Case Study: Data Capture For Air Conditioning Industry
The cooler alernative.
What happens when you invest in new technology only to find it doesn’t work? Everyone’s life is miserable, from the accountants to the end users. Adcock Refrigeration and Air Conditioning thought that PDAs might be the answer to their outdated paper system, but got their fingers burned. Luckily, the tablet solution from Bantham Technologies proved to be a much cooler alternative.
Now in its fifth decade of trading and still in family ownership, the Adcock Group is the fastest growing independent refrigeration and air conditioning service company in the UK. Working out of a national network of twelve service centres, 130 engineers carry out servicing, maintenance and installation work for a wide mix of customers, many of whom have stayed loyal to the company since it started in 1964. They range from small businesses with a single air conditioning unit to major high street chains, councils, health authorities, facilities management companies, data centres, and some of the biggest names in British industry.
Adcock’s 84 service and maintenance engineers working in the field are technical specialists in everything from air conditioning systems to refrigerant disposal and heat pumps. Trained at the company’s own academy at their Cambridge HQ, they visit customers’ sites to carry out either reactive service or planned preventative maintenance. Health and safety are prime considerations. There’s a sign on every Adcock van that says, “If it’s not safe, stop work.” Risk assessments are made before the start of every job.
The task of recording work carried out and then reporting it back to base was done for many years by engineers writing out paper forms, and then faxing them to their local service centre from home or dropping them off – sometimes days later. This led to inevitable delays in invoicing. Worse, office staff weren’t kept up-do-date or able to deal quickly with follow-up actions or client queries. The paperwork was often in a poor condition after being in a van for a few days and was sometimes lost altogether.
In an attempt to resolve some of these issues, Adcock equipped their service and maintenance engineers with PDAs. The thinking was to integrate the data recording process with the company’s main software platform. Logical enough – but the experience of the engineers on the ground proved far from successful. As well as being let down by hardware failures, many felt that they were being checked up on. They could only see one small screen at a time, rather than the whole electronic form. Customers were asked to use a stylus to sign the PDA screen without always being able to see what they were signing. Many engineers felt so dissatisfied that they reverted to the old paper method. Only two out of twelve service centres stayed with the PDA system.
“We were at the end of our tether,” said Adcock’s commercial director Paul Brant. “It was an inconsistent situation that didn’t work well for anyone and couldn’t be allowed to go on. We were even considering going back completely to the previous paper system. The turning point came when we took on some engineers from another company with a good experience of utilising tablet-based data capture – and we started to look at them seriously. After getting similar good reports from a security company in Chelmsford, we knew we were onto something.”
Completely amazed – After doing a cost-benefit analysis they placed their first order in February for seven digital subscriptions – to be used during a short pilot by seven engineers from the same office in Peterborough.
“They all loved it,” said Paul Brant. “There were no issues, and no problems. It was a blessed relief. We couldn’t wait to roll the system out to all our 84 service and maintenance engineers.”
The e-forms created by Bantham Technologies consist of a combined risk assessment and service sheet for reactive service, the same combination for planned preventative maintenance, a waste transfer sheet for refrigerant disposal, a time sheet, and a hot works advisory sheet that’s used when engineers are braising copper pipe. Engineers were consulted on the form design and given time to suggest refinements.
The Bantham system was then rolled out nationally. After completing a site visit, engineers now fully complete the relevant forms on a tablet. After a quick on-screen validation of the job number, it’s sent onto our servers – together with any photos such as damaged equipment or parts that might be difficult to access and identify. Within less than a minute a copy of the completed form is emailed back in pdf format and is in the hands of the service centre management and administrators.
The routing of the completed form is determined by the needs of the individual job. While it always goes to the service admin team, it’s additionally sent to the service manager if a customer follow-up or a quote for further work is needed. Similarly, it’s sent to the store man if new parts are required. If the engineer from one service centre happens to be working for another centre on a particular job, the form is sent to both. In all cases the recipients can see the completed forms immediately on their smartphones so they can take action straightaway. Instead of waiting for days and then searching through forms to look for issues, managers can be proactive in checking the cost and availability of parts, putting in quotes, and being fully informed when customers call.
Adcock have saved time and money with the tablet solution from Bantham, admin is reduced, both in the office and for engineers on site. Running cost is only 65% of that previously incurred with PDAs. Invoicing can now be done daily – with big benefits for cash flow – rather than weekly or even monthly. Customers receive a smart tablet-based service sheet and can receive a copy quickly by e-mail.
But it’s probably the positive reaction of engineers that has proved to be the biggest gain.