Industrial mobility: The new normal

Industrial information software now allows you to create, modify, personalize and access your own displays of business and process information in the office, at the machine, at home or on any mobile device.

By Theresa Houck, executive editor, The Journal

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How many of you take your personal smartphone or tablet on the plant floor or to the business office, or see coworkers with their mobile devices? Does your company use mobile devices for industrial purposes? It’s happening more and more, and because of that, today's industrial information software is adapting too.

Industrial information software now allows you to create, modify, personalize and access your own displays of business and process information in the office, at the machine, at home or on any mobile device. The software’s dashboard on your device doesn’t have to look like everyone else’s; it can contain the specific information you need. You can access historical and real-time data reports from anywhere, anytime.

It’s no surprise mobility is changing the way managers, engineers, operators, technicians and others are working in the business office, the production plant and the field. Three trends have been leading to this advancement:

 1.      Growth in consumer devices, which is driven primarily by device manufacturers focusing on the user experience and moving away from single-use devices. “This isn’t stopping — it’s not a fad,” said Kyle Reissner, mobility platform leader at Rockwell Automation, during a recent webcast hosted by IndustryWeek. “And it’s driving a lot of small productivity gains. Although a lot of people have these in their pockets, there’s a lack of industrial software that’s tailored to these devices.”

2.      Increased network access, which enables external network connectivity of the control system up to the business system so information reaches a broader set of people. Users are asking their automation suppliers about consuming that data, not just providing it. “That’s a huge market trend and shift from isolated protected control systems to being able to share tidbits of information or, in some cases, entire pipes of information to the external world that’s never been privy to that information before,” Reissner said. “At Rockwell Automation, we call that The Connected Enterprise.”

3.      Continued productivity demandsfor automation system providers helps users better utilize assets, increase uptime and equipment efficiency, and generally do more with less.

It’s all about context

A change in thinking also is contributing to the usefulness of mobile devices in the industrial setting. In the industrial software world, "What has been primarily a machine and product focus is becoming systems thinking," said Ryan Cahalane, director of software product development, control and visualization business, Rockwell Automation, at the 2014 Automation Fair event in Anaheim, California.

"This has been common for some time in the process industries, and now it's everywhere," he explained. “People want to layer in context and collaborate across sites, whether it's a multi-facility global food and beverage conglomerate, a pharmaceutical manufacturer contracting out a plant, or an industrial machinery OEM that wants to see how its equipment is operating around the world.

“The ability to view, navigate and share information is being combined with portability and mobility to make it so operators, engineers and managers never have to leave their work,” Cahalane continued. “With smart phones, tablets and laptops, they can access their choice of content, subscribe to feeds and personalize their own dashboards with the exact machine, system and business information they need or want to do their job in the best possible way for them.”

The philosophy is being applied to conventional operations technology (OT) and IT, but also for management. "In mining, you have your factory on wheels. The owners can monitor it, and so can the equipment suppliers," said Cahalane. "In automotive, suppliers of turnkey lines can see their equipment all over the world to determine and share best practices for operation and maintenance."

Mobility at Tyson Foods

A prime example of mobility making a difference is at a Tyson Foods plant near Ft. Worth, Texas. The corn dog facility makes 120 million lbs. annually, collecting data from throughout the plant, with 1,500 data points. They’re running a mobility pilot program using FactoryTalk VantagePoint EMI Mobile from Rockwell Automation.

“Our goals are to use data to improve transition from sanitation to production; produce end-of-day production reports more efficiently; enhance food safety traceability; and promote communication and flexibility,” explained Jon Riechert, senior corporate engineer for innovation at Tyson Foods, during the IndustryWeek webinar.

Riechert said the production plant has many different areas that must communicate with each other and see what’s happening, and mobility provides visibility using the plant’s wireless network.

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