With the coronavirus pandemic, travel has become awkward and possibly dangerous, requiring COVID testing and/or quarantine when passing from one country, or even from one state, to another. As companies have sought ways to get the job done while keeping employees and customers safe during the pandemic, video meetings have become commonplace.
Even before the pandemic, travel for inspections and audits was often time consuming and expensive, so remote technology was an attractive alternative. Emerson has offered remote control valve inspections for the last 10 years, said Ben Ahrens, quality director for the Americas at Emerson, in a presentation at the Valve Manufacturers Association Virtual Valve Forum in November 2020.
Instead of having a customer’s inspector fly to Emerson’s facility and witness testing or other procedures for as little as two hours and then fly home—a live or recorded video inspection, audit or test procedure can provide the customer with the needed data, and resulting confidence in the product sufficient to approve release for shipment. Remote procedures may include:
- operational testing
- hydrostatic testing
- seat leak testing
- positive material identification (PMI)
- hardness testing
- leak testing
- cryogenic testing
- visual and dimensional inspection
VIDEO TECHNOLOGY FOR RECORDING REMOTE INSPECTIONS
A simple video setup is quite sufficient for recording, Ahrens said. Nowadays, nearly everyone in your company is likely to have a cell phone with a decent camera. For steady, easy-to-watch shots, you can mount the phone on a handheld stabilizer (also called a gimbal) to prevent sudden and unwanted motion of the phone. A phone and stabilizer combination makes an economical, relatively inexpensive, and extremely portable setup for wireless connection.
Another alternative, Ahrens said, is a GoPro camera. GoPro models offer good video stabilization, so mounting them on a stabilizer may not be necessary. The GoPro allows wireless operation for recording and wired operation for live streaming. Both types of camera may need additional lighting to produce good quality video.
A different approach to recording is to use a hands-free, head-mounted camera/display unit, such as those available from RealWear. A boom-mounted display in front of one of the user’s eyes allows monitoring the camera view. Such units can be mounted on a hard hat.
For live inspections Ahrens recommends staying with the platform your company normally uses for virtual meetings, such as Zoom, GoToMeeting, Microsoft Teams or WebEx. For pre-recorded inspections, the video files are large—often a gigabyte or more—so you need to use a large-file transfer program or a shared cloud drive to make them available to all who need to see them.
LEARNING FROM EXPERIENCE
Early on, Emerson acquired a high-tech setup for shooting videos, Ahrens said, which turned out to be more elaborate than needed, as well as less portable than the smartphone or GoPro options.
On the editing end, early inspection videos were produced with a cinematic-type opening sequence, which turned out to be unnecessary. In practice, customers want a simply produced, realistic video experience of the inspection, including sights and sounds of the factory environment that can help give the sense of being there.
WHAT TO INCLUDE IN A VIDEO INSPECTION
A remote inspection needs to include everything an inspector would observe in person. Plan ahead to make sure you have clear, close-up shots of tags, motor name plates, calibration stickers, instrument readings and other relevant features.
Show the order information at the beginning of the video. Ahrens’s company includes a voice-over reading the information, as well.
During a real-time video inspection, questions may come up that need answers from quality or sales staff, so it’s a good idea to have them available during the inspection, Ahrens said.
For pre-recorded inspections, the raw video is what the customer needs. It can be edited to remove extraneous sections using a simple video editing program.
HOW TO TRANSITION TO REMOTE INSPECTIONS
Since every industry now uses remote technology, customers and suppliers are likely to be willing to accommodate this approach to inspections. Initiate conversations with your customers early in the sales cycle so they know what to expect. As the time for the inspection approaches, have a pre-inspection discussion with the customer to establish what needs to be included in or with the video, such as tagging, test gage information and product documentation.
“The goal is to convince an inspector that what you can show them through the lens of a camera is just as good as what they can see when they walk into your facility,” Ahrens said. “Or, if not as good, at least adequate for putting their concerns to rest so you can ship product and meet the delivery commitments that you have made to the customer.”