Information Wants to Be Everywhere

How Ya Gonna Keep 'Em Down at the Plant Now That They Got an iPad for Christmas?

By Nancy Bartels

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Taming the Beast

Integrating smart phones and tablets into your operation is in many respects no different than any other project. Begin by having a clear idea of what it is you want to accomplish, adds Brooks. "Focus on the objectives. You can't afford to deploy it just because it's cool technology. You do it because there's a real business advantage."
Invensys's Mohrmann adds, "First decide what process improvement you want to make. See what others have done. Then get a scope to the project. Go about it in a step-by-step way."

Then focus on the risks. Bob Huba, DeltaV product manager and cybersecurity expert at Emerson, says, "Make sure that people understand the dangers. They need to understand how [mobile access] can create problems."
Emerson's Peterson adds, "Map the solution out. Lay out the architectures. Configure everything and roll out the solution in a methodical fashion. Then check it out after it's done. You can absolutely do a secure system. It's really a matter of coordinating a good plan and then executing it."

You will also need a holistic view of your wireless operation, says Brooks. "Spectrum is a finite resource. It's a shared medium, and you need strong policies and procedures to control access. That may be the single biggest challenge. You have to have an integrated wireless network, because isolated ones don't work."

Which brings us to the knotty problem of the relationship between your operations and IT departments. You can't successfully bring these mobility tools on to the plant floor without some input from IT. "There's going to be some resistance on the part of IT," says Honeywell's Stearns. "The IT group has to be the enabler. The control system might look at everything below Level 2. IT might not even care about that."

"You need to get the decision-maker on the operations side," recommends Transpara's Saucier. "IT often wags the dog and doesn't want to do the security to make these tools available. In companies that have embraced the idea that IT is a support function, there is no push-back."

Consider starting small. Take a page from Dow's playbook and try out a pilot project in one area. "Try to roll it out in part of the plant. See if it meets your objectives. Then roll it out elsewhere," recommends Cisco's Miller.

Or look for an easy win. Western Power, an Australian electricity provider, gave Blackberries equipped with Transpara's mobile application to 1100 technicians in trucks all over Western Australia so they could better monitor their substations. The entire rollout went from prototype to use in one week, according to Saucier.

If Not Now, When?

So, you're not ready to wrap your head around iPads on the factory floor and Android phones for all your engineers? Well, you can hold out, of course, but you may have to cave eventually.

"This is looking like a when, not an if. There's going to be a plethora of innovations," says Brooks. "In manufacturing, we are going to have to have solutions that allow things to be displayed on iPhones and Blackberries because their usefulness has been proven. We can't stop these commercial devices coming into the manufacturing zone. People will find ways of using them if they make their jobs easier. It's better to work with disruptive technologies rather than block them. People will accept ‘yes, but,' but typically, they won't accept 'no.' "


Nancy Bartels is Control's Managing Editor.

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