Rugged In Real Time

By Susan Nunziata — March 18, 2009

Morris Material Handling, Oak Creek, WI, manufactures and services overhead cranes, hoists and replacement parts. With offices in the U.S., Mexico, Canada and Chile, the company has 1,000 employees in multiple locations. Morris service technicians visit industrial sites regularly to inspect the cranes they have deployed.

Although the equipment made by the 125-year-old company has certainly advanced through the years, its pen-and-paper-based method of inspecting cranes seemed stuck in another century.

In 2000, the company developed Pro Care, a proprietary crane inspection software that allows technicians to input data during inspections and create customized reports that can be sent to customers in real time.

The challenge? Finding a mobile device that could withstand the harsh and risky industrial environments the technicians have to service, which include climbing on cranes located in steel mills, mines and nuclear power plants. There was no doubt the device had to be rugged, the question was whether to go with a handheld or a notebook.

"That's kind of an ongoing evaluation," says Scott Gilbey, Director of Corporate Marketing and Communications for Morris Material Handling. "The technicians carry this device onto the crane. Sometimes we wish we had a smaller device."

The decision came down to the volume of information the inspectors are dealing with. While the software is designed to offer as much information as possible via a drop-down menu, many of the technicians' diagnoses have to be entered as free-form comments. The devices also needed to house high-resolution images of inspected equipment, which technicians are often called upon to display for customers while on a job site.

The company ultimately deployed 160 Panasonic Toughbook CF18s, which can be used as a touchscreen tablet or as a notebook.

The Toughbooks have both WiFi and WAN connectivity, and each technician is given an air card for cellular data services from the carrier that offers the best coverage in his or her region. Technicians are also equipped with Canon i90e portable, photo-quality printers that they connect as needed via USB. The printer, which is not ruggedized, is typically left in the technican's truck.

Since deploying the Toughbooks and Pro Care application, Morris Material Handling has increased its number of annual inspections from 5,000 to more than 40,000.

The solution has also improved accuracy and responsiveness, notes Nadine Mehring, Database Support. "We can pull up a customer's history, and we print out all the reports for that customer from the time we started the contract," she says. The software is designed to flag inspectors when equipment is out of compliance with U.S. Occupational Safety & Health Administration and Canadian Standards Association regulations.

There's also an overall benefit to the Morris Material Handling brand. "Customers are always impressed with this device," says Gilbey. "[They're impressed] with the total package of the hardware, the software, and the training and professionalism of the technicians who are required to use the system," says Gilbey.

For more use cases and trends around rugged devices in the field, see our Field Service Central Report, Real-World Rugged.

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