Knowledge Preservation

A data collection application at a Colorado plant guides operators through tasks in the field and records best practices and standard operating procedures.
Knowledge Preservation
Plant operator Leonard Robb scans a barcoded location on an inspection route, using the FlexOps data collection application.

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As the third-largest clean-water facility in Colorado, the Littleton/Englewood Wastewater Treatment Plant values its commitments to eliminating odors, maintaining high standards of operation, and providing the highest-quality service. That takes commitment from a staff of highly experienced operators.

Like many wastewater organizations, Littleton faces an aging workforce and the challenge of retaining the “tribal knowledge” of career operators who will soon retire. Loss of this knowledge could place the facility at greater risk of costly mishaps and errors. Littleton also needed to eliminate manual, paper-based processes in favor of electronic data capture to help reduce mistakes and cost while meeting ever-tightening regulatory requirements.

The plant team found the solution in a PDA-based data collection and management system that supports tasks from issuance of work orders, to equipment inspections and repairs, to capturing the knowledge of experienced operators to pass down to newer hires.

Expanded duties

The recently expanded plant employs just over 30 staff members responsible for treating about 50 mgd. With the expansion and retirements, and with no staff being added to balance the workload, the facility needed a solution that would be easy to deploy, operate and support and would provide an immediate return on investment. 

“Knowledge management is a key philosophy in the smooth operation of our plant,” says business services manager Cindy Goodburn. “Being able to track and record manual activities is vital to the management process. We had silos of paperwork and we needed to move forward in a new way.”

After investigation, Littleton chose the FlexOps data collection application from FlexSystems. The FlexOps data collection system runs on ruggedized, water-resistant hand-held PDAs and works seamlessly with popular operations, compliance, maintenance and laboratory information management system (LIMS) software. Operators are led through their daily inspections by the PDAs, which come with fully customizable standard operating procedures (SOPs), touch-screen interface, keyboard, camera and long-life battery.

With standard Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and choice of integrated, network-independent GPS receiver and WWAN voice and data services (including 3G EV-DO or EDGE), the PDA keeps facility supervisors connected with the mobile workforce in real time.

The PDA provides access to information at the point of work so that supervisors can deploy the right resources to the right location. Workers can tap into the information they need to work most effectively, such as equipment repair instructions.

Greater accuracy

They use the PDA to scan a barcoded location on an inspection route. The PDA then takes the operator through the inspection step by step using touch-screen prompts. Problems discovered during an inspection are automatically emailed to appropriate staff, such as maintenance personnel or supervisors, in the form of exception reports. Reports easily integrate with existing reporting systems and are readily accessed for future facility and state auditing.

“FlexOps has eliminated the manual data entry previously required for operator rounds,” says Goodburn. “This has increased data accuracy and eliminated the staff time required to enter and review data. The use of the system for our Sampling Chain of Custody tracking has nearly eliminated sampling errors. In the field, the PDA works like an SOP in a box, and in the office, it provides legally defensible data with time-stamped inspection reports.”

For the future, the system helps preserve tribal knowledge by enabling the operations team to push instructions down to the hand-held devices. This allows older operators’ experience to guide newer operators in daily inspections.

Easy knowledge transfer

Experience specific to all areas of the plant is now at the fingertips of all field personnel. Best practices, training and SOPs are all transferred to the operators’ PDAs using simple pop-up screen options, fully customizable to make sure operators perform inspections exactly the same way every day, according to plant supervisors’ exact specifications.

After deploying the solution, the Littleton team immediately saw and continues to see cost reductions in operations through better data collection quality and overall efficiency in multiple areas. Electronic data collection saves the time and effort of manually entering and re-entering report information, then correcting the inevitable mistakes.

Maintenance and work order requests are received within minutes instead of hours or days. Proof of compliance, chain of custody of samples collected, and automated reporting all help reduce labor costs and facility-related risks while improving operational quality.

The Littleton/Englewood plant continues to meet the community’s high expectations and illustrates the benefits of embracing change and moving forward. The experience of the most trusted and seasoned operators is no longer at risk of being lost to retirement; it will guide new operators as they begin and advance in their careers.

About the author

Mark Cowley is vice president of FlexSystems, a developer of electronic data collection applications and software solutions based in Longmont, Colo. He can be reached at


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