Mobile inspections in the workplace using Android-enabled devices

Techs4Biz
By Josh Ladgrove
Tuesday, 18 March, 2014


The mobile electronic inspection landscape has been traditionally dominated by PDA’s running Windows Mobile software. The need for ruggedised, reliable hardware coupled with a stable, secure, proven and well-supported software platform ensured this dominance in the past decade.

However, the meteoric uptake and current dominance of smartphones and tablets (largely powered by iOS and Android software platforms) in the consumer market has also led to a gradual acceptance of these devices in the enterprise arena, with more and more corporations employing a bring-your-own-device (BYOD) policy.

Where the enterprise arena was once dominated by RIM’s Blackberry for personal calls and email usage and Windows Mobile enabled devices for more commercial applications, both of these functions have now been integrated into smartphones such as the iPhone and Samsung Galaxy 3 and tablets such as the iPad and the Samsung Galaxy Tab powered by Google’s Android operating system.

Initial uptake of these devices has not been without resistance, with unique security, platform consistency and compatibility issues hampering full corporate integration. However, with many of these challenges now overcome and the stability of both major mobile platforms no longer in question, the stage is now set for a meaningful transition of tablets and smartphones in the commercial space.

According to Gartner, as of February 2013, Android-powered devices now account for over 75% of global market share, with a corporate uptake of 41% in North America and 32% in the Asian region. Initial doubts over reliability and robustness of the Android operating system have now been replaced with widespread enthusiasm over the availability of a wide range of software, with an equally wide range of hardware options covering the entire price spectrum.

The commercial arena is now starting to benefit from Android enabled smartphones and tablets which offer PDA-like functionality, often at a fraction of the cost. For example, the average size of a PDA screen is 3.5 inches whereas many smartphones now sport a 5-inch screen and the average tablet screen size is now at 10 inches. This increased screen real-estate increases efficiency while performing mobile inspections, as well as markedly enhancing the end-user experience.

Tablets and smartphones are also able to capture high-resolution images which can then be annotated using the touch screen, as well as using the in-built camera for barcode scanning. With optional hardware attachments now available to facilitate the use of RFID scanners, the need for a dedicated PDA unit to complete inspections in the field is becoming increasingly marginalised, specific only to those industries that require either: dustproof, corrosion-proof, explosive-proof or waterproof hardware devices.

The benefits of using an Android-powered tablet or smartphone in a commercial environment for mobile electronic inspections have led many companies to develop mobility inspection software on the Android platform in order to pass these numerous benefits on to their customers.

Demand for Android tablets in the commercial space is growing rapidly as these well-priced tablets and smartphones provide an integrated workplace experience. With the ability to use an Android device to complete inspections, raise defects, record recommendations and corrective actions, capture and annotate images in the field, wirelessly synchronise data between an SQL database and the ability to work offline and synchronise when connectivity is re-established, more and more customers are making the switch to Android devices for their mobile electronic inspections.

Example: create a checklist from your Australian Standard

Can mobile devices replace paper forms when conducting an inspection in the field while following an Australian Standard? Absolutely, if the technician has to follow steps that are listed in an Australian Standard, a mobile application can present the tasks/steps as an electronic checklist on the mobile device.

The application can also operate the built-in camera to take a picture of the finding, allowing annotation of the picture taken and, in most mobile devices, convert speech to text for reporting. Furthermore, barcodes, GPS, time stamp, RFID and scanners built in the mobile devices enable efficient and quick identification of areas and equipment, identify points of entry and exit, improve efficiency, and minimise human errors.

Take, for example, the Australian Standard AS 1735 for lifts, escalators and moving walks. If the user is required to fill out an annual service report for the lift, the mobile device should fulfil the same function - the user can select from the list of possible choices in the standard. Mobile devices make current and past information accessible and easy to use - for example, tracking down the last time the oil buffers were tested and the speeds and loads results recorded, as well as the benchmarks listed in the standards.

Functionality

Mobile device applications specifically designed for lift services should deliver the following functionalities:

  • List all information required by the Australian Standard AS 1735 to perform the periodic inspection, adjustment and testing of existing equipment, such as safety gear, ropes, rails, governor and oil buffer, including questionnaires, possible results/outcomes, acceptable threshold values (for collecting field data), etc;
  • Provide easy-to-use navigation capabilities and quick access to information;
  • Allow service personnel to enter as much information as needed;
  • Automatically data transfer from the mobile device to the relevant stakeholders without the need for further data entry or ‘manual’ data reformulation;
  • Automatic use of camera; and
  • Ability to convert speech to text.

Conclusion

Benefits of using mobile application for automating lift servicing as per Australian Standard AS 1735:

  • Improve efficiencies: minimising unnecessary administrative tasks and data entry;
  • Increase productivity and profitability: enabling effective completion of tasks; simplifying repeatable tasks; and providing staff with easy-to-use tools that focus on performing tasks;
  • Incorporate mechanisms to focus on exceptions and ensure proper execution of tasks including: automatic listing of activities, reminders, alerts, escalation procedures, and easy access to information; and
  • Improve controls and accountability.
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