The Increasing Role of Mobile Technology in Manufacturing

Mobile technology has been synonymous with manufacturing for quite some time now. Transportation management systems have been tracking shipments from warehouses to distribution centers and end users for decades. The history of RFID tracks back at least 50 years.

Today, a new transformation is underway to expand placement of mobile devices – or what I will refer to simply as “mobility” – across the shop floor as well as into the management suite. This post will take a look at recent research to better understand what is driving this trend for better insight as to what might be in our future.

Manufacturers were early adopters in embracing mobile devices within their organizations. One reason is that many workers are in the “field,” including those in not only revenue-based positions such as sales, but those involved in field service and maintenance positions. It isn’t a surprise that the recent price declines in tablets have spurred renewed interest in these devices.

According to a recent Gartner research study conducted in August 2012, CIOs working at manufacturing companies rank the investment in mobile technologies as a top priority. This focus will have repercussions on how manufacturers allocate their IT budgets, resulting in greater mobility-related purchases such as mobile security products, wireless networks and, most likely, cloud-based storage services.

Change is Coming…

These types of changes will dramatically impact how processes are executed on the shop floor. To start, users will start requesting to execute production processes, input or view work instructions or evaluate manufacturing intelligence from their handheld devices. These desires will wreak havoc on IT departments if it means new operating systems are needed to accommodate these requests. On the other hand, those manufacturers that have already made an investment in a process-based operations management system will not be as challenged. Rendering new user interfaces for different devices is not as difficult if your system manages operations at the process level.

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Regardless, no purchase will be made unless a return on investment can be justified. Industry consensus is that workforce productivity will improve by extending the decision-making environment from the desktop to a mobile device, resulting in increased employee productivity and overall equipment effectiveness. Access to greater operational intelligence, faster, can also provide sufficient benefits to ensure continued mobility purchases. As manufacturing research, design and production have become such global activities, gaining access and availability to these knowledge workers in real-time, on a 24/7 basis, offers the potential for even further productivity gains from the implementation of mobility solutions.

Here is where I believe the benefits will even further exceed expectations, due to the interrelated nature of how new products are launched and new continuous process improvement initiatives are conceived. The enabling of a more real-time “creation” process for these workers could be quite dramatic whereby process improvement or solutions to new product design challenges could be discovered off-hours, resulting in a terrific new level of productivity we haven’t even seen yet.

So, next time you hear a co-worker talk about their desire for a new tablet, smartphone or an updated computer system to support greater mobility, maybe it might be worth considering the upgrade a bit more seriously.

Mobility’s role in our future is only getting started!

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