Eric Lauber, project engineer at Matrix Technologies, a CSIA-certified system integrator, in Maumee, Ohio, reports that, "Mobility means different things. Within a plant, it can mean not being tied to a particular station, and being able to move around. Or, it can mean not being in a plant at all, and accessing applications via tablet PCs and mobile phones off-premises. More recently, some of those tablets can be rated for Class I, Div. 2 safety environments, or comply with non-intrinsically safe (IS) requirements, which are often needed in food processing and petrochemical facilities. The point is, each situation is unique, and we have to ask questions to learn what each one needs."
Before buying and installing mobility devices, Lauber explains it's important for users to ask and answer several questions:
- In what operational area are mobile devices going to be used?
- What restrictions exist in those areas?
- What safety levels are required?
- How durable must the mobile devices be in order to be viable in those settings?
- If durability is unavoidably limited, how many spare devices will likely be needed?
"If you're going to use mobile devices in tank fields and other outdoor applications, they'll also have to deal with inclement weather and need protection, too," says John Lee, department manager of the Manufacturing Systems and Solutions division at Matrix. "These are the same questions we have to answer for cabinets, panels, electronic components and any other equipment in those environments."
Lauber explains, "It may turn out that a mobile device requires a hot work permit in order to be used. In these scenarios, its use must be treated like welding or similar actions. Some recent consumer devices, like the Galaxy Note 7 mobile phone, are known to catch fire, so devices need to be tested and certified for use in industrial areas."
Lee adds that Matrix has always interviewed clients and onsite stakeholders about their business needs, pain points and what they're trying to accomplish before trying to standardize their work processes and further digitize their applications, and that mobility is a logical add-on to this process. "If a customer wants to start using iPad, then we also talk about security because home use is different than proper execution, requirements and solution, safety and protecting intellectual property in manufacturing," he explains. "If staff wants to take tablet PCs home from work, is critical information going with it? There's a lot to be gained with mobility, but users have to follow sensible procedures and best practices."