factory manager and worker on mobile

This is post #2 in a series about the impact of mobile technology on the enterprise.

In my prior post about how mobile is changing the enterprise, I wrote about how mobile applications that help process-driven employees more effectively do their jobs are becoming more prevalent. The manufacturing industry is a prime example and is ripe to be hugely impacted by the mobility movement. This article will highlight why and how.

Benefits and Issues of Mobile in Manufacturing

The manufacturing industry, characterized by constantly moving materials and a focus on metrics like throughput and uptime, is a natural fit for mobile technology. The benefits of implementing mobility into industries like manufacturing are clear:

  • Increased employee productivity
  • Better resource management
  • Faster decision making

Manufacturing software developer CIMx cites a Motorola survey which states manufacturers who incorporate mobile applications into their processes saved a daily average of 42 minutes per employee. If you’re a manufacturing business, that increase in productivity is hard to pass up.

Though the industry pioneered the use of RFID and barcode technology in plants and warehouses, it’s been relatively slow to adopt mobile apps for smartphones and tablets. The primary reasons why include:

  • Complexity of the processes themselves – the reasons why mobile applications are such a good fit for manufacturing are also why they’ve been tough to implement
  • Integration of mobile apps within the infrastructure of plants and warehouses – dealing with human/machine interfaces adds a layer of complexity
  • Connection to back-end systems – linking smartphone applications with the large enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems these companies use to run their businesses may be technically difficult

Because every organization’s processes are different and may employ unique, complex back-end software systems, these apps usually have to be developed in-house or outsourced to a software development shop to be built to exact specifications.

There has been progress over the last few years in the integration of mobile technology into manufacturing processes, but some of it has been misdirected. For the most part, mobile implementation has been limited to a shift in platform; that is, employees can access manufacturing data on their phone or tablet that was once only available on a desktop or laptop. But there’s so much more that can be done with respect to focused, role-based applications.

Mobile and Lean Manufacturing

In lean manufacturing, people and other resources such as machines, parts, and product inventory are in constant motion to maximize efficiency, which makes it an excellent use case for role-based mobile applications.

Instead of developing a single, complex mobile application that encompasses the entire manufacturing process, simpler mobile applications can be built specifically for each type of employee. For instance:

  • Workers responsible for running a lathe can access schedule and uptime data and possibly even start and stop machinery with a mobile app.
  • Production schedulers can obtain data about the location and amount of parts on hand, analyze material flow, and implement Kanban more effectively.
  • Logistics workers can optimize routes and track package locations on the go.
  • Floor supervisors are armed with time and attendance data, ensuring effective management of their workers.
  • Maintenance workers can access parts information and interactive repair guides when fixing machines.
  • Safety workers can use the camera and location-based functionality of smartphones to report health, safety and environmental incidents.
  • Machines can be wirelessly connected so they can essentially talk to each other and facilitate real-time data sharing.
  • Many other manufacturing roles can be positively impacted by mobile applications.

Simplifying and customizing mobile applications for specific roles within manufacturing processes will help increase adoption and minimize necessary training, ultimately benefiting workers at all levels of the company.

As you can see, there are a myriad of ways mobile can be incorporated into manufacturing processes to obtain increased productivity, better resource management, and improved process visibility. Though development of some of these applications may be complex, the benefits greatly outweigh the costs. So expect to see a spike in manufacturers jumping on the mobile bandwagon soon.

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