User Experience Insights
Digitizing maintenance with SAP Fiori in mining
K+S is one of the largest potash suppliers in the world and the leading salt producer in Europe. Their mine in Zielitz, East Germany, is among the biggest potash plants worldwide, extracting crude salts from an underground area of approximately 61 km². And this is where the challenge lies: Due to unstable network connectivity above and below ground, maintenance teams need to bridge long distances with paper-based information processes solving to more than 1,000 printouts per day.
In October 2021, K+S teamed up with the SAP Fiori Makers, who lead intensive hands-on workshops, to jumpstart the UX process transformation for companies around the world. The goal was to offer an easily accessible solution for maintenance, giving an overview of information about machine status and tasks as well as shift details. For this, SAP design experts came together with business representatives and end-users from K+S for a 4-day onsite boot camp.
The results are two clickable SAP Fiori prototypes based on SAP Fiori elements ready for implementation. With the SAP Fiori apps on tablets, maintenance workers will be able to retrieve, collect, exchange, and manage data without the need of an active network connection, anywhere and anytime.
Maintenance end users as co-designers
SAP’s design experts along with the team around Peter Budesheim, head of mobile technology at K+S, and his colleague Carsten Möller, senior project manager, kicked off the design-led development process with a site visit for observations and user interviews. Based on the findings, the SAP Fiori Makers then created two personas together with Mario Lorenz from project-, portfolio- and process management to shape two use cases, one above and one below ground.
The first use case focused on the inspection, maintenance, and repair of stationary machines above ground. Maintenance workers need to spend a lot of their daily work on face-to-face coordination, calls, and paper-based reporting as wireless networks are somewhat unstable on the production site. The goal was to avoid unnecessary and manual work steps and make their workflows more efficient.
The belts, strainers, and centrifuges of stationary machine above ground need regular maintenance. Alt Text: The first image shows rotary dryers above ground in a factory hall. The second image shows the process of sieving potassium chloride.
SAP’s Scenes tool then helped to visualize the user stories, giving a starting point for first mockups and prototypes that were built with the SAP Fiori design stencils for Figma and Axure RP. With end users participating in the boot camp, the designs could be evaluated via a cognitive walkthrough straightaway. Mario Lorenz is convinced by the design-led development approach: “In the past, I as the user had to adapt to the system to understand it. Now the system adapts to the user.” The result is a clickable prototype for the app My maintenance orders which will offer checklist documentation via subsequent evaluation. To simplify error reporting, checklists will directly create reports, which can be easily enriched with pictures and GPS data. The error reports can then be turned into new maintenance orders.
Alt Text: The first image shows a screenshot of the app “Meine Wartungsaufträge”. The worklist gives an overview of the maintenance orders per individual shift. The list provides information for each maintenance order: the location, a brief description, the status, and the order number. The second image shows a screenshot of the same app, displaying a task with a checklist.
Transforming information processes
The second use case focused on maintenance workers taking care of 550 mobile and 110 stationary machines underground. Facing an unstable wireless network, they are dependent on layouts, hydraulic plans, and wireless radio connection. Here, machine errors lead to a long action queue to gather information on how to proceed, including kilometer-long trips to a phone and offices for collecting printed instructions. Besides being inefficient timewise, this means additional vehicle abrasion, the danger of exceeding occupational limit values, high administrative efforts for supervisors, and immense paper consumption.
The SAP Fiori app “Pauli” (the acronym for Portable Anwendung um leichter instand zu setzen) will ensure that maintenance information is at hand when needed.
Alt Text: The image shows a screenshot of the clickable SAP Fiori prototype for the app for maintenance underground. In this example, a broken wheel needs to be fixed. A checklist provides details on further steps, enabling to directly add data about the start time and successful execution.
To mitigate this, the team of SAP and K+S experts designed a clickable prototype for an app digitizing the information process. Clearly structured tasks, the option to enrich error reports with additional data, and highlighted recurring error patterns will reduce inquiries. Involving end users early on in development proved to be highly beneficial: 180 minutes of usability testing with 11 participants resulted in 18 changes. The feedback was very positive, with the application seen as “intuitive and self-explanatory”, a “simplification for the maintenance workers” and “very promising”.
Minimizing resource consumption, optimizing quality
Optimizing the information processes will shorten repair and downtimes, minimize administrative efforts, and save resources. With more than 1,000 printouts a day underground in Zielitz, implementing the apps would make all paperwork redundant and, as K+S calculated, result in saving 95,000 liters of water, 1,9 tons of CO2, and 19,500 kw/h per year.
A boot camp group site visit at the mine in Zielitz, North Germany, helped to gain a common understanding of the end users’ tasks and challenges. Alt Text: The image is a group picture showing the team of the SAP Fiori Makers boot camp. K+S and SAP employees are wearing white work gear and helmets while standing in one of the mining tunnels.
K+S is highly convinced by the concept of the boot camp. In particular, including end users early on resulted in high acceptance of the app prototype. The next step will be collecting feedback from different locations and implementing both apps in all plants. In Zielitz alone, up to 200 employees would be using the apps. “With the SAP Fiori Makers, we are putting the human in focus. That is why we’ve created such great applications in such a short amount of time,” summarizes SAP User Experience Designer Christina Salwitzek.
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