Runways call for remote maintenance plan

Sydney Airport, Australia's busiest and most expensive paddock, has put its wireless network to work and deployed a wireless handheld solution for asset management.

The handheld solution Syclosmart, which runs on an industrial handheld device, Intermec 700, with a Pocket PC 2000 operating system, has been live for about three months.

The solution, which has its own roaming capability, uses the airport's wireless network, which was rolled out in March and covers the international airport and parts of the domestic terminal.

Sydney Airport was recently bought by Southern Cross Airports Corporation for $5.588 billion.

Sydney Airport project engineer, Michael Del Vecchio, said the idea for the handheld solution came about so maintenance staff, who work 24x7, could receive work instructions while in the field.

Generally, he said, when a maintenance job is sent through via the call centre in Wollongong, maintenance crew members are out in the field. Previously they had to report back to the office to be alerted to the new job, print out the details and return to the field.

"This place is quite large, when you get out to the end of a pier it takes about 10 to 15 minutes to walk back to your desk."

Another reason the solution, which integrates with the airport's Maximo enterprise resource planning system for enterprise asset management, was deployed was that the airport wanted to be able to document certain measurables.

"We were trying to get some sort of measurable ROI, we were trying to save 30 to 40 minutes per shift in time [toing and froing to the piers], which in theory is a lot of man-hours, especially when these guys are 24x7."

Despite having no documented evidence of ROI, Del Vecchio said it is evident the task of asset management has become more efficient since the introduction of the handheld solution, due to improved reporting times and the accuracy of databases.

"The solution has helped us realistically determine our response time. We prioritise our faults; delays, threats to aircraft and personal safety or the general public are priority one and need response within 15 minutes."

While Del Vecchio concedes the use of wirelessly enabled PDAs throughout the company could be more widespread, he said rolling out the solution to the corporate network has "never been a business scenario".

"Even though [the network] is there it's not specifically used for e-mail purposes at this stage, although obviously the potential is there for such use."

Presently, the maintenance team uses six handhelds. "I think if we rolled out on a larger scale, I [doubt] anyone would be using the technology. I think a slow rollout is best. The wireless infrastructure is there, it doesn't matter if there is one or a hundred users."

Del Vecchio said there are plans in place for the solution to be rolled out to customer information staff so they can report faults while on the move, as they currently do via their desktops.

Other likely business applications for the solution include security, such as looking at the swipe readers, and an application for the baggage area.

In terms of security, Del Vecchio said the airport had notched up a "world first" with the Intermec handheld units, using it with a Cisco radio card. He said doing this was "unheard of" because the wireless network utilises Cisco's Lightweight Extensible Authentication Protocol (LEAP) authentication server (also referred to as EAP-Cisco Wireless).

The handhelds currently operate on Pocket PC 2000. Plans are in place to upgrade the devices to Pocket PC 2002 to overcome data loss issues.

"There are some obvious things we need to overcome [with 2000]. One of the big inherent problems is that when [the handhelds] lose battery power you lose everything, apart from the information on the storage card [where the application is stored]. Sometimes the guys forget to charge the units."

With 2002, configurations for the device can also be saved on the unit's storage card.

Pilot first

Del Vecchio said piloting the wireless handheld technology was vital to the success and trouble-free implementation of the project.

Development of the project was initiated about three to six months before the solution was rolled out. This involved site surveys and an analysis of potential usage.

Del Vecchio said user testing was very important during the pilot thereby ensuring the maintenance crew understood the solution was not a "time and motion study".

"There will never be a requirement to report on individuals."

Sydney Airport looked at a number of software packages and handhelds and tested the equipment at a number of locations within the airport's perimeter to evaluate roaming capacity, with assistance from Cisco.

Del Vecchio said the pilot was successful and eliminated of a number of issues that would have cropped up during the deployment.

"There were a few bugs here and there that we hadn¹t counted on. These were things like software compatibility. [With the] implementation of LEAP we found we had to put software on different boxes; it couldn't go on the same boxes, so there were other resources we had to count on."

The deployment of the solution, which was "painless", took only three to four days and involved a cabling contractor to wire and power the access points, an internal project manager and a consultant.

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