PDA's running Windows Mobile software remain a major part of manufacturing's mobile technology landscape, however the meteoric uptake of smart phones and tablets in the consumer market has also led to a gradual acceptance of these devices across the shop floor as well as into management offices.
According to a recent Gartner research study, CIOs working at manufacturing companies now rank the investment in mobile technologies as a top priority.
This focus will have repercussions on how manufacturers allocate their IT budgets, resulting in greater mobility-related purchases such as smart phones, tablets, mobile security products, wireless networks and, most likely, cloud-based storage services. These types of changes are expected to dramatically impact how processes are executed on the shop floor. To start, users will start requesting to execute production processes, input or view work instructions or evaluate manufacturing intelligence from their hand-held devices.
Access to greater operational intelligence, faster, can also provide sufficient benefits to ensure continued mobility purchases. As manufacturing research, design and production have become such global activities, gaining access and availability to these knowledge workers in real-time, on a 24/7 basis, offers the potential for even further productivity gains from the implementation of mobility solutions.
By replacing paper in maintenance, QA, inspections, audit, observations, work orders for example, manufacturers are operating in real time, saving paper, saving data entry, standardising the process, with the ability to access emails and other company applications while away from the desk; now that most of the warehouse, stock/inventory and material handling functions are automated, manufactures should move into replacing paper in other areas on the manufacturing floor such as recording maintenance of plant and equipment, safety inspections, pre-start checks for heavy machinery, audits, observations, and surveys.
The system for you
While recent surveys reveal Android as the dominate operating system outside the US, industry experts say manufacturers should first ask themselves where is their data?
For example, if you keep your contacts, mail, and calendar in Google, they say you should have Android. However, if you keep your contacts, mail, and calendar in the Apple iCloud, you should have an iPhone. Regardless of the merits of one phone over the other on an app by app, feature by feature basis, what normally matters the most is how seamless the phone integrates with contacts, mail, and calendar.
Although each of the big players provides some grudging accommodation of their competitor's services, the experience is often sub-par. To have the optimal experience, one should stay all Apple, all Android, or all Microsoft.
With 2.4 million tablets sold in Australia last year, Jason Lee, Panasonic Australia - Toughbook Marketing Manager, says the market is booming.
"While that figure includes consumers and industry, what works in consumerland almost always carries over to industry. We expect the industrial tablet market to grow 20% or more this year alone," Lee said.
"Our industrial customers are demanding something portable and rugged to replace a various number of devices, including handhelds, PDAs and laptops. The more mobile the better, but they still need the power of a laptop. A ruggedized tablet is ideal for manufacturers, as well as many other industries.
"Our recently released Toughpad FZ-G1 tablet, for example, is perfect for businesses in mission-critical and mobile roles in sectors such as manufacturing, defence, utilities, mining and healthcare.
"It features a 10.1" sunlight viewable touchscreen with next generation IPS outdoor display technology and WUXGA 1,920 x 1,200 resolution, for easy outside usage, and is powered by an intelligent Intel Core i5-3537U 1.9GHz vPro processor for faster operation and enhanced device management.
"The lightweight tablet boasts military standard specifications, IP65 certification, dust and water resistance, and is able to withstand drops from 1.2m.
"The 1.1kg tablet comes with a 128GB solid state hard drive, with 4GB of RAM, which can be upgraded if necessary."
While it has no built-in keyboard, Lee says it is ideal for manufacturers with check lists. "Plus it can be customised, with a bar code reader for asset tagging, LAN and Serial Ports and/or smart card readers for added security," Lee said.