Automation Management May

Automation Insider: Get the Most From Your Software Systems

EP Editorial Staff | May 15, 2013

garymintchellBy Gary Mintchell, Editorial Director

Germany’s Hannover Fair is billed as the world’s largest industrial trade show. That’s where I was last month—with just over 200,000 of my closest friends—browsing my share of more than 6000 exhibits. While capacity assurance may not have been explicitly referenced, readers of this magazine would probably recognize it as an overarching theme running through the products on display. Here are a couple of issues that caught my attention.

How prepared are you?
For example, how many of you and/or your teams get work orders from a CMMS package? Do you ever obtain enough information to get a head start on a problem before going out to investigate it? Have you ever been suspicious of an operator’s response to an alarm from the DCS?

The answer to these types of dilemmas could be an MES application—which can provide a wealth of information about process status prior to personnel heading out to deal with a problem. This information often can precede a work order in the sense that crews are able to see problems trending and prepare in advance for corrective actions. Based on my past experience in engineering roles, I believe there’s great value in knowing up front what tools and spares to take along on a job (and perhaps cut out a second or third trip).

At Hannover, I spent some time at the Forcam stand (, where CEO Franz Gruber explained how MES working with CMMS can pay big dividends when it comes to getting processes back online quicker.

Are you going mobile?
Speaking of getting information, how many of you are using smart phones and tablets in your facilities these days? I realize doing so can be difficult or prohibited in hazardous or classified areas, but there are many areas where it’s not. Using these commercial technologies in personal life inevitably bleeds over into business life. (That’s how the first PCs invaded businesses in the 1980s.) Manufacturers are now even working on Class I Div. 2 tablets. What a fantastic way to research problems without the need to find a computer: Just pull out your portable device and access a few key pieces of diagnostic information. However, the word is that personnel in maintenance areas—from technicians to supervisors—seem to be lagging in adopting mobile technologies.

A recent study by the enterprise asset management supplier IFS ( found that 75% of users have little to no mobile access to their EAM or CMMS. Only 34% reported using a handheld mobile device to work in these systems. This is not to mention gleaning trending or component information from other software programs that could be accessed via a smart phone or tablet app. (I recently saw
a demo of a soon-to-be-released app of this type that makes finding key information quick and easy. Stay tuned.)

But the IFS findings point to a corporate IT obstacle, as well. “The study indicates that those who limit remote access to connection solutions like VPN tend to be less likely to report high levels of access and are less likely to be working in the software from a handheld device,” IFS North America Vice President for Energy and Asset Management Patrick Zirnhelt told me.

Mobile devices are key to the next generation of productivity. We need to convince IT that opening up the system, most likely through implementing cloud technology, will pay dividends in productivity and profits. It’s time to plan your implementation and get moving.MT

Gary Mintchell,, Co-founder and long-time Editor-in-Chief of Automation World magazine, now writes at


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