Waze saves the bacon

Mobile means you can get the information you need, wherever you are, in real time.

By Paul Studebaker

When it’s time to get in a car and go somewhere, you can bet I’m a Luddite. The newest of my machines was built in 2005. They have three pedals, no screens and of course, no WiFi. But I do carry a smart phone and lately, I’ve been using the navigation app Waze—not to find my way, but to check to see if the current traffic and road conditions mean it would be more efficient to take a different route. Waze uses real-time global positioning information from Waze users in other cars to detect slow-downs, and revises my routing in real time to avoid accidents, construction and traffic jams. It also reports police sightings, objects on the roadway, red light cameras and more. Several times, it has kept me from missing flights and appointments when my usual fast route, the one I’ve found through years of experimenting and experience, is currently jammed up.

I’m sure you have your own examples of the power of delivering intelligent guidance to a machine operator or maintenance technician in real time. To me, this is the most exciting aspect of mobile technology. When you’re on the road or in the field and need to be warned or guided, or you hit a traffic jam or snag and need information you don’t have, mobile can prevent serious problems, enable greater efficiency and save a lot of lost time by telling you exactly what to do next.

The power of mobile has not been ignored by automation companies. One of the most advanced is Rockwell Automation, whose Rockwell Software group last year announced FactoryTalk TeamONE at the 2016 Automation Fair event. When TeamONE was first introduced as an initiative called Project Stanton at Rockwell Automation TechED in 2015, it was in the context of a mobile HMI and presented alongside FactoryTalk VantagePoint, ViewPoint and Batch. I saw it as sort of like a GPS—useful, but not essential if you know what you’re doing, and a little gimmicky. (As a Luddite, I don’t use a GPS to find my way, because I want to know where I’m going.)

But TeamONE is really more like Waze. It’s not just a way to get an HMI into your pocket—it’s a way to use mobility to optimize operations. The free app allows users to receive notifications, share incidents, ask questions and talk with other TeamONE users in their facility and on their plant floor.

Last year, TeamONE’s development team declared its mission is “to increase productivity by a minimum of 33 seconds per hour instantly for every industrial role with zero friction. Doing that for a plant that has 2,000 people, on average, could move the productivity needle by $1.4 million per year.”

I wonder how that’s working out. I’ll be at the 2017 Automation Fair events November 13-16 in Houston, where I expect to hear what plants have been able to do with the first version of TeamONE, the improvements Rockwell Automation has made over the past year, and the outlook for future capabilities.

According to the preliminary agenda, Session T66, “Technology Innovations and Collaboration Tools to Improve Operations Management,” will talk about a “collaborative mobile app” that allows you to see and share operational information to improve performance and reduce downtime.

For the cyber-leery, Session T83, “Identity and Mobility in Converged Plantwide Ethernet (CPwE) Architectures,” will describe a defense-in-depth security approach that enforces authentication and authorization policies for users of mobile devices running applications such as FactoryTalk TeamONE.

Maybe I’ll see you there. If you get lost on the way, try Waze.