How Drones & Exoskeletons Are Innovating Safety At Exelon
Buzzwords! Buzzwords! Everyone Loves Buzzwords! Aren’t they amazing? They dazzle and delight! Just mention them at any cocktail party and you’re instantly the coolest kid in the crowd! Omnichannel! Digital Disruption! Digital transformation! Multi-Platform Personalization! Break The Internet! Woo Hoo! Keep ‘Em Coming!
As an emcee of our B2B summits, it’s easy to get caught up in a language that is both exciting and devoid of real value. Creating a buzz around new trends and galvanizing people to promote change in any industry is a worthy cause, but when the excitement that’s drummed up is no longer commensurate with the actual reason behind the cause, we need to take a step back and re-evaluate what’s important.
I found myself doing just that after meeting one woman who seems to be wonderfully grounded in the real change that can come from the beaming fluorescent banners of digital disruption. When I asked Vicky Will, VP of Operation Support for Exelon Generation, whether or not innovative technologies are making a difference in her field, she not only had specific examples of digital pilot programs changing the way health and safety culture is disseminated, but she had a philosophy of innovation that she says protects her from some of the ineffectual language that buzzwords can create.
“To me innovation means being open to accept that the tried and true status quo methods might not be working anymore because digital is exploding and the expectations of our stakeholders are changing, especially those of our employees,” she explained.
Looking toward new methods beyond the status quo was a big theme at our GDS HSE Insight Summit, where Will was the keynote speaker. Christopher San Giovanni, Ground Safety Director for JetBlue, described a culture of innovation that he also sees being fostered in aviation.
“When I think of Jetblue I think of explosive growth…I always challenge my direct reports with how are we going to run this program in 5 or 10 years when we have twice as many aircraft and twice as many airports?” he said. “We can’t rely on the same systems that got us here because we’re just going to be too big so we have to actually build systems rather than using brute force!”
Will described the use of advanced sensors, virtual reality, and wearables at Exelon as part of what they call their “Ideation” programs that promote employee driven improvements. Exelon actually has won many awards such as the 2015 Citrix Innovation Awards, The Nuclear Energy Institute’s Top Industry Practice Awards, and was called a digital pioneer by Crain’s Chicago Business.
San Giovanni praised this kind of bottom up approach to safety culture as well.
“I do believe in the bottom up as well and we at JetBlue think by cultivating senior leadership to look at operations a certain way can create organic ideas and solutions from the ground level in a way that fosters an investment into the system,” he said.
So what are the latest disruptive technologies Will anticipates will transform the health and safety business in 2017? Something that’s even more exciting than buzz words: Robotics!
“I think one thing that provides great hope for workers and the aging population are exoskeletons,” said Will. “We are currently doing research into exoskeletons because we see such great potential there. They’re robotic devices people wear to assist them in day to day activities. if you’re a worker and you need to lift something heavy, the exoskeleton can mitigate the strain to your own body. The suit senses you’re engaging your muscles to do a task and will aid you in that task.”
And that’s not all! Will says one of their most exciting pilot programs involves drones.
“They’re booming in our company and that’s what has our employees really engaged because you need a pilot license and many of our employees actually have licenses, but it’s not currently part of their day to day job. We are excited to engage them and we see they’re excited to come to work! One employee in my group actually flies a drone and helps inspect our wind tower,” said Will.
In addition to eliminating risks for employees working at heights, drone inspections also reduce inspection costs as it requires 3 workers for 8 hours to manually inspect wind towers as opposed to 2 workers for an horned a half with a drone.
“We also have a 230 megawatt solar farm in California that’s over 2,000 acres and imagine having to drive through all that rather than fly a drone that someone can remotely control to look for damage,” Will explained. “You can have robotics investigating this and looking for defects.”
Now that’s buzz worthy!