Tuesday, 26th May 2020

Mobile technology in Factories: A Moveable Feast

With mainstream society being dominated by mobile technology, Rob Dinsmore, industrial IT sales manager at SolutionsPT, looks at how manufacturing has adopted mobility and the benefits it can bring. Recently listed as the most important emerging technology by manufacturing CEOs, the article will look at the latest developments and what major challenges those looking to implement it may face. Whilst plenty of appetite clearly exists for the technology, for some implementation remains a challenge, so we outline the key steps manufacturers must follow to effectively utilise mobility on the factory floor.

The manufacturing industry in the UK is constantly evolving, from shifts in working habits, to the requirement to capture and analyse more data than ever before. Manufacturers are under pressure to deliver higher rates of production but with the same, or even less, resource and these demands have seen manufacturers re-evaluate their systems, looking for ways to deliver efficiencies.

Although widely utilised in mainstream IT, mobility has been slow to gain popularity in manufacturing. However, under pressure to reduce costs and improve efficiency, more businesses are turning to mobile solutions via the use of smart mobile devices to perform business critical tasks. A recent survey found that 73% of manufacturing companies saw ‘mobility’ as a key priority for their businesses and, as such, it must be taken seriously when looking for solutions to drive these efficiencies.

The majority of manufacturers understand that mobile technology can improve their operations. Making real-time data accessible to more people is one way they can significantly reduce their costs and make efficiency savings. An invaluable amount of time can be saved by ensuring that key staff have continuous access to real-time data wherever they are in a facility, as it allows them to make vital business decisions quickly and accurately.

A further benefit comes within the production environment itself. Traditionally, most factories make use of ‘fixed operator stations’, typically consisting of PCs which operators go to in order to administer the manufacturing process. The ability to make use of mobile devices removes the need for personnel to frequently have to check back to one position and can make a dramatic improvement to process workflows, improving the output of the manufacturing facility. Additionally, localised Bluetooth sharing can also allow operators to receive specific information relevant to the area of the factory they are in.

But whilst the benefits of implementing mobile technology are obvious, what are the common challenges businesses face around mobility and what steps must manufacturers follow before taking the plunge?

Security concerns form the greatest barrier to implementing mobile technology. Most manufacturers perceive the major risk to be centred around ‘Bring Your Own Device’ (BYOD) capabilities; devices that are brought into facilities and connect to the network may carry viruses or leave the network exposed to security attacks. One solution is to purchase mobile devices that are then made accessible to operators as part of a shared pool. This then makes it easier to control how devices connect to the system, whilst also managing the level of access granted to each different user.

Another concern is that the use of mobile devices can pose safety risks when used in hazardous zones, potentially creating sparks that could ignite gases in the air. Here, the market has evolved to meet the specific requirements of the manufacturing sector and hardware vendors have launched new mobile technology specifically designed for use by hazardous area workers and engineers.

However, mobility is more than just devices. The wireless network in the background plays a vital role in creating a mobile-powered operation. As technology has advanced, wireless networks can now be created that are more secure than the wired alternatives. Having a secure and fast wireless network speeds up the overall manufacturing process by providing almost instantaneous availability of data and performance information.

When looking to incorporate mobility, a business must initially determine how and where mobile solutions can bring most benefit to the business. It is also imperative to decide at an early stage whether the business will benefit from standalone application or a company-wide mobility solution.

Ensuring the right knowledge and experience exists within organisations can guarantee that mobility is implemented to work efficiently, delivering the support and services required. However, this does not have to mean employing an entire new workforce of IT specialists. The skills gap within the IT sector means that more companies are turning to managed services to support their IT systems. This means that a third party can be used to help organisations to embrace mobility, allowing manufacturers to benefit from their expertise and knowledge, whilst providing the peace-of-mind that solutions delivered are in line with the operating results they need.

Securing factories against cyber threats, operating efficiently and producing to a high quality should be high on any manufacturer's list of priorities. Mobility is revolutionising manufacturing and organisations are increasingly designing mobility into their strategies to deliver greater efficiency to production centres. However, it’s not as simple as applying the same devices used in commercial offices to the production environment.The potential cost-saving and operational benefits of mobile computing technology are exciting but manufacturers must ensure that they are adopting the correct solutions to meet their specific needs and taking the necessary steps to ensure that they are doing so safely and securely.

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