Human Machine Interface

The mobile plant floor: How mobile can drive business value

Are you and your teams extracting top value from mobile?

By Thomas Wilk, chief editor

I held out until 2005. That’s when I finally gave in and got a mobile phone.

It wasn’t as if I was unaware of the convenience. Various types of cell phones had been around for at least 10 years, and I was by far the last of my family and friends to start using a cell phone. There also was no special intention on my part to avoid mobile phones while embracing other wearable tech, like the iPod or a Bluetooth headset. I didn’t have those either.

If I’m being honest, my delay in embracing mobile came down to three things: (1) land lines were what I knew, (2) there was no pressing business need at the time, and (3) I really enjoyed not being found.

Fast forward 10 years, and on a day like today, when I inadvertently leave my personal phone at home, still charging at my bedside after serving as late-night music player and early-morning alarm clock, and it feels like a part of me (and of the larger world) is missing.

This issue’s cover story focuses on mobile, inquiring into the innovative things that are happening on the plant floor now that mobile is what people know.

“From an end-user perspective, the expectations are that things are just natively extensible to these devices,” says Kyle Reissner, industrial automation mobility platform leader at Rockwell Automation. “I don’t think it’s a demographic issue of, for example, the Millennials are coming in and they’re demanding this. I think that even the 50-plus operators, engineers, and technicians, they just expect it to be there.”

Furthermore, with the ongoing maturity of the cloud, it’s hard to imagine business getting done anymore without mobile. “When you’re able to look at the combination of, say, thermal images and vibration on the same motor,” says John Neeley, product director for SaaS and IoT at Fluke, “and you’re able to see the production schedule or the work orders, you can go from predictive to pretty much reliability-centered maintenance. You can start promising more uptime. It’s much more easy to make that case with the data, so that’s a big pro.”

When it comes to exploring how mobile can drive business value, “Often it’s the inside looking at their own outside, saying we could improve our operations,” says Jim Hilton, senior director and global manufacturing principal for Zebra Technologies. “Also, quite frankly, it is the evolution of technology itself to the point where to adopt some mobility doesn’t necessarily have to mean that you need to redo your enterprise system. You can adopt using cloud technology. You can try things and do pilots and proof-of-concepts without turning your operation upside down.”

Finally, the days of not being found are clearly over. “It’s a modern way of looking at things, rather than just a ‘mobile’ way,” says Reissner. “People want to be portable, they want to be enabled, and the specific device doesn’t matter.”

Which reminds me, can anyone recommend a good smartwatch?