Monday, January 9, 2012

The Six "Must Haves" To Use Mobile Devices in Manufacturing

Today I have a guest column by Snehal Shah, SmartGlance, and Bimal Mehta, Invensys.  It is on the Six “Must Haves” to Use Mobile Devices in Manufacturing

A mobile App running on Mobile devices can show you new ways to streamline operations, reduce costs, increase worker productivity and enable the power of real-time response. Mobility will let you transcend distance and connectivity issues, create a virtual, personalized space for collaboration and empower front-line workers to make better, faster, smarter decisions. Mobiles are becoming popular in the Manufacturing Industry for real time reporting, quick analysis and the ability to pinpoint problems from the road. 

Here are six key features that Mobile Apps must offer to be effective in manufacturing environment:

1. Must work on ALL mobile devices – Apple, Android, BlackBerry and Windows
2. Must connect to all manufacturing systems
3. Must be fully secured against hackers and lost phones
4. Must have ability to drill down to pinpoint problems
5. Must offer near Real-Time data updates for the latest status
6. Must offer Alerts so user does not have to keep looking

 1. Must work on ALL mobile devices:
Corporate users have been shown to use variety of mobile devices….... Apple, BlackBerry, Android, Windows phones, and tablets based on Apple or Android technology.  Users tend to use a phone service that has good signal strength in their homes and is appropriate for the whole family. Some corporations pay the full cost of employee phones and ask them to carry two phones – personal and office. Most employees do not like carrying two phones.  Also, users keep switching to new phones as new models or upgrades become available. Overall, the mobile app must work on all mobile devices and ensure that it will work on new devices as soon as possible.

2. Must connect to all manufacturing systems:
Manufacturing facilities typically use systems from many different vendors. Industrial vendors include Invensys, Rockwell, Siemens, GE, etc.  Different machines come with different systems built within them. Although initially the manufacturer would need to bring data from only one system to the mobile device, very soon after deployment, they will need to bring data from all of the systems to the phones. So, the mobile app must have ready connectivity and easy tools to create that connectivity with several different systems.

3. Must be fully secured against hackers and lost phones:
Manufacturing process and production info is key to success of any company. It is very critical to ensure that three pillars of security are addressed well by any software. They are authentication, authorization and encryption. It must authenticate the user first. Then, it must use authorization to allow the user to see the data. And, lastly, ensure that all data transmission is done under SSL (secured socket layer) or HTTPS.  Also, the admin must have ability to wipe out a phone if it is lost. Some companies prefer to keep all the data in their four walls. In that case, the software must offer a way to put all servers within their four walls. That way, secrets are safe.

4. Must have ability to drill down to pinpoint problems:
Why have the data and reports on the phone if you cannot analyze them? Or if you cannot find problems using them? The software must allow you to drill down from a high level report to a low level machine tag status.  As an example a top level report may show different plant locations and shipments of the previous day. Drilling down in one of the plants shows multiple lines in that plant. Drilling down in one of the line should show multiple machines of that line. And, drilling down in one of the machines should show all its KPIs. Overall, this ability of drilling down can be huge in pinpointing problems.

5. Must offer Real-Time data updates for the latest status:
Mobile devices should offer the latest data (not one day late data). It can be a few minutes late data, but not more than that.  Think of it as watching a football game on the mobile.  The data must be the latest to make a good tactical decision.

6. Must offer Alerts so that the user does not have to keep looking:
Many sports apps offer alerts tied with a score. So, if someone scores a home run or goal or touchdown, then the subscriber gets an alert on their phone. The trick to the alert is that it should be configurable by each user for himself or herself.  Other users should be able to subscribe to shared alerts, or create their own.  In this way, a user can now manage the whole operation based on alerts and exceptions only.

There are but a few vendors today that offer such rigor in mobile reporting.  Invensys has a partner, SmartGlance that works with the InFusion ECS (Enterprise Control System) to make mobile reporting accessible now.  The maturity of the SmartGlance product elaborates this vision, showing how mobility affects people, process and technology, by enhancing workflow, improving access to knowledge, increasing the speed of business transactions and providing better modes of reporting and management. 

Have you tried mobile devices in manufacturing?  How are they working for you?  I’d be interested in your feedback and comments.

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