Antarctica New Zealand is responsible for managing New Zealand Government activities in Antarctica and the Southern Ocean, in particular the Ross Dependency. Antarctica New Zealand deployed SmartAsset from The Online Workshop—now, thanks to the software-plus-services solution, employees can keep mission-critical systems running safely at all times.
Power, heating and clean water are essential in Antarctica, where temperatures can fall below –50 degrees Celsius. In these extreme conditions, new software is helping keep scientists safe and reduce costs.
Antarctica New Zealand deployed SmartAsset software from The Online Workshop to support maintenance and asset management at its Scott Base research station. Using the software, along with handheld devices, engineers ensure that equipment essential to the well-being of employees in severe conditions is always reliable. Better asset management also increases fuel efficiency, which reduces energy costs and minimises carbon emissions at the base itself.
Have you ever grumbled about it being too cold in your office? Then spare a thought for employees of Antarctica New Zealand, who work at Scott Base on Ross Island in the Ross Sea region of Antarctica. Temperatures outside the permanent research support centre rarely rise above –0 degrees Celsius (32 degrees Fahrenheit) in the summer. And in the winter it can be 50 degrees colder. In such conditions, power, water, heat, and food aren’t just essential for employee morale, they can potentially make the difference between life and death.
||If we can keep more accurate readings, there is a huge potential for savings. Every kilowatt hour of energy that we save equates to 2,500 litres of fuel a year.
Antarctica New Zealand
Although the weather conditions are severe, the base is home to about 80 people during the summer and a skeleton staff of about 12 in the winter. Most support staff are on one-year contracts and can support research, including ozone depletion, and unique assignments such as the Andrill project, which studied the impact of past climate change on the Antarctic and its ice shelves and is now helping scientists protect the environment in years to come.
The base itself comprises nine buildings, including three laboratories. The entire complex is powered by diesel generators with a back-up generator system providing 200 per cent redundancy to ensure constant power.
Powering Life-Support Systems
Kevin Rigarlsford, Maintenance Engineer at Antarctica New Zealand is responsible for buildings, vehicles, water, and power production at Scott Base. “These mission-critical systems are essential for life support. If they fail for an extended period, it could result in extreme hardship—and possibly worse—for personnel,” he says. As a result, maintenance and asset management take top priority. This means that engineers are constantly collecting detailed information about the performance of equipment throughout the base so that they have up-to-the-minute knowledge of the performance of these assets.
In the past, gathering this information put additional pressure on staff. Rigarlsford says: “Every day, engineers collect data on oil and engine pressure, fuel consumption, power generation and more.” Staff used to gather this information on clipboards and then enter it into spreadsheets and other documents on their return to the office.
Once a month, the spreadsheets were consolidated and passed on to Rigarlsford for checking and analysis. While the spreadsheets were mainly accurate, minor errors inevitably crept in during the note-making and data-entry processes. “The worst-case scenario would have been if we’d performed out-of-date maintenance or the wrong maintenance on a piece of equipment because it had been upgraded or replaced by a different model,” he says.
And there was another significant human angle to the challenges facing Rigarlsford and his team. “Employees typically work on one-year contracts. I work at the base for three months a year so for the remaining nine months I rely on their efficiency and knowledge,” he says. However, 100 per cent annual staff changeovers can result in some operational issues. Rigarlsford says: “We were using a traditional file network, which meant that people set up their own folder hierarchies and file naming systems. There was always the risk that when the new shift arrived, they would struggle to find the latest or historical versions of the data and this would delay their attempts to settle in quickly to their new workplace.”
Training was another issue. “It used to take a long time to train new staff to gather the data, write it down and then enter it into our custom-built spreadsheets, word processing documents, and project management files. For the efficiency of the Scott Base and my own peace of mind I wanted a more centralised storage system for asset management data. But at the same time I didn’t want to deploy a technology that required substantial explanation for a new engineer. In fact, I wanted to reduce our existing training workloads,” says Rigarlsford.
Catching Up with the Vision
But it took a while for asset management software to catch up with Rigarlsford’s vision. And even then it required an especially innovative approach to overcome all the challenges facing employees at Scott Base. “It was apparent that there were flaws in the system when I started working for Antarctica New Zealand in 1998. We almost managed to buy a good maintenance program in 2002, but when that fell through we had to wait once more,” Rigarlsford says.
In fact, it was another four years before a solution was launched that met Rigarlsford’s specific criteria. He says: “In 2006, I became aware of a product called SmartAsset from The Online Workshop, which is a company based in Australia. I was impressed by the fact it combined the accessibility of the Web with everyday desktop applications.”
SmartAsset is a software-plus-services solution based on the Microsoft® .NET Framework development system and uses a browser-style interface for Internet-based deployment. This includes an application services provider option for customers that wish to minimise their IT investment.
While the solution offers sophisticated asset management tools for demanding environments such as the Scott Base, there is a strong emphasis on ease of use. For the most part, maintenance staff use familiar Microsoft desktop productivity tools to set schedules and manipulate data. It is also straightforward to access the underlying database, which provides a flexible and reliable repository for the asset data.
