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The Changing Face of Asset Data Capture

The Changing Face of Asset Data Capture

by Stephen Crampton

Photographic Explosion

In less than 10 years, the consumer digital camera essentially completely replaced film cameras, which had been in the market for over 100 years. In an even shorter period of time, the smartphone has, in turn, sent the consumer digital camera the way of its film based cousin.

Since the introduction of the first smartphone in 2007, there has been an explosion in the use of the mobile device. By some estimates, 20 percent of the world’s population purchased a smartphone in 2015 alone.

No longer are photos reserved for capturing images of people and places; they are now used for capturing information.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last 20 years, none of this should be news to you. More than likely, you have a smartphone with a high resolution camera and it is with you all the time! And because the phone is always with you, how you view photos has changed. No longer are photos reserved for capturing images of people and places; they are now used for capturing information. And, instead of taking notes, you take photos to capture information since it is fast, accurate and free.

Even in hazardous areas of industrial facilities, you can purchase smartphone cases that are certified intrinsically safe to allow your mobile phone to be taken with you virtually anywhere.

While it has become second nature for people to take vast amounts of photographs on their smartphones, management of these large photo archives has not really kept pace with the ability to capture these large libraries of photos.

Amazing new Cloud photo sharing and storage services have emerged to try and bring this back under control, geared around traditional photos of people and places. With some storage services, you can automatically group faces, places, or things.

Libraries of Equipment Photographs

The most accurate information an organization will have about its assets is information that is physically attached to the equipment. Organizations are increasingly using photographs to capture this information. Historically, these photos of equipment have been loaded on a shared directory and, more often than not, they are lost. To make these raw images useful to organizations, they need to be assembled into a library.

Organizing vast amounts of raw data into some sort of meaningful order so relevant information can be retrieved is nothing new in the digital age. Libraries have been around for centuries and what turned them from buildings full of books into repositories of information was the cataloging of individual books and the classification of the content of the books. These two innovations were essential to the retrieval of relevant information from vast stores of raw data.

Cataloging Equipment Photographs

Just as photos are able to quickly, efficiently and accurately record information about your life, they are an amazing resource for documenting equipment that is physically installed at a location at a particular point in time. It is commonplace now for organizations to take photos of their equipment, but it also creates challenges that are different to those you encounter when taking photos of people and places.

When it comes to equipment, the important thing is to link the photo to a unique equipment ID, typically a tag. Sometimes, a tag may be present on the equipment, but many times it is not. In the same way, photo storage services group photos by face, place or thing, when it comes to equipment photos, you need to group them by equipment ID. This process is called cataloging of the equipment photo against the equipment ID.

Today, there are quite a few applications that will allow you to capture photographs of equipment against a record, notably mobile solutions from most enterprise asset management providers. However, for every one of these in use, there are even more people who continue to take photos, then go back into the office and try to remember which photo was taken against which asset and rename the photos with the equipment ID/tag number – a laborious and error prone process.

A Classification System for Equipment Photographs

Just as with traditional libraries, in order to efficiently retrieve information from vast quantities of photographs, it is necessary to apply a classification system to the photographs. If a photo has been classified at the time of capture, then you know what its contents are likely to be and what sort of information you are likely to be able to extract from that photograph. If all you know is that it is somehow related to an asset tag, then there could be literally anything in each image and it would be difficult to extract the information you are looking for from the image archive.

There are various plates and labels that can be attached to an item of equipment. These plates and labels generally contain essential information for the efficient management of the asset in question. But, if the photos that contain these items are not classified, they cannot be easily retrieved. For example, if you’re looking for the labels fixed by a service contractor to a compressor, how would you find them if all you knew was that you had photos of the compressor?

Capture Components and Assemblies

Consider a valve and its actuator, each with its own nameplate. Organizations will typically take a photo that includes both nameplates in a single image, with each nameplate defining a different model and serial number, and often a different make. Once again, if you put all this information against a single tag, how do you know what nameplate belongs to which component?

Efficiency of Capture Is Critical for Success

Capturing photos provides a simple way to quickly obtain a vast amount of information. But, efficiency is key to success. If you have to return to the office to organize and catalog this information, the cost is too high and most of these efforts deliver poor results. But with such extensive use of smartphones, this is no longer an issue. Apps delivered on these devices allow for widespread adoption.

Apps running on smartphones allow photos to be efficiently captured against assets and their individual components, as well. At the time of capture, these photos should be classified to indicate what the contents of the photos are to allow for further interrogation of the vast quantities of images that now can be captured.

Changing the Future of Data Capture

Asking people in the field to key in data is a great opportunity to generate errors, but experience shows that photos can be efficiently captured and usually with great quality. The use of mobile apps on smartphones gives organizations the opportunity to change the way they ask their field personnel to capture information about their assets.