Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Fleet Management tools and solutions for professional organizations

Sprinkled throughout Mammut’s info about our avalanche transceivers is the phrase “fleet management”.  Many people, including some who manage a fleet of beacons, are not familiar with this term, even though they are already doing it in one form or another.  Hopefully anyone who owns and manages a fleet of avalanche transceivers is already keeping an inventory of what they have, knows when each unit was purchased, is regularly verifying the equipment is up to date and safe to use, and is aware of and keeping track of any problems—this is Fleet Management. 
The W-link Stick 2.0 fleet management tool, pictured with a Barryvox S
As the size of a fleet grows, or as the available time of the manager is stretched (or both), this essential safety and liability-management process too-often is a casualty.  Mammut offers several tools to assist fleet managers or “institutional users” with this task, which we hope serve to make their lives easier and serve to increase the level of safety and service offered by our products.  These are ideal tools for beacon fleets for custom beacon configuration, troubleshooting, periodic upgrades and to record regular maintenance for management and liability purposes.

Fleet Management Tools

For this explanation to make the most sense, it’s useful to be clear what the difference is between FIRMWARE and SERVICE SOFTWARE. 
Firmware is the program that is installed in an avalanche transceiver.  All Mammut Avalanche Transceivers utilize an upgradeable platform that allows for periodic firmware updates to extend the lifespan of the product by introducing new features and improvements. 
Service software is the program that is installed on a PC--sorry, they are not compatible with Macs--that, in combination with a W-Link Stick or Tester fleet-management tool, allows for firmware upgrades, beacon configuration, fleet management, functional testing and record keeping on one or a fleet of beacons.
The Service Software is a free download, but it can’t be opened or used without the hardware, so what follows is a brief demonstration to give people an idea of what it looks like and what it does.  This post only provides a general overview of how these tools work and what they do with some screenshots so you know what to expect; for instructions on download, use and updating the firmware on a transceiver this link contains more detailed info to get you started:   Link to service software download & Firmware upgrade instructions(We'll update this link once the 2.0 versions are available)
Mammut makes 2 different Fleet Management Tools:  the W-LINK stick 2.0 (sometimes called a w-link adaptor or “dongle”) and the BARRYVOX TESTER 2.0. 
The W-link stick 2.0 allows custom configuration  of BarryvoxS or Pulse transceivers only (the standard Barryvox and Element have a fixed configuration) as well as daily self-checking and record keeping functions and beacon firmware upgrades, all on one or multiple beacons simultaneously, using wireless “W-Link” communication.  The W-link Stick 2.0 is the tool most small to mid-size organizations use as part of their risk-management plan for their client or employee beacons or for retail shops who manage a rental fleet. 
The Barryvox Tester 2.0 performs all of the same functions as the W-link stick in addition to a full diagnostic functional test  of all beacon functions.  

note:  In Fall of 2018 Mammut will introduce the W-link Stick 2.0 and Tester 2.0 along with service software to run them for the new generation Barryvox and Barryvox S transceivers.  The 2.0 versions will also perform fleet management functions with older Pulse and Element transceivers using a different service software, but will not be able to perform firmware upgrades on the older beacons.  Note that the Tester 2.0, unlike the original tester, does not require periodic recalibration.  Please contact us for further compatibility questions.

Functions of the Fleet Management tools

The purpose of the fleet management tools is to make it easy for organizations to document the safety of their equipment and ensure a high level of client and employee safety.  The following functions are all designed as an aid toward achieving these goals.

1)      Organization and record-keeping are essential functions in fleet management, so in addition to the functional abilities of the devices everything is designed to be saved in easy to organize excel files on a PC as a form of documentation.  The Service Software that runs both the W-Link Adaptor and the Tester shows a “spreadsheet view” on your PC, and can display and work with multiple beacons at a time—in environments with very low RF noise it can work with as many as 30 or more beacons at once, although a dozen is more typical.  Each beacon is displayed on a separate row, with the various settings of the beacon displayed in each column, so it’s easy to get an entire-fleet overview of battery life and type of batteries, self-test status, Firmware version, warranty expiration and the due-date for the next recommended 3-year functional test.  If a transceiver is running an older firmware or if the beacon is past-due for a recommended 3-year functional check, the appropriate "required action" will be indicated.  The entire device list by serial number indicating  what the beacon settings were, battery life remaining and that the beacon had passed it's own self-check, etc may also be saved as an excel document before each season or before the devices are given to clients again—this record-keeping function can be an important part of a solid risk-management protocol documenting the equipment status prior to use.  
The device list showing all beacon info, and a save window to make an excel document recording this check.

2)     BarryvoxS and Pulse Barryvox beacons use a firmware platform that allows the user to configure the settings of the beacon. For a recreational user they may choose the standard user-profile that blocks some features making the device very simple and easy to use, or chose to activate the "Pro Search" or advanced user-profile which allows an intermediate or advanced user access to the analog function and some additional features that allow easy recognition and solution of close-proximity multiple burials.  Many institutional users prefer to use the Fleet Management tools to quickly load and lock into place a specific configuration of settings for their clients or their employees, to facilitate standardized training.  This specific group of user-settings can be saved as a document (“client user-settings” or “guide beacon settings”) so it can be easily loaded onto all the beacons in the device list simultaneously, including a custom startup message or a company logo. Custom user-configuration on standard Barryvox and Element Barryvox beacons is not possible because these transceivers use fixed settings.  
The settings menu allows easy and fast configuration of one or multiple beacons simultaneously, and also allows the settings to be locked in place if desired, to ensure all devices are the same for standardized training.

3)      The Tester has all of the same functions as the W-link stick, with the additional function of running one beacon at a time through a complete diagnostic functional test.  This is much more rigorous than the beacons self-check and is the same test used at Mammut Headquarters for our North American service center, which checks every functional parameter of the beacon in a calibrated test.  This functional test is recommended for all beacons every 3 years, and is indicated by the “next maintenance” date in the device list.  Upon pass or failure of this test, a test report can be saved or printed as a record and the “next maintenance” date is automatically re-set.  If a beacon is reported to be acting abnormally, this test definitively determines if the beacon is fit to be put back into use.  
Example of a beacon test report.  Each category indicated as "PASSED" represents multiple calibrated tests.

There are some other related functions of the Fleet Management tools as well as details that are not covered in the scope of this blog—for more in-depth info the “help” menu in the service software is the best place to start.  For those who prefer to have the North American Service Centers perform the above functions, all of these services are also available on a fee-basis and can be arranged by calling our Customer Service at (800) 451-5127.  We hope this overview of the Fleet Management tools is helpful for anyone in the position of managing a fleet of avalanche transceivers.  If any of the above looks useful to you, please give us a call today!