Mobile technology and tablet computing is transforming our factory floors and warehouses.
Industrial and rugged computing devices ("rugged tablets") are specifically designed to meet military, field service, construction, and other special needs. Some are completely sealed to protect against circulating dust or particles that could damage a regular device. In the past few years, we have seen widespread adoption of features like solid state drives for better performance and power usage, and scratch-resistant, durable screen materials such as Gorilla Glass.
In the future we may see more embedded "predictive" technology that will be able to better understand your universe and even predict next actions and allocate computing power predictively. Already, some phones react to spoken voice (like SIRI) or use things like facial processing algorithms to react to their users. We may be heading towards an optimal device size for monitoring, testing, viewing and manipulating data (smaller is not necessarily better).
Finally, new battery technology will revolutionize what we can do with our devices, where we take them, and for how long. To read the complete article by Tom Callahan of QRC Technologies on the evolution and future of rugged devices, click here.
How can these rugged tablets be used in a distribution business? This article by Derek Oja for MobileDemand lists ways they can increase operational efficiency by improving your warehouse management system, leveraging standards and monitoring productivity:
- Warehouse Management: Instead of employees traveling between the warehouse and the office to pick up their next assignment, managers can send assignments directly to an employee's tablet device. This not only saves time, but gives managers more leeway in assigning the right job to the right employee. This kind of dynamic task management can also help bundle work assignments into logical groups to maximize employee efficiency. Voice enabled tablets that direct employees' work frees up their hands and eyes to focus on the task at hand instead of shifting back and forth between instructions and work tasks. These simple changes to warehouse management and the effective use of mobile technology hold great promise in boosting operational efficiency.
- Leveraging Standards: Establishing a set of best practices, standards and methods is important to a company's success. Busnesses can gain labor productivity by using technology to leverage those standards in daily operations. Having standards in place helps managers to know exactly how much time each task should take, allowing for automatic forecasting and planning and sharing of those plans via mobile technology. Appropriate planning cuts down on employee down time and expensive overtime as managers react to operational changes. Managers can also make quicker adjustments to the future work schedule and the day-to-day schedule by monitoring progress throughout the day. Mobile technologies allow for these changes and more importantly, communication about the changes, to happen instantaneously instead of over several hours or days.
- Monitor Productivity: You won't know if changes to your warehouse management or the implementation of standards has boosted your operational efficiency until you monitor productivity. Tablets can allow managers to monitor productivity in real time and make instant adjustments in addressing problems like congested aisles or low batteries. Managers can also keep track of employees' indirect time — time spent on breaks, cleaning workspaces, moving equipment — and help manage that time more efficiently or offer employee incentives for limiting indirect time.
iPad Enclosures is one company which has developed a warehouse management system centered around tablets. To quote from their website, "The goal – bring the right data to the right individual on the floor at the right time. There is no need to replace any of your current data models; we take the data provided by your accounting, order creation or mid-level warehouse management system – convert that data to the proper format – and then feed that data to the various tablets used within your facility.
Users are then able to either capture a rich flow of data, or to be presented with appropriate data or instructions. The power and accuracy of an RF gun, the freedom of not having to carry a RF heavy gun in one hand, the expansive screen of the iPad bringing more data than ever to the user and finally, industry leading Tablet Director software orchestrating the perfect communication of data from host to tablet and back to host."
Motion Computing is another company offering a tablet-based solution for the manufacturing industry. They claim that their tablets and software "help manufacturing firms realize greater efficiencies in production & logistics functions by streamlining supply chain management, materials management, plant floor operations, quality control and inventory management."
But what if you don't want to invest many thousands into a full mobile solution? Well, there's an app for that - sort of. According to this article by Jonathan Katz for Industry Week, manufacturers lag other sector in the adoption of emerging IT trends, says Ajit Mhaiskar, principal architect for Infosys' manufacturing practice. "Adoption of mobile apps in the discrete manufacturing sector is primarily limited to a few consumer-facing applications," Mhaiskar says.
Integrating mobile apps to the plant infrastructure, including the ability to support multiple device platforms, manage security and build applications, is a major challenge for manufacturers, Mhaiskar says. In the next three to five years, more manufacturers will adopt mobile apps to offer value-added services to clients, including programs that work with smart appliances, Mhaiskar says.
- TaktCalc. This app allows you to evaluate your manufacturing processes on the shop floor. Designed to be used as a tool for professional process control engineers familiar with the principles of Demand Flow Technology, TaktCalc will aid computing kanban sizes and operational takt times. Price: $4.99.
- Line Lab. This app lets engineers quickly apply queuing theory. It calculates wait times, asset utilization and total processing times. Price: Free.
- Martin’s Engineering Tools of the Trade. Developed by Martin Sprocket & Gear Inc., this app contains more than 200 formulas and conversions needed by mechanical engineers. It includes formulas for design horsepower, drive speed ratio, outside diameter of gears, circular pitch for gears, worm ratio, gear ratios, mass, kinetic energy, largest pulley load, centrifugal force, direct current, shear stress, polar moment of inertia, and measurement conversions. Price: Free.
- Engineering Professional. This app contains more than 650 formulas for chemical, civil, electrical, environmental, hydrological and mechanical engineering. Price: $11.99.
- Part Tracker. This app helps track the progress of a project. Use the camera on your smart phone to take photos of each step. The app then allows you to add descriptions of each part in the photo, set part assembly order, tag parts with identifiers, and write assembly instructions. Price: Free.
And don't forget these manufacturer apps we have previously talked about on this blog:
and of course, our friends at Rubber Tree Systems with Tribute and TrulinX Mobile