting today’s technology and workforce together

Harnessing 21st century technology to empower your 21st century workforce can be seen as a three-step process:

  • Gain access to production data via IIoT techniques;
  • Deploy ‘Advisor’ software to distill focused actionable insights from this data;
  • Present these insights in a digestible form to those who can make the most difference. This is where Augmented Reality can really help.

AR is the final step in the process to empower today’s workers to focus on safely running the plant at peak performance rather than hunting for information or trying to figure out how things work. When deployed correctly AR can simplify workflow which in turn improves employee effectiveness leading to greater morale, improved safety and better operational effectiveness.

If you’d like to know more about how the latest digital tools can enhance your operations, download the “Empowering the Water Industry Workforce for Asset Performance Improvement” eGuide to get in-depth insights on this topic.

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