Reaping the Benefits of Paperless Operations in Construction
“A task-asset relationship ensures that all recorded data is forever associated with the correct piece of equipment, which allows for a complete history of all asset information that will never leave the asset.”
Wilco Contractors NW Inc. is based out of Edmonton, Alberta, and is one of four separate companies which comprise the Wilco Group of Companies. The Wilco Group specializes in open-space site development in Canada, and has been a leader in the industry for nearly three decades. These four individually owned and operated companies excel in project management, construction of parks, sports facilities, environmentally sensitive site developments, as well as civil infrastructure developments.
Like any contractor, Wilco dealt with issues arising from the use of paper in the industry for field and shop tasks such as inspections, maintenance, safety events, payroll, and other operations where data would normally be recorded on paper. Wilco owner, Art Maat recognized that paper created numerous challenges such as time wasted searching for books and forms, scattered data collection, lack of proper communication between equipment operators and staff, and difficulties in tracking asset location and health.
Art and his son Mike teamed up to create Nektar Data Systems, a mobile data collection platform that replaces paper forms in the field and shop with smartphones and tablets for collecting data. The processes of recording information remained the same, but rather than keeping records in books and on paper, data was collected electronically, allowing for immediate, real-time visibility into the physical location and status of assets at all times. The system drastically improved communication between operators and shop staff, and created a comprehensive collection of asset information that tracked all maintenance, inspections, repairs, operator usage, hours, and equipment health directly to the asset.
Nektar Data Systems’ mobile data collection application works by tying all recorded tasks, such as equipment maintenance and inspection records, directly to a specific asset. This is done through the use of data matrix tags, where each tag has a unique number that acts as the asset identifier and is physically attached to each asset. All recorded events and data are then tied directly to the tag number by scanning the tag or entering the number. This task-asset relationship ensures that all recorded data is forever associated with the correct piece of equipment, which allows for a complete history of all asset information that will never leave the asset.
Inspections, Maintenance, & Work Order Process
Wilco has implemented the system across the company and one of the areas that has saved the company the most money is its ability to record, track, and communicate requested repairs in the field to the shop.
How it Works
Every day before a shift, all operators perform pre-shift inspections on all vehicles and equipment that they will use. Traditionally, this was done on paper and any issues would be recorded and the form brought back to the office at the end of the day.
This was often problematic because operators sometimes did not understand the severity of issues that they were reporting and would sometimes operate the equipment or vehicle, even if it should have been shut down. This could cause significant safety issues by having employees operate dangerous equipment that should have been shut down. It also could make the issue worse and cost the company more money to repair it and increase the down time necessary to fix it.
Instead, Wilco operators record “tasks” such as pre-trip inspections on their smartphones and if issues arise, they are reported directly to the shop manager who can determine if the asset needs to be shut down or if it is operable. The service manager can see immediately that a piece of equipment or a vehicle should not be operated and can immediately notify the operator to shut it down, reducing safety incidences and reducing the costs associated with more complicated repairs.
Whether or not the asset is operable, a “request for repairs” task is completed if there is an issue with the asset so that the need for repair is recorded, no matter how small. This enables a complete history of requested repairs to be directly tied to the asset. If the asset is still operable and the fix is minor, the request can be logged, and the service manager back at the shop has the ability to assign the fix to a shop employee immediately or prioritize it accordingly. If the asset acquires the need for more repairs over the next little while, the request for repairs accumulate so that when the shop decides it is time to fix the issue(s), all of the necessary repairs are noted and can be addressed at once. This ensures that no minor repairs are missed and allows for complete documentation of all pending and previously completed repairs to each asset that the company owns.
“Wilco saves at least $10,000 per year simply by sending technicians into the field with the right parts and tools.”
