Cramming for finals is tough enough without being distracted by a noisy vent or a dripping faucet. And students typing their final papers in the computer room want to be certain that the equipment they’re using is working properly, lest their work gets deleted or destroyed.
When it comes to keeping the research and education facilities at Penn State in tip-top shape, the Office of Physical Plant (OPP) is on the job. The support organization uses SAP technology to help oversee the maintenance and janitorial services in areas such as heating, comfort cooling, power generation and distribution, and water installations.
And the indicator that the team is doing its job right is that no one realizes a job is being done at all. That is why Bill Steudler, maintenance engineer at the OPP, and his team follow a principle of preventive maintenance.
“Our main goal is to extend the life of the equipment through proactive maintenance,” Steudler said, “so that we can prevent it from breaking down unexpectedly and complete the maintenance work during a time that is most convenient for the university community — without impacting the daily routine.”
Small-Town Size Requires Big-Time Scale
However, executing this approach for a multi-campus institution as big as a small town is easier said than done. Penn State is a multi-campus, public research university that educates students from across the U.S. and around the world.
As America’s most popular university it receives more than 100,000 applications for admission each year. It has 24 campuses across Pennsylvania and a central administrative and research hub at University Park. Penn State has conferred about 625,000 degrees since its founding in 1855.
OPP requires detailed and up-to-date information on the condition of all equipment, as well as a powerful means of coordination in order to prioritize the work accordingly.
The Problem with Paper
OPP’s first attempt to get control over its myriad maintenance jobs left it very dependent on paper, printing work orders and handing them to the technicians.
“Then they went out to do the work, capturing all information on paper,” Steudler said. “Once they were back in the office, the supervisor would review it and transfer it to the back office for data capture in the system.”
This administrative procedure meant technicians still spent a lot of time on each maintenance call. And the reports left room for interpretation, as issues were described differently by individuals, which caused delays in getting a clear picture on the actual condition of the equipment across the university.
Steudler and his team started looking for a technology that would allow them to replace the stacks of paper with mobile devices for real-time data capture.
“The decision of who to go with was fairly straightforward and easy,” Steudler said. “The SAP Mobile Platform brought everything we were looking for to the table: the ability to execute and to get the product up and running with minimal interruption of our daily activities.”
To support uninterrupted education and research, Penn State introduced mobile technology to work order and inventory management. Equipped with mobile devices and the SAP Work Manager mobile app, Penn State service technicians now have full visibility into their daily work orders when they are out on the campus.
Instead of having to walk back to the office to report on their completed work orders, technicians can now fill in reports on the go, saving them time and allowing for much more up-to-date information on the condition of equipment. And in an emergency, supervisors can dispatch new work orders to technicians in the field and change the priority of pending service requests.
The SAP Inventory Manager mobile app enabled the OPP to establish “remote storerooms,” which allow technicians to check what is available from their mobile device instead of having to physically walk to a storeroom. This helps them move more efficiently across the campus.
“Once they found the parts they need, they can actually go to that storeroom, pick up the part, and assign it to their work order,” Steudler said. “In the background, all the cost accounting is completed, so that the settlement is completed correctly.”
The Penn State central spare parts storage area uses the SAP Inventory Manager mobile app to perform selective inventory control. That, and more accurate data on the condition of the equipment allows for more effective categorization and management of inventories across the campus.
“The new set up gives us much better information on where we are spending our money and what our resources are doing,” Steudler said. “It helps make decisions on whether to replace, repair or rebuild an asset or a machine.”
Thanks to more accurate data, the OPP can complete its work with minimal impact on university operations, allowing students to concentrate on making the grade.