May 4, 2018
Until recently, the cloud was not viewed as a secure location for data storage, and only limited options existed for wireless mesh networks in manufacturing facilities. With the proliferation of and improvements in these technologies, price points and performance have both improved dramatically. In addition, advances in neural networks have made predictive analytics and machine learning possible and applicable. That means today's industrial-scale operations can generate large volumes of data that can be quickly, easily, and securely transmitted to and from a data cloud.
Add in the billions of consumers with a smart phone or tablet and one might say we're living in the Mobilpocalypse. Many of us now communicate more often through our devices than via face to face. In fact, we often spend more time paying attention to our phones than to the person or people we're having dinner with.
In all seriousness, we see the rise of the "platform" (mobility) vs. the "point solution" (single apps or isolated approaches) as the key to driving gains in operational efficiency. With an integrated platform, operators and mechanics can conduct their daily rounds while inputting readings, verifying operational status of equipment (i.e., is the pump running), and log a work order right from an approved, hazardous environment mobile device.
While working, operations can get real-time information from data historians, check to see if equipment is operating outside of operating windows, or look up and review procedures while mobile. Supervisors and management can see the status in real time of tasks, operations, targets, equipment, and more. When companies integrate mobile operator rounds via a platform with operator logs, operations personnel can enable a smoother shift handover including logging shift notes and reviewing standing orders from production.
So what prevents us from turning all of this valuable data into information and using a mobility-enabled platform plus the cloud to feed and utilize it? Often, IT departments make intrinsically safe hazardous environment tablets a cost center, meaning the financial managers are unable to justify mobilizing the workforce.
While digital forms are appealing because they can be used to rapidly create an application, they have complex reporting structures and lack interoperability to processes outside the simple functions they serve. Can you go offline, then online automatically without losing your data? Can you seamlessly trigger a work notification based upon an inspection, or link work permits with work packs? Without strategic, mobile enabled platforms, the kind of efficiency and integration that truly drives sustainable gains in operational excellence is out of reach. Further, users can be confused by the varied and different user interfaces across the field of point solution mobile applications, leading to errors in data entry. Finally, forms don't lead to structured governance as they lack insight into the underlying work process.
Mobility is here to stay, from banking applications to enterprise asset management. Companies who can find ways to embrace the new possibilities engendered by secure cloud data storage, improved wireless mesh networks, and integrated mobile platforms will be well positioned for the next wave of continuous improvement.