Recently, I was sitting in my office at home when I heard a knock on my front door. Opening the door, I was pleased to see a FedEx delivery driver standing with the package I'd been waiting on for the past few days. Eager to tear open my package, I quickly reached out to accept the delivery, but not so fast!
Before the driver would let me take the parcel, he required me to electronically sign my name on the portable device he was holding to confirm that I had indeed received the package. Of course, this is nothing new; most major retailers now have devices to capture signatures electronically when paying by credit card - albeit using wired rather than wireless technology.
You've Got Mail
Imagine my surprise when I returned to my office just 30 seconds later to find a new e-mail message from FedEx indicating that I had just received my shipment. Now that's efficient! In fact, if I'd taken the time to follow the hyperlink in the recently received tracking e-mail, I could have even checked the validity of my electronic signature that was now on file!
This is just another example of a rapidly evolving area of modern-day life: that of knowledge logistics. Knowledge logistics simply refers to the process of getting knowledge and information to the people who need it; when, where and how they require it; in a format that is immediately usable.
Examples of knowledge logistics include the art district in Tokyo, Japan, where tourists can use a personal digital assistant (PDA) in conjunction with a series of strategically located tags to provide a self-guided tour in the language of your choice. Or pilots' electronic manuals that are starting to replace the bulky leather carry cases they've traditionally used to access charts, navigational information and aircraft-specific operating procedures.
Or the iris-recognition software and prescreened traveler database used to speed the passage of frequent travelers through customs and immigration between the United States and Canada. Inspired in part by the information age and particularly the Internet, access to information and the transfer of data in a convenient, expeditious manner is becoming a societal norm.
So how is knowledge logistics impacting the way we perform maintenance and reliability in the plant? Like the examples given above, knowledge logistics is used to provide information in the field at the point of use, and to capture pertinent information for dissemination and use by others in the organization.
Take for example spare parts and inventory control. Imagine having a programmable smart tag attached to a machine in the field that lists each spare part, its location in the storeroom and other pertinent data such as maximum/minimum quantities. With knowledge logistics, this is now possible. Or, a handheld device containing specific instructions for how to lubricate each lube point, including details such as grease quantities, coupled with the ability to electronic check-off and time- and date-stamp when the work is done.
Consider the ability to stand in front of a machine while performing an unfamiliar maintenance task and having a electronic copy of the maintenance manual, including schematics and photographs displayed on the screen of an industrial tablet PC or PDA. All of these and many more examples are now a reality, thanks to technical advancements in mobile computing and wireless data transfer. In fact, there's almost no limitation to what information can be captured in the field or made available at the point of use. If you can dream up the idea, it likely can be done!
So what's causing this quantum shift? In my opinion, it is a direct result of three strong driving factors. The first is the rapid advancement in technology. Even just a few years ago, wireless communications and portable computing were the domain of just a few with limited data storage and transfer capabilities. Now, most frequent travelers wouldn't leave home without their PDA synchronized to their e-mail account!
The second factor is the much talk about retirement of the Baby Boomer generation. As those in the 55-plus age group retire - many of whom are distinctly "technophobic" - they are being replaced by younger, more technologically savvy workers who not only accept but crave the deployment of technology in the workplace. As the workforce becomes progressively younger, the drive toward technology will only increase. In fact, those in the "Game Boy generation" will likely be uncomfortable if their job doesn't include portable electronic devices.
The third factor, which is becoming increasingly important, is the need to be able to deploy standard operating procedures (SOP) in the field in a convenient and usable form. Driven in part by regulatory compliance from organizations such as ISO, FDA, OSHA, MHSA, etc., many companies are starting to realize that having SOPs for both operations and maintenance activities improves the accuracy and consistency by which day-to-day tasks are performed.
For some, change will always be viewed with a mixture of fear and skepticism. But for those who embrace change and look for ways to leverage technology, there's a real strategic advantage from putting into practice all that knowledge logistics has to offer.
In the words of Martin Luther King, "dare to dream" and see how knowledge logistics can transform your maintenance and reliability program into the 21st century.
As always, this is my opinion. I'm interested in yours.