Use video to enhance your CMMS

Oct. 15, 2003
When training workers, one image can be worth more than a thousand words

The video camera is one of the most powerful, cost-effective enhancement tools available for computerized maintenance management systems (CMMS). Unfortunately, video carries with it the "Big Brother is watching" stigma, stoking workers' fears that management will use video recordings for disciplinary purposes. This fear has diminished somewhat over the years, as people have grown accustomed to seeing video cameras everywhere for security purposes, video conferencing and training.

Nevertheless, the best way to allay operator and technician fears is for senior management to be open and honest about how the video will be used, and simply promise not to use the video for disciplinary purposes. This is easier than it sounds. For example, if you catch someone on video who's dumb enough to pilfer in front of a camera, then you can no doubt catch them again using traditional means. Avoid the temptation to show, or even mention, the video footage, as this will hurt management credibility and worker cooperation.

Another way to get workers to embrace video's presence on the shop floor is to involve them in determining where best to use video, analyzing the results and writing training scripts. Workers must feel comfortable with what the video will do, not just for the company, but for them personally. It's critical to allow workers easy access to any videos produced to avoid generating a mystique about what is really on those tapes. Finally, videotape people only from the neck down, focusing on the work, rather than the individuals involved.

Once everyone is willing to, at least, give it a try, choose a video application that will build a track record and gain acceptance by all rather quickly.

Methods improvement

By taking maintenance and production workers off the line to review videos of themselves at work, an analyst can facilitate discussion about better ways to accomplish tasks. Discussion should be centered on the work, rather than the skill of the operator or maintenance worker being observed.

Speeding up the playback highlights jerky motion. Slow motion or freeze frame allows workers to study movements in detail. Using multiple cameras operating through a multiplexer can show the output from each camera on a full screen or as many as four camera images on a split screen. This allows simultaneous viewing of close-ups and long shots. As well, videos taken at different locations, shifts or days of the week can be compared to pick out best practices.

One of the more popular video applications is studying machine setups and changeovers. These activities involve more complex motions, longer cycle times, and lower frequency, all of which contribute to the difficulty in using other improvement techniques.

Another popular application of video is for repetitive maintenance tasks, such as preventive maintenance routines. Once the most efficient and effective methods are found, the tape can be digitized and attached directly to the preventive maintenance record or as part of on-line help.


Video facilitates examination of the human-machine interface, ergonomic design and workstation layout. Excessive reaching, twisting and bending can become quite obvious by speeding up playback. For example, if a worker is constantly shifting weight from one leg to another and using both arms for support, it may point to the need for fatigue matting or an ergonomic stool.

Plant layout and flow

A wide-angle lens can show patterns of human, material and machine movement among workstations and departments. Here, too, speeding up the playback demonstrates overall movement patterns. For example, the video can easily highlight material bottlenecked at a given workstation or staging area, workers queued at a parts counter, or the effects of chronically clogged aisles.

Video can also highlight cases where a work area is too small, or unsafe, for repairing a piece of equipment. Often a new layout is optimized for material flow and operator efficiency, but fails to accommodate equipment inspection, lubrication or overhauling. Typical mistakes that designers make are backing production equipment onto an aisle, placing pieces of equipment too close to one another, and not allowing sufficient space to move components or material handling devices in and out from the equipment.

Video also makes it extremely easy to spot safety hazards and poor environmental conditions. Examples include unsafe work areas, excessive smoke, poor lighting and inappropriate handling of chemicals. Just as it points out the problems, video can also illustrate solutions for setting up and maintaining a safe work environment. For example, videos can provide instruction on lock-out/tag-out procedures, or how to put on proper safety gear before entering a certain area of the plant.

Time and motion study

Because every video system has a date-stamp feature and a built-in clock that's accurate to hundredths of a second, it's possible to use the video output for time study. However, there's still a need to rate workers using a stopwatch time study. The advantages of video include:

  • Automatic timing. 
  • Ability to conduct the study after the fact in the privacy of an office. 
  • Use of slow motion for understanding and comparing the movements being timed across multiple locations and points in time. 
  • Ability to revisit the tape segments used for study. 
  • Ability to discuss the session with workers, emphasizing improvements to work methods or the work environment. 

Once a standard time is developed, it can be entered into the CMMS database. The original videotape from which the standard was developed can also be "attached" to the file for reference purposes. In this manner, maintenance personnel can not only read the procedures, but also see a video showing how to complete the task within the standard time.

Production line analysis

Video has tremendous potential in balancing a line through observation of line pace, machine and operator utilization, operator interaction and material bottlenecks. Additionally, actual work measurement data can be collected for feeding a simulation program to determine optimum line speeds, work distribution and the like. This information, in turn, can assist in fine-tuning the equipment for optimal line balance and quality of production output.


Video analysis can identify areas where training might improve productivity or worker safety. Furthermore, after the video analysis has been completed, a training tape can be made of "best practices." This is especially useful in large, multi-plant environments where there can be significant operational differences across plants and even shifts. Training tapes can depict setups, changeovers, care and cleaning of equipment, standard repair procedures, performance and quality standards, exception handling and safety tips.

CMMS vendors generally offer two ways to access training tapes. The simplest method is to reference a video from within the CMMS. The maintenance worker then picks up the cassette from a video library and views it on a VCR. A more effective but more costly approach is to digitize the video and store the file on CD-ROM or other suitable media.

Contributing Editor David Berger can be reached at [email protected]

Sponsored Recommendations

Arc Flash Prevention: What You Need to Know

March 28, 2024
Download to learn: how an arc flash forms and common causes, safety recommendations to help prevent arc flash exposure (including the use of lockout tagout and energy isolating...

Reduce engineering time by 50%

March 28, 2024
Learn how smart value chain applications are made possible by moving from manually-intensive CAD-based drafting packages to modern CAE software.

Filter Monitoring with Rittal's Blue e Air Conditioner

March 28, 2024
Steve Sullivan, Training Supervisor for Rittal North America, provides an overview of the filter monitoring capabilities of the Blue e line of industrial air conditioners.

Limitations of MERV Ratings for Dust Collector Filters

Feb. 23, 2024
It can be complicated and confusing to select the safest and most efficient dust collector filters for your facility. For the HVAC industry, MERV ratings are king. But MERV ratings...