Guest Column | January 25, 2021

Technology For Utility And Field Worker Efficiency

By Michelle Connolly, Panasonic System Solutions Company of North America

Field Service Utilities

Whether it’s surveying, meter reading, asset tracking, or water quality testing and reporting, utility workers often work long hours in challenging environments where responsibilities shift daily. To operate as safely and efficiently as possible, technology is used to conduct remote visual inspections and pinpoint dangerous irregularities along distribution lines.

While various forms of technology are used in the field, rugged mobile devices provide the interface for workers to see all information collected in one place so they can communicate with each other and make informed decisions. Field workers often operate in remote environments with accessibility challenges such as low light and moisture, requiring rugged technology that can withstand adverse conditions. As emerging technologies like artificial intelligence (AI), wearables and drones are increasingly deployed to these workers, the role of rugged mobile devices will only become more crucial.

Real-Time Monitoring With Sensors

In the future, all digital tools may be connected to mobile devices as the industry responds to changing needs. Utility companies face the challenge of keeping machinery and other assets in the field working efficiently, while also reducing the cost of maintenance and time-sensitive repairs. By deploying predictive maintenance tools powered by AI, utility companies will be alerted when an asset needs maintenance or servicing before it begins to fail or break down. As connected devices become standard, the utility industry will reap the benefits of the smart grid, including two-way communications between sensors and mobile devices.

However, the use of sensors will not necessarily be restricted to utility tools or the smart grid itself. Deploying sensors in facilities and the home provides vital data on potential problems such as sewage issues or appliance repair needs. With access to repair history, workers can manage issues without taking extra time to diagnose the problem. Additionally, wearable sensors could give field workers hands-free assistance while providing insight into the well-being of employees. For example, when managing duties that call for long hours driving a truck or managing a distribution line emergency, wearable sensors could alert an employee that their pulse or heart rate is irregular, encouraging them to pull over or take a break.

With the real-time monitoring enabled by these tools, companies can manage risk, enable faster crew mobilization, and control power distribution assets, beyond the substation.

Troubleshooting With Data

While the utility industry has seen progress in troubleshooting over the past five years, many companies continue to use paper to assess and resolve issues on the job. Looking ahead, digital technology will overtake paper-driven processes so data can be recorded, viewed, and acted upon in real-time.

By being able to remotely view everything from inventory folders to recordings via mobile devices, field efficiency has the potential to grow in leaps and bounds. Data-driven digital technology allows workers to tend to customer needs remotely, resolving issues quickly and efficiently without making unnecessary trips to field sites. With real-time access to data, workers can troubleshoot wherever they may be, saving time and streamlining operations.

Reducing Hazards With Drones

Drones will continue to help reduce hazards for utility workers by aiding in emergency response efforts, supplementing manual processes, and collecting images. Following weather-related incidents such as heavy snowstorms and hurricanes, drones help reduce hazards for first responders by surveying damage remotely and relaying that information so personnel on the ground have as much information as possible for swift crisis response.

Furthermore, drones minimize risk to field workers by taking on more dangerous utility work such as maintaining and inspecting high voltage transmission and distribution lines. This information can be relayed back to field workers from a safe distance and accessed via laptops, tablets, or handhelds. By integrating drone technology with mobile solutions, the utility industry experiences cost-effective, remote inspections while prioritizing safety.

The Future Of The Utility Industry

When looking to the future of the utility industry, mobile devices are at their core. When paired with other technologies, mobile devices can control remote tools, monitor facilities and homes remotely, manage daily workflows, and minimize risk for field workers – this results in fewer service disruptions and faster resolution when emergencies arise. As mobile solutions become more commonplace in the industry, emerging technologies will be increasingly deployed as well, improving efficiency for field workers and managers alike.

About The Author

Michelle Connolly is Director of Sales at Panasonic System Solutions Company of North America. She has worked at the company for 18 years, focusing on a range of different markets from education technology to enterprise mobility solutions for the utilities and transportation & logistics industries.