Look Out, Management, Mobility and Smart Apps Aren't Coming, They're Here!

The Mobile Automation Revolution

The mobile automation revolution isn’t coming, it is already here. It is no longer a question of banning cellphones and laptops in the plant, it is rather a question of how to handle the deluge of mobile devices and smart applications that end-user employees will be bringing into the plant whether you want them to or not.

Many of these smart apps are already available. For example, Sierra Wireless is introducing, today, its AirVantage smart automation program that allows machine to machine and other remote non-time-critical measurements to report via cellphone modem.

Brian Anderson, vice president of marketing, AirVantage, of Sierra Wireless, asked me in the briefing last week if I knew who Sierra Wireless was. “Of course,” I replied, “I have a Sierra Wireless Cellphone Modem in my pocket, right now.” Yes, it is that Sierra Wireless.

Anderson went on to introduce me to the new “AirVantage” launch from Sierra Wireless. It allows you to connect seamlessly and securely from an asset (say a PLC or embedded controller) to a cloud-based services platform via an applications toolkit that is based on open standards and allows development in Java and in Android operating system. It includes AirLink intelligent gateways and routers, AirPrime intelligent embedded modules that can be built into the asset from the beginning, and the AirVantage Developer Suite.

Anderson discussed two applications. One, with Schneider Electric, is a Vehicle Charging Station for electric vehicles—an up and coming business model. Rather than having to invest in the satellite technology that oil company service stations have, AirVantage made it possible for Schneider to use the ad-hoc COTS cell network, and save overhead and money.

The second app, less process automation oriented, is the control of rolling billboards for CBS Outdoor.

Sierra Wireless recognizes other opportunities in water and wastewater pump station control and alarming, solar, wind and hydro generation, oilfield, building energy management, and a variety of remote machine monitoring applications.

According to Anderson, because AirVantage is hosted in the cloud in secure, backed up data centers, there are no IT costs, there is immediate startup, and the system is highly scalable.

This is just an example of what's coming, folks. Managements who try to keep this movement out of control rooms and out of the hands of operators and maintenance techs will be like King Canute trying to order the tide to stop coming in.