If the asset requires immediate attention, information collected from the field inspection, such as photos and GPS location greatly improve the efficiency of the repairs. For example, when an asset is inoperable and must be serviced in the field, the GPS location can be used to get directions directly to the asset, and photos from the inspection provide the technician with valuable information about the type of repair, as well as the tools and parts needed to complete it. Rather than drive a significant distance to determine the route of the problem and drive back to the shop to get the necessary equipment, the technician is much more prepared going out in the field the first time. It is estimated by the service manager that Wilco saves at least $10,000 per year simply by sending technicians into the field with the right parts and tools.
There are also significant cost savings that are more difficult to quantify but that are very apparent for Wilco. There are the cost savings from avoiding safety incidences that arise from operating unsafe equipment, but more importantly the elimination of safety problems that could put operators at risk. Additionally, the added costs that arise as a result of a minor issue getting missed and costing more to repair have been apparent, as well as the reduction in the number of times that operators don’t realize the gravity of an issue and choose to operate the equipment anyways, further making the issue worse.
Shop Equipment and Fleet Maintenance and Repairs
On top of utilizing the application to expedite and track field requests for repairs, the Wilco shop also uses the app to track billed labour and regular equipment maintenance tasks.
When labour hours were tracked on paper, at the end of the day shop employees would record the hours that they worked on certain tasks. This method relied solely on the shop workers’ memories to track the work that they had done and often lead to inconsistencies and mistakes in the tracking of employee hours and the work that was done. Instead, Wilco shop workers perform “Record of Work” tasks to track the number of hours spent on each repair or asset maintenance tasks as soon as they have completed the work, so that billed labour is accurate.
Service scheduling is important to ensure that an asset, such as a piece of equipment or a vehicle, is getting the right work done to it at the right time. If scheduled maintenance does not happen often enough and at the right intervals, the asset may be worn more than it should have been and may require more work than if it had been serviced at the right time. It is also very possible that servicing happens too frequently, which can cause a company to spend unnecessary amounts of time and money on servicing something that does not yet need to be worked on.
The solution for Wilco has been having real-time, comprehensive proper asset maintenance tracking that ensures that maintenance occurs at the right intervals so that assets are kept in the best possible condition, while not wasting time or money on excessive servicing. Scheduled maintenance tasks are also all recorded at Wilco using the app, ensuring that proper intervals of servicing are maintained. The cost benefits can be extreme when workers know exactly when the last service was done. For example, a hydraulic oil change can cost $3,000, so if they are being done too frequently because it is unclear when the last one was completed, it can end up being a tremendous waste of money. Having such a robust service and repairs history has also drastically increased the resale value of equipment since it is easily evident how much care the company puts into taking care of its fleet.
The main purpose of using a mobile data collection system such as the one from Nektar Data Systems was to eradicate the inefficiencies that arise from the use of paper in a company. By overcoming these challenges Wilco has experienced exponential cost and time savings that translate to tens of thousands of dollars saved by the company each year.
“It is estimated that more accurate service intervals have saved the company at least $18,000 per year by catching smaller issues before they became expensive repairs, and not wasting shop time and resources by servicing assets too frequently.”
Certain savings are easier to pinpoint than others- for example, the shop manager estimates that the company saves at least $10,000 per year by avoiding unnecessary trips into the field to determine the kind of work and parts needed to complete the repairs. Additionally, it is estimated that more accurate service intervals have saved the company at least $18,000 per year by catching smaller issues before they became expensive repairs, and not wasting shop time and resources by servicing assets too frequently.
Savings also arose in the reduction in the amount of downtime resulting from more serious mechanical issues, as well as a reduction in unsafe operations, general lowered cost of repairs, and a drastic decrease in the number of man hours spent completing repairs in the field.
Mobile data collection is being used in a number of industries to overcome challenges associated with paper-based data collection, especially in the field of asset management. In the construction industry, paperless data collection using smartphones and tablets is just beginning to take off. The benefits of using mobile data collection can be exemplified in the case of Wilco Contractors NW who experienced extensive cost and time savings, while improving asset visibility, health, and overall operational performance.