Expanding use cases for mobile and wearable technology in manufacturing

Taken from an in depth article on Manufacturing.net by Nick Castellina, Director of industry and solution strategy at Infor.  Castellina starts by considering why access to real time data is often a challenge and how manufacturers are increasingly turning to mobile solutions and wearable technology in order to give workers access to the data they need.  He looks at how the wearables market is evolving, drawing from research data.

The article next takes a closer look at use-cases and benefits, and how understanding the driving factors and industry trends helps plant managers weigh the pros and cons of investing in mobile and wearable technology.  Nine examples are then given of the ever-expanding use cases for wearable technology and mobile applications continue to expand. Here are nine examples of when and where these technologies provide major benefits:

  1. Role-based Workbenches and Dashboards. Modern Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) solutions often contain role-based workbenches and dashboards to help personnel manage their own Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) and ongoing responsibilities—whether that be maintaining safety stock levels, monitoring resources committed to Engineer-to-Order orders, or optimizing supply chain deliveries for just-in-time strategies. However, these tools only work if they can be used when and where the user needs them. That could be on the shop floor, in the warehouse or at the loading dock. Therefore, remote access through mobile or handheld devices is essential.
  2. Empowering Always-alert Executives. Top managers of business units and the shop floor are often vigilant watchdogs. They want to stay connected 24/7 to real-time status alerts, especially when the plant runs three shifts or has global operations in different time zones. Portals for remote access for personnel and partners are increasingly important, as global operations, “work from home” and outsourcing business models are more widely adopted.
  3. Internet of Things (IoT) Data Where it Counts. Manufacturers are increasingly embedding sensors in machinery and capturing performance and maintenance-related data points through IoT technology. It is logical that maintenance managers and technicians should have access to the data near the machine. As the user approaches the piece of equipment, a real-time diagnostic view of the machinery and its components can appear on a hand-held device. The screen can highlight key performance stats and red-flag any anomalies requiring attention, giving the technician the vitals needed to perform any necessary maintenance or repairs quickly.
  4. Training and Onboarding. As the shortage of skilled workers continues to plague manufacturing, often less experienced, junior-level candidates are brought on board, requiring extensive in-plant training. The complexity and high value of machine assets make plant managers reluctant to assign inexperienced technicians to perform maintenance on those assets. Augmented Reality (AR) can be used for training, giving users the chance to visualize machine issues and “practice” engaging with the high-tech tools and repair tactics. This gives new recruits valuable experience.
  5. Supervising Remote Workers. Video cameras mounted on hard-hats can also be used to support junior-level technicians