BGE Combats Vegetation With Mobile Computers
A tangle of brush and tall tree limbs greets the Baltimore Gas & Electric (BGE) forestry contract crew as it arrives to clear a suburban right-a-way. The crew is fully prepared to deal with this situation, thanks to information provided through lightweight mobile computing equipment.
Prior to implementation of the battery-powered mobile computers and central database, the foresters did not have an efficient method for tracking right-of-way status information.
Forester Chad Devine finds the system to be a helpful historical and budgeting tool. “Before we started using this system, we would have to wade through paper files and inspection records that weren`t always consistent or accurate,” he said. “Now, we have detailed work histories. These records allow us to accurately estimate maintenance needs on each circuit, providing us with an excellent tool for future budget projections.”
Productivity in the forestry group has increased with the implementation of the mobile computers, and manual data entry has been eliminated.
Mobile Computers Capture the Data
Weeks earlier, a district forester had visited the site and performed a survey of the vegetation in the area to determine just how much work needed to be done to keep the high voltage power lines free of leafy entanglements. They looked for anything that might interfere with the lines or cause power outages.
The forester had carried in a two-pound Norand PEN*KEY 6360 touch-screen computer, from the Norand Mobile Systems division of Intermec Technologies Corp., loaded with forestry software designed by Cone Software, a Philadelphia-based solutions partner of Intermec. While at the location, the crew had been prompted by the mobile computer to answer a series of questions about what they observed at the site.
Other observations were captured in free-hand text written directly on the computer screen. The notes were transformed by Pen Write handwriting recognition software to typed notes and stored in the computer along with the rest of the information about the location. This information would later provide a concise word picture of what the forestry clean-up crew would find at the site.
At the end of a full day of surveying, the forester headed back to the service facility where the mobile computer was placed in a dock so it could continue to work automatically overnight. As the forester departed for home, the computer, with a phone line hooked up to its modem, uploaded the inspection data collected at all the sites that day to the company`s forestry database.
Database Generates Work Schedules
With the inspection data in the database, the foresters are ready to generate work and maintenance schedules. The foresters review and analyze the information that had previously been collected at each site, then generate work and maintenance schedules for the field crews. This information is downloaded to the mobile units each night, complete with site addresses and descriptions of the work to be completed. After the day`s forestry clean up is completed, the work crews update the records for the site on the mobile computer for transmission overnight to the central database.
“What we have now is a total look at the system and everything is at our fingertips,” said forester Len Wrabel, system engineering and construction. He calls the system a terrific planning tool. “I can pick any line on the system and tell you the tree growth, the tree size and whether or not it is a high priority.”
BGE called on Cone Software to write the application software for the mobile computer units. Together they designed this easy-to-use application which allows users to enter data quickly and efficiently. The utility then developed the Access database for the forestry application.
The precision and quality of the information permits the forestry unit to be almost surgical in its approach, so it can better manage and reduce the impact on the environment.
Collecting a Multitude of Data
The mobile system has other applications as well. Using pull-down menus on the mobile computers, foresters can enter information about necessary mowing, herbicide use, roadwork and repair and removal of gates and fences.
The transmission forestry group continues to seek additional ways to enhance and expand the system to collect more detailed information. For example, it might evolve to include a digital camera that could provide a pictorial history of problems and conditions of an area as part of the computer file. Other possibilities include expanding the database to permit employees to inspect transmission lines, poles and towers, as well as enter repair and scheduling data on the spot.
Norand Mobile Systems
A Baltimore Gas & Electric employee enters information into his handheld as the work continues at the site.