At the heart of the solution, SmartAsset uses software-plus-services to offer a variety of deployment options, including seamless integration with Internet-based and enterprise systems, hosting options, and subscription-based pricing. The solution is currently hosted at Scott Base, although Rigarlsford uses a secure Internet log-on to access the system from the Antarctica New Zealand offices in Christchurch, New Zealand.
Transforming Asset Management
The technology has transformed the way that staff at Scott Base maintain engineering equipment on site. Maintenance staff no longer need to carry clipboards during their surveys and then go back to their desks to enter the data before double checking the electronic entries against their handwritten documents. Instead, they simply enter data into a personal digital assistant (PDA) and then dock and synchronise the data with the system when they return to the office.
As for integration with the Microsoft Office 2007 suite, Rigarlsford gives the example of Microsoft Office Outlook® 2007, where task and calendar functions can be overlaid with SmartAsset functions to navigate the asset hierarchy. In addition, maintenance jobs are displayed as tasks and also show up in the calendar based on their due dates. This means that staff at Scott Base can share calendars for work that involves input from more than one employee.
A good example is when an employee discovers that a fault needs to be fixed during a check up of the power generators. They send an e-mail message to notify a member of staff who can correct the problem. He or she can review details by clicking a document review button added to the e-mail ribbon. And the subsequent repair job can be prepared and assigned without leaving the calendar.
Complex asset-related activities such as construction or refurbishment can be seamlessly loaded into Microsoft Office Project Standard 2007 for critical path analysis while corresponding activity dates are automatically recorded in the SmartAsset database.
This is especially useful for large tasks that involve a wider range of employees, including engineers, mechanics, carpenters, and electricians. “It all comes down to the safety and well-being of staff. Detailed project planning means that we can add to our existing facilities and maintain our reputation as a safe, state-of-the-art research facility,” says Rigarlsford.
Reducing Risk, Increasing Safety
The benefits that Rigarlsford expects to see from the deployment of SmartAsset fall into two categories. The system should reduce the risk of maintenance errors because all data is captured electronically and automatically updated into the SmartAsset database. “It’s another way of saying that the essential life-support systems of the base can continue to run, whatever the conditions, even during staff handover periods. It means that we can guarantee the overall safety and well-being of personnel at the base.”
Rigarlsford has also seen significant improvements in training. “The whole training package is based on the hierarchy of the programme, defining and creating the maintenance activities. We can now give staff a two-day training programme in New Zealand, which gives them enough experience to get straight to business when they arrive at Scott Base,” he says.
Space for Savings
SmartAsset also helps Rigarlsford and the team in New Zealand respond more quickly to short-term requests from engineers at Scott Base, while potentially saving on expensive helicopter hours. “It costs about U.S.$2,000 an hour to keep a helicopter up in the air. With SmartAsset, we can ensure that it is only carrying relevant supplies based on near real-time information and not from old allocation sheets,” says Rigarlsford.
“As soon as the request for supplies comes over the radio or by e-mail, I can enter it straight into the programme or the staff Office Outlook calendar ready for the next helicopter resupply. Even if a helicopter is about to leave in one or two days, I can be certain that they will be carrying the equipment that has been requested.”
Another potential area for savings is fuel. Rigarlsford says: “It’s a critical resource and we use up to 270,000 litres of aviation fuel annually for the generators. But if we can keep more accurate readings, there is a huge potential for savings. Every kilowatt hour of energy that we save equates to 2,500 litres of fuel a year. In other words, if we can safely lower the base average temperature by one degree, we would save approximately 10,000 litres a year.”
In the future, Rigarlsford believes that there is much more potential for SmartAsset across Scott Base. He says: “It could definitely be useful beyond the basic maintenance role where it is currently deployed. Our department now wants to see if we can use it on the field operations side.” In addition, Scott Base is also upgrading from a manual to an automated building management system that will eventually be integrated with the SmartAsset solution. “In that scenario, it would be possible for someone in the Antarctica New Zealand Christchurch office to manage and control heating and ventilation remotely,” says Rigarlsford.
Whatever the outcome, it’s clear that SmartAsset and software-plus-services will play a fundamental role in the future of Scott Base. “The original buildings were opened in 1957, half a century ago,” says Rigarlsford. “We now have an important technology that will support our vital work in Antarctica in the 21st century, especially as we measure and try to address climate change.”
Software + Services
Software-plus-services is an industry shift driven by the fast-growing recognition that combining Internet services with client and server software can deliver exciting new opportunities. Microsoft is dedicated to helping individuals and businesses take advantage of these opportunities. By bringing together the best of both software and services, we maximise capabilities, choice, and flexibility for our customers. The broad software-plus-services approach unites multiple industry phenomena including software as a service, service-oriented development, and the Web 2.0 user experience under a common umbrella.
For more information about software-plus-services, go to: www.microsoft.com/softwareplusservices
Learn more about Antarctica New Zealand at:
Learn more about The Online Workshop at:
This case study is for informational purposes only. MICROSOFT MAKES NO WARRANTIES, EXPRESS OR IMPLIED, IN THIS SUMMARY. Document published October 2009