Industry 4.0 is shorthand for all the technological innovations fundamentally altering the manufacturing sector — including smart factories, the Internet of Things, cloud and hybrid computing, and augmented reality. Mobile devices are the gateway to Industry 4.0.
Manufacturing managers still working with decade-old computers — or pencil and paper — will likely be left in the dust. Optimally, your company should enable supervisors to dock smartphones for desktop work so they can fully embrace and leverage all the technological advantages available.
Mobility allows you to keep your finger on the pulse of your plant and gain enhanced, real-time visibility into many aspects of manufacturing, from supply chain logistics to enterprise asset management to customer order fulfillment. Mobile applications can help streamline operations and dramatically increase productivity by identifying and resolving problems faster and more efficiently.
Taking It with You
Portability: Who says, "You can't take it with you?" Mobile apps are specifically designed for this purpose. Notably, you don't have to return to a fixed location to receive data, review procedures or fulfill orders. Tablets enable you to conduct quality checks on the spot. Then you can alert others to problems, instantly update job status and provide quick fixes to equipment.
Real-time outcomes: Rather than learning about critical malfunctions, errors or emissions after the fact, manufacturers can identify and fix problems in real time. Mobile devices instantaneously alert management. Closing the time gap could be the difference between staying on line, delaying production or even shutting down. Besides improving outcomes, having eyes and ears at the direct point of contact provides greater transparency for customers.
Productivity: Using mobile tablets improves the productivity of line workers. Most already use smartphones in their personal lives, so the learning curve for mobile devices at work is significantly reduced. Instead of making multiple trips to a stationary workstation throughout the day, employees can function "on the go."
Status updates: Global positioning systems (GPS) allow manufacturing firms to assess logistics immediately, making it easier to figure out where time is gained or lost. Relying on instant updates, managers can check the status of any order anytime and quickly locate raw materials and shipments. If your company has outside salespeople, this is a clear selling point — and a way to cement customer relationships.
Many different types of applications can enable you to shift between mobile and desktop tasks. Before investing in any of them, closely examine your workflows so that you buy only those that are relevant to management's work.
Take, for example, a plant manager who conducts inspections of several production stations. The manager wants to record notes during the process with a mobile phone. If the manager uncovers problems at a particular station — say, a machine isn't working properly — he or she can scan the bar code of the equipment and retrieve complete work histories from an asset management application.
With an augmented reality application, this same manager can photograph the defective machinery and, using overlaid images, pinpoint the problem. Basically, the manager earmarks an item and shares it with a technician, all via mobile devices, eliminating the need for handwritten notes.
If needed, the plant manager may also use a mobile-powered desktop, complete with a high-definition multimedia interface (HDMI) display, keyboard and mouse. A computer may make it easier to order parts, update spreadsheets, and email suppliers or vendors through the manager's smartphone. Bottom line: The manager is no longer tied to desktops or required to visit every floor of a plant. Access is available from virtually anywhere.
Technology is changing the nature of many industries — few as dramatically as the manufacturing sector. But to ride the wave of innovation, you need to keep up with developments and invest in tools that will empower your managers and workers.