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November 2017

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ABB and IBM Partner in Industrial Artificial Intelligence Solutions
Smart Connectivity Delivers Comprehensive Industry 4.0 Package
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Retrofitting Industrial Machines with IoT Board
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PROMOS 3 plus Machine and Process Monitoring System
Process Control Drives Industry 4.0
CoroPlus Brings Connectivity to Manufacturing Plants
OPC UA Companion Standard
Digitalization in Machine Tool Manufacturing
Enterprise Data Management Provides Real-Time Analytics
Digital Advancements in Milling Boring and Turning
A Smart Factory Benefitting the Customer
Optimizing the Potential of Networking for Tools
Mobile Technology Integration

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Mobile Technology Integration

Industry 4.0 represents a paradigm shift from centralized to decentralized manufacturing. It will require the adaptation of processes, talent, the business' very structure and certainly technology. In fact, technology, including advanced robotics and artificial intelligence; sophisticated sensors; cloud computing; the internet of things (IoT); data capture and analytics; and digital fabrication (including 3-D printing) are all coalescing into the ushering in of this next industrial revolution.

However, all of these technological advancements share one common element-mobility. While the factory's network connects to all the machines for control and data collection, people are still needed to monitor, adjust, maintain and repair these computer-controlled stations. "These workers need mobile devices with which to both interact with the machines, and coordinate their activities with the control room," said Mark Holleran, President and CEO of Xplore Technologies. "You cannot send a mechanic with a toolbox of just socket wrenches and screwdrivers. And relying on paper forms would take equipment off-line for too long. This mechanic needs a mobile computer to investigate, adjust and record his or her activities."

This notion is catching on. According to VDC Research, more than 85% of manufacturers now believe mobile solutions are more important than they were a year ago.

In fact, VDC's recent report, "Mobile's Place in the Connected Factory," says manufacturing's "increasing amount of data is poised to change the industry." Thus, factory workers have to become information workers who can sustain total connectivity to the complex, and already automated, factories. This is regardless of whether they work inside or outside those four walls. VDC notes that the only way this can be achieved is to implement mobile technology, which will then allow manufacturers to digitalize paper processes, improve communications and provide full visibility into the complete flow of operations. "That is why investment in automation should be conducted in tandem with investment in mobility solutions, in order to create modern, paperless manufacturing plants that thrive amid new competition," said Holleran. "If your company is evolving from Industry 3.0 to 4.0, make sure to develop your mobility strategy on what I call the mobility trifecta: connectivity, data and hardware. Having seen much of the transition to Industry 3.0 in decades past, it is clear that information access will be the key necessity as companies forge their path, this time, toward Industry 4.0, and this trifecta of factors combines to make that information access achievable."


In addition to the data input capabilities of RFID and scanning technologies so prevalent today, full service mobile technologies provide a gradual step in advancing this industrial wave in manufacturing in several ways such as:

  • Implementing real-time data capture, processing and analytics
  • Exchanging critical information on the spot to solve issues on the plant floor, increasing safety and productivity of the entire plant
  • Enhancing visibility into metrics, and processes for executive leadership and complementary departments into the ongoing process of manufacturing.


"Data is an inarguable key to factory effectiveness, and effective mobile hardware is the link to help connect that data without any loss of time or accuracy," said Holleran. "Why? Let us take an oil exploration company as an example. According to McKinsey & Company, this company collected more than 30,000 pieces of data from its drilling rigs-yet 99% of that data was lost due to problems of data transmission. Executives surveyed by McKinsey said that correcting these data inefficiencies would improve productivity by about 25%. So, in order to ensure the effectiveness of modern factories, systems need to be in place to physically monitor, collect, transmit and communicate each step of the way.

"Wireless connectivity is critical, especially in a tough environment like a factory with sources of interference, and lots of steel, which can attenuate signals. Commercial-grade wireless devices that excel at 802.11ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and RFID are essential. And if these mobile devices will be used outside, anywhere from loading docks to shipping yards to secondary facilities, then LTE WWAN and GPS become important."


As VDC frequently reiterates in its reports and commentary: the only way to truly digitalize the lingering paper processes left in today's factory, to improve communications and to provide complete visibility into the flow of operations from any position on the factory floor will be by way of mobile technology solutions and investment in sustainable hardware. Mobile devices that are connected to the factory's backbone will allow for manuals to be quickly retrieved, and incoming data from the machines to be read, stored and analyzed. This will also allow for tickets to be opened and closed transparently, eliminating frequent duplication.

"This all requires a strong, secure, personal piece of hardware for modern manufacturing's highly skilled, but information-driven, workers," said Holleran. "Rugged tablets are the only mobile platforms built to survive the manufacturing day. They are also the only mobile PC form factor that-in the last 20 years-has consistently proven to reduce manufacturers' overall technology costs. Unlike laptops and handhelds, rugged tablets both truly mobile and fully functioning computers. Plus, they are the only PC device that offers the ideal feature formula for long-term mobile-and IT-platform stability: the fastest processors; expandable memory and storage; upgradeable OS options, enterprise-level security and MDM/EMM; advanced communications technology; all of the required I/O; and, most importantly, internal and external resilience to the hazards of the factory and warehouse.

"Drops onto concrete floors or steel plating, harsh bangs that any computer must endure when mounted on a material handling cart, or the inadvertent tool that is accidently dropped on the mobile device itself are all common incidents in manufacturing and propose risks to both humans and technology. Plus, robot interactions, solvents, extreme temperatures and vibrations can all harm non-rugged devices, making ruggedized tablets with solid state drives (SSDs) the most appropriate choice for manufacturing."

Ultimately, these highly automated factories create two kinds of work environments. For many people-most commonly the line workers-automation isolates their focus to the task at hand by removing distractions. Yet they still need to access and use the data being generated by these automated systems to keep the factory operating at peak performance. Case in point: material handlers will always need more "manual" access to a number of information databases (i.e., inventory, workstation assignments, etc.) to effectively select the right parts noted in the automated request and transport them to the right place at the right time. But such tasks are commonly supported by automated monitoring systems that are shared via mobile or mounted devices, barcode scanners and RFID readers.

"That is why some of the industry's first adopters of rugged tablet technologies-manufacturers that have been using this technology in some basic workflow capacity over the last decade-are seeing a second level of return on their investment today, even ahead of the full Industry 4.0 transition," said Holleran. "Rugged tablets now come with built-in barcode scanners and RFID readers that eliminate the need for multiple peripheral devices, meaning a single rugged tablet can provide complete information mobility to support the user's walking-and-working tasks. Better yet, these same rugged tablets can be mounted onto a forklift or cart as a removable PC option or convert to a desktop platform with ease, eliminating the need for multiple computers for each worker. Rugged tablets' unique adaptability to change means manufacturers can scale workflow management systems, automate business processes, integrate new software and conduct OS or security upgrades without needing to replace the device every time.

"While the pursuit of this process of automation has been underway for some time now, this decade's more recent acceleration of automation capabilities is propelling a greater realization of `what could be' in the coming era as manufacturers gain the ability to more effectively connect, analyze and apply all the data available within their facilities. While Industry 4.0 is still very much in its infancy, there is significant groundwork already being laid as manufacturers invest in technology-driven techniques, creating a technology and financial foundation for the manufacturing model of the future-one that will be intrinsically mobile.

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