Karl Malecek is a member of CWA's ASSET Reliability Division, a dedicated group of professionals that perform equipment and structural inspections and provide engineering, procurement, and project management services for maintenance and repair projects.
In order to expedite the report preparation process, CWA created WICS, an in-house iOS and web-based inspection application. We asked Karl, who managed the application's development, to answer a few questions about WICS.
What is WICS?
WICS stands for Wireless Inspection Cloud System. It basically allows our inspection staff to go out into the field and record data in real-time. That's all done through an iOS application that allows our staff to assign information and mark up photos for specific findings, resulting in a clearer picture of what we're trying to identify for our client in the field. As a result, we can quickly indicate what the problem is on a specific piece of equipment or structure and convey it to the client.
There are two halves to WICS: the iOS side and the web portal side. When our inspection staff get back to the office, they can upload all the data collected in the field from however many people were out there – so if you've got five employees, or six, or two, or one, it doesn't matter; the data will all be uploaded in an organized fashion – and from there, reports can be generated from the data. It's set up so that our staff can come back and have a report ready for the client within a couple of hours, so it's very efficient for turnaround time.
What was the impetus for developing WICS?
When I first started at CWA, we would go out for inspections with a notebook and a camera. You ended up with pages and pages of filthy notes – sometimes it was raining and it would be tough to read whatever you wrote down afterward – and then you would have a couple hundred photos and you could be sitting there for weeks if you went for a couple of inspections in a row, copying and pasting photos back and forth, trying to find what note went with which picture and that sort of thing. So that was where we started.
The first step that led us toward WICS was a macro template that we had developed in Word. We had iPads that we hung like necklaces around our necks on big lanyards and cameras that had wifi cards in them. You would take pictures with the camera and the iPad could upload the photos and drop them into the macro template, but even that was riddled with bugs and issues – you literally had to rub the iPad and the camera together sometimes to get them to talk to each other – and then you still had this messy spreadsheet back in the office, and if one comma was in the wrong spot, the whole thing wouldn't work. It was a little bit more efficient than the first step, but it definitely still had its problems.
As our ASSET Reliability Division grew, we decided to make the jump and put together this application. We were lucky to find the right developer to work with, so the stars aligned and we decided to go for it. If you talk to anyone who had to use the old way, they'll tell you it's come a long way. It's a big time-saver.
Who can benefit from WICS?
There are clients that can take advantage of it and our staff can take advantage of it. It's good for us, because a report can be done in a few hours, whereas it might have taken three or four or five days before to get all of our information sorted. I can't remember the exact statistic, but there was something like a 70% decrease in reporting time. When we first developed WICS, I looked at the numbers for reporting hours spent on projects previously versus the hours on current projects and it was quite a big difference.
Additionally, now that we have this application and we can go through the reporting process so quickly and easily, we complete 40 to 50 inspections per year on various pieces of equipment for clients around North America. Now we're looking at going down to South America, so WICS has opened some doors for us.
On the client end, if they're worried about a machine, we can go out there and the report is turned around and in their hands very quickly. We also provide many of our clients with a customer login so that they have backend insight into the portal where they can view all of their reports, which are there forever, basically. Everything is in the cloud, so our clients don't have to email us if they lose a report – everything we've ever done for that client sits there in the portal.
Can smaller clients benefit from WICS or is the application mainly oriented at large-scale operations?
Definitely. We can produce a large overview that may be more useful for an entire port site or an entire mine but we have recently been using WICS for much smaller projects. We just spent half a day at a small cement terminal and used WICS, so you can use it for anything, really. It's just a way to organize information in such a way that we can paint a clear picture for our client.
The way that the templates are laid out is very clean and it's very easy to see what you're trying to describe. The idea is that each one-page finding sheet will show our clients exactly what the problem is, where the problem is, what they need to do to repair it, and what the repair priority is – does the problem need to be fixed immediately or within one year or do you just need to make sure it doesn't get worse? Whether a client is big or small, there is definitely value in the way that the reports are laid out and in the quick turnaround time.
Can WICS be integrated with clients' existing asset management software?
Yes! We have an API (application programming interface) and what that does is break down all the data we've collected in the field into a global data language. With a little bit of backend programming, our clients can go and retrieve that data and integrate it into their own asset management systems. I believe that as younger and more tech-savvy personnel start to fall into key management roles throughout the industries we work in, they'll realize the value that can be added with a system like this.
Can WICS be customized for client-specific needs?
Absolutely. One of our long-term clients recently changed the way they want to number and organize and prioritize findings, so there are currently some changes being made to accommodate that. Clients sometimes want to have different prioritized values and identification systems and that's all set in our system so we can custom-tailor a report to a client with minimum effort.
Are there any upcoming developments with WICS?
Yes there are. Where we're at right now is what I see as part one out of a two-part system that we're currently trying to put together. Part two will be more of an interactive client version of the portal so that when a client logs in, instead of just seeing a list of reports, there will be a big aerial view of their site that will display a high-level overview of the inspection findings and priorities. They will be able to zoom into a particular area of their site to view those assets and from there they will be able to click on individual assets and track the maintenance that has been performed or is required on each piece of machinery. They'll also be able to generate work orders from that system.
To request a demonstration of WICS and its capabilities, please contact our ASSET Reliability Division at ASSET@cwaengineers.com or call 604-637-2275.