GE Renewable Energy plugged the Smartsheet platform into their wind turbine operations and work management processes, creating visibility that drives better conversations between site managers and technicians.
GE Embraces Digital Transformation With Smartsheet
The mission of GE Renewables is to harness the abundance of energy provided by the planet. Faced with the demands of a fast-changing landscape, GE Renewables relies on Smartsheet as the work execution platform to run -- and elevate -- every aspect of their business.
“If we don’t work at the level of our competitors, we eventually will lose business and market share... Technology’s changing at lightning speeds. The typical five-year plan, which might have worked five years ago, can now be a two-year plan.”
Gurmeet Mangat, GE Renewable Energy Site Manager
At an onshore wind farm in Ontario, Canada, technicians climb turbines in temperatures as low as -30 degrees Celsius, amidst howling winds and snowfall. These turbines capture wind in much the same way airplanes do when lifting off the ground: Wind spins the turbine and speeds the generator that produces energy, which is distributed throughout the electrical grid that powers homes and businesses.
GE Renewable Energy provides combined wind, solar, and hydropower energy solutions, with over 35 thousand onshore and offshore wind turbines globally. The division employs around 22 thousand people across the business.
Their mission: to harness existing renewable energy (water, wind, and solar), make it affordable, and provide electricity and energy to communities in which these resources aren’t readily available. The division also aims to reduce its carbon footprint, among other environmental goals. Those wind turbines are a key component of these efforts, as are the teams of elite technicians responsible for operating and repairing them, led by versatile site managers.
What’s at Stake for Site Managers
“In Canada, we have about thirteen wind farms and about eleven site managers,” says Gurmeet Mangat, a GE Renewable Energy site manager based in Ontario. In managing three customer relationships and multiple energy assets, site managers like Mangat wear several hats in terms of business responsibilities.
Each site manager oversees everything from human resources, health and safety, finance, operations, and ensuring a positive experience for their customers. On any given day, Mangat might collaborate with technicians to discuss turbine operation, EHS policy, and then pivot to contract negotiations. At the bird’s-eye view, Mangat’s role is really about customer relationships, business innovation, and business development.
Taking Processes to New Heights
Mangat joined GE Renewable Energy in 2017, and quickly upleveled their business operations. When he started, the turbines were set up with GE’s Predix SCADA software. While the analytics platform helps his team monitor asset operations from a technical data perspective, he needed more and better capabilities — to track labor costs, parts consumption, and all other expenditures attributed to the turbine. According to the Mangat, improving these types of insights was critical to staying competitive.
“If we don’t work at the level of our competitors, we eventually will lose business and market share,” Mangat says. “Technology’s changing at lightning speeds. The typical five-year plan, which might have worked five years ago, can now be a two-year plan.”
GE Renewable Energy adopted Smartsheet and plugged it into their operations and overall work management processes. Mangat calls the solution they’ve built in Smartsheet a “mini-ERP system” because short of actually issuing paychecks, it helps them establish a comprehensive program for enterprise resource planning. His technicians use Smartsheet mobile and forms to kick off the process.
“We have technicians feed their data into our system, and we have dashboards, which are personality pages, for every turbine,” Mangat says. He asked his site lead to create and display site visits as a performance metric. “So, if there’s a turbine that’s had more than five technician visits in the last two weeks, I can ask them, ‘Why are you guys climbing so much?’, or ‘What’s the problem?’”
Supporting Preventive Maintenance Strategy
“In the past, it would take days to get information; now it’s sometimes a matter of minutes.” Mangat attributes this to increased visibility afforded by Smartsheet dashboards, and says that visibility alone is driving different conversations amongst his team.
Mangat’s team is building asset management sheets and dashboard to report on the cost to maintain each individual turbine. “I think that will definitely change the culture and how we think about predictive maintenance,” Mangat adds. They also plan to expand their turbine dashboards across all wind farms in Canada.
Onboarding and Retaining Skilled Technicians
Mangat credits Smartsheet for freeing up more time for monthly reviews with his team members, and to motivate his technicians. “Last year, three guys left our team”, says Mangat. He thinks another component of retaining top technical talent rests in giving them the intuitive technology tools that meet them where they are.
Before adopting Smartsheet and its mobile app, there was “a demographic of team members that had to come back to the site, open up their laptops after working a 12-hour day, and fill out work orders in Excel documents,” Mangat says. Some technicians would avoid completing the task entirely, because they were tired from working all day, sometimes in extremely cold conditions. “And I get it. I was a technician before becoming a site manager.”
Setting up technicians with Smartsheet mobile for work order forms and labor hour submissions has improved speed, reduced process waste, and boosted employee engagement.
Standardized Safety and Health Inspections
Using Smartsheet has emboldened Mangat’s health and safety coordinator to digitally transform how the team performs safety inspections. “Everything we used to do on paper is now in a Smartsheet form,” Mangat says. “So now the inspector can take pictures and check things digitally, then sign them off.”
Now, the safety inspector can work through his safety checklist, noting the condition of their wind turbines and assets, and attach photos directly to the form. By pivoting to digital storage, the crew can then easily access safety records and better assess what maintenance and repairs need to be performed on rotor blades, generators, and more.
Visibility for Customers Builds Trust
The site lead created a daily plan in Smartsheet, including a customer-facing dashboard so everyone can see who’s on site, project progression, and maintenance schedules — visibility that customers had never had before.
Since then, conversations with customers have changed from a lot of “curbside discussions” and status updates to social connection and comradery. “Not technical, not business,” Mangat says about how talks with customers go now. “We’ve created a level of trust that we wouldn’t have had if we didn’t provide visibility through Smartsheet.”
Source: Smartsheet Blog
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