Mobile computers add efficiency to ROW and pipeline inspections

Mike Colwell

Intermec Technologies

Atangle of brush and tall tree limbs greets the Baltimore Gas & Electric (BG&E) forestry contract crew as it arrives to clear a suburban right-of-way (ROW).

The Transmission Forestry Group crew is fully prepared to deal with this situation through information provided by lightweight mobile computing equipment from the Norand Mobile Systems Division of Intermec Technologies Corp. BG&E embraced the technology for the sake of increased operating efficiency in both its forestry and gas leak detection departments.

Weeks earlier, a district forester had visited the site (one small part of 10,600 acres of ROW) 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. The forester had carried in a two-pound Norand PEN*KEY 6360 touch-screen computer with special forestry software, designed by Cone Software, a Philadelphia-based premiere solutions partner of Intermec. While at the location, the crew was prompted by the mobile computer to answer questions about what they observed at the site. The questions were answered quickly using a stylus to touch the screen.

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. At the end of a full day, the forester headed back to the service facility where the Norand mobile computer was placed in a dock to work automatically overnight. 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.

The foresters review information collected at each site, then generate work and maintenance schedules after they have analyzed details from the site inspections. This information is downloaded to the mobile units each night, complete with site addresses and descriptions of what needs to be done.

After the day`s forestry clean-up is completed, the work crews update records on the mobile computer for overnight transmission 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.”

BG&E called on Cone Software to write the application software for the mobile computer units. 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.

Forester Chad Devine finds it to be a helpful historical and budgeting tool. “Before we started using this system, our paper inspection records weren`t consistent or accurate,” he said. “Now, we have detailed work histories.”

On the gas side of the BG&E business, the Norand PEN*KEY 6100 mobile computers, again running a software application developed by Cone Software, are used to organize and dispatch service personnel to perform routine gas pipeline inspections, as well as for maintenance.

When each shift begins, the computers are loaded with work assignment locations. Gas leak surveyors typically work in both residential and commercial locations. A database of each gas customer location on the leak detection route is stored in the mobile computer. The crews go to the locations on the list searching for leaks.

The computers are able to access batched files of information dating back to the actual installation of the gas service. Workers can also access account information on the particular customer.

“As they find the problems and document them,” said Mitchell Solkowitz, senior engineer, gas measurement. “They enter those results which are uploaded to our Gas Leak Survey System database at the end of a shift.”

Intermec Technologies

Inquire R.S. 101

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