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For many years, the all-purpose tool was well represented by the Swiss army knife. In time, favor turned to the Leatherman multi-tool and its many facsimiles. Although these previous-generation items are still useful, they pale in comparison to today’s feature-rich smartphones.

From a maintenance perspective, the smartphone is arguably the most sophisticated and proficient multi-tool available. Still, while virtually every maintainer seems to have one, the devices are often underutilized. The time is right for maintenance departments to harness their power through the development of “Smartphone as a Tool” programs.

Let’s investigate your smartphone’s capabilities, starting with standard features that can be leveraged immediately. These include the device’s clock for accurate time stamping and recording; the calculator for performing any required math; the note-taking application that can be used to write or record and translate your findings for reporting later (but always remember to tag the note with the appropriate work order number). And let us not forget the power of music at the job site. Most jobsite radios are set up for Bluetooth broadcasting. For a maintainer who must travel to a jobsite, his or her smartphone’s mapping and GPS capabilities can help locate the site and determine the fastest route to it. But there’s more.

A smartphone’s sophisticated camera can be used to record the scene as found when first arriving at a job. Machinery can be videoed as it runs to capture unusual noises or failure symptoms for discussion, training, and/or planning purposes. Post-repair work can be photographed with a time and date stamp and sent to the stakeholder or contact person to inform of work completion.

The amazing camera-zoom capability on today’s smartphones now allows maintainers to take images and videos of equipment-system components close-up, even in restricted areas, from the perimeter of operating machines. If lighting is a problem, most smartphone cameras can adjust automatically, or the devices’ built-in flashlights can illuminate work or help find dropped parts.

Keep in mind that smartphones are now well integrated into and supported by most maintenance-management-software programs linked to electronic work orders that can be downloaded, completed, and posted as part of the work-order (WO) management cycle. This lets supervisors understand job status in real time and, thus, make effective scheduling decisions in real time.

Now consider an asset that has a QR-code or Augmented-Reality (AR) interface offering interactive information such as drawings, diagrams, animations, or training videos:  Passing a smartphone’s camera over the asset or code sticker will generate relevant information or trigger the AR interactive experience.

Note that the third-party app world provides many specialized maintenance tools for small, one-time licensing fees. My personal favorites include standard items such as tools that accurately measure distances; a tachometer app employing a smartphone’s camera flash to strobe any rotating shaft or pulley and determine rpm; and an app to determine the correct torque for tightening a fastener.

Other apps basically turn smartphones into infrared (IR) cameras (thermal imagers) that can determine leakage, operating temperatures of bearings, tank-fluid levels, electrical hot spots, and similar equipment-related concerns. Machinery-OEM apps can link to onboard equipment diagnostic and troubleshooting programs. (In a similar vein, a smartphone’s internet connectivity can provide instant access to training materials, equipment specifications, and parts manuals.)

Last, but not least, don’t forget that maintainers can use their smartphones to text- or voice-connect to stakeholders/clients, planners, supervisors, or managers, at any time. And vice-versa. So, the next time you see them using these devices on the job, you can assume they’re embracing the maintenance-related power of these awesome multi-tools.TRR


Ken Bannister has 40+ years of experience in the RAM industry. For the past 30, he’s been a Managing Partner and Principal Asset Management Consultant with Engtech industries Inc., where he has specialized in helping clients implement best-practice asset-management programs worldwide. A founding member and past director of the Plant Engineering and Maintenance Association of Canada, he is the author of several books, including three on lubrication, one on predictive maintenance, and one on energy reduction strategies, and is currently writing one on planning and scheduling. Contact him directly at 519-469-9173 or kbannister@theramreview.com.

Tags: reliability, availability, maintenance, RAM,  smartphones, apps, thermal imagers, QR codes, augmented reality, AR