Photographer: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

The German Coal Miner Using 1,000 iPads to Help Weather a Rout

  • RWE looking to improve efficiency with software, iPads
  • First energy and utility customer for IBM, Apple partnership

German coal and power producer RWE AG, weathering the worst rout for the country’s electricity market in over a decade, is turning to Apple Inc. and International Business Machines Corp. to help shave costs.

Field workers at RWE’s Hambach coal mine started using software on Apple iPad mini devices in December. They’re already saving 30 minutes a day by cutting down on paperwork, said Andreas Lamken, chief information officer of RWE’s generation unit. The company has deployed a “couple hundred” of the handheld tablets and plans to distribute more at its two other mines and then to utility workers in the coming months, with a goal of reaching as many as a thousand, he said.

RWE’s Hambach Lignite Mine in Germany

Source: RWE

“We are under heavy cost pressures, so we are looking for efficiency,” Lamken said in a telephone interview. While he said it’s too soon to say how much money RWE will save, the gadgets are helping motivate employees, many of whom already use Apple devices at home, he said.

RWE is contracting the services of a partnership between IBM and Apple as utilities in Europe’s biggest power market suffer from the lowest power prices since 2002. An unprecedented shift to renewable energy, fed into the grid preferably, is squeezing the margins at traditional plants burning coal, gas and nuclear. It presents a business opportunity for the two tech giants whose partnership had never had an energy and utility customer before RWE.

Predictive Repairs

Apple said in a call with analysts Oct. 27 that enterprise customers had generated $25 billion, or about 10 percent, of the company’s revenue in the last 12 months, thanks in part to the IBM partnership.

What RWE, which produces as much as 100 million tons of coal a year, is looking to do with the technology is make equipment repairs more “predictive” and cut the time wasted on commutes by dispatching workers based on their locations at a mine, according to Lamken and Dirk Bosserhoff, associate partner at IBM’s global business service. The Hambach mine has a surface area of 30 square kilometers.

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