Why don’t we use more mobile devices on the shop floor of manufacturers?

Sam Rothwell, Technical Solution Architect, blogs about his vision of mobile device use on the shop floor.

Over the last 5-10 years, the world has changed dramatically and what we now expect from personal technology represents a major societal shift. More and more, we are using small mobile devices in our everyday routine, indeed speaking to my clients, colleagues & friends tells me that a large section of society now feel ‘naked’ without a smartphone.

So, why is it that when it comes to business, adoption of these devices has been relatively poor? There has absolutely been success where workers are in remote locations and the mobile element is used primarily to access remote office systems via the cellular network. However, usage of smartphones on main company sites is much more limited.

Of course another key benefit here will be that workers who are not office based will also be able to fulfil all of their functions through one device, which will surely lead to higher productivity as all the tools they need to stay in touch with colleagues (such as Skype for Business) can run on that single device. When it comes to manufacturing shop floors, I believe there is a real opportunity to leverage mobile devices to replace aging systems and drive user-adoption by using hardware people are familiar with. Imagine a world where an operator could report quality defects on the shop floor instantly, search the company knowledge base for common problems and take a photo of the defect to be saved in the ERP system to assist remote diagnosis.

A key barrier to entry on this, has previously been that most manufacturing execution systems have been software designed for a particular form factor and for use on a specific operating system. However, in a world where HTML5 is commonplace, designs can be made to be mobile first and then adapt to any form factor they are used on. It is my personal belief that this will open up new hardware (and of course, software) possibilities for companies to explore. The possibilities of this are endless due to the comparatively cheap hardware used on tablets or smartphones such as NFC or cameras, which in turn will allow further rich data collection of events happening on the shop floor.

I believe that we are currently seeing further steps of this change with the recent release of the new Dynamics AX, which is a cloud first, mobile first solution which of course utilises a HTML5 based client to open some of these possibilities up to business. I’m really looking forward to exploring these exciting new avenues with my clients in the near future!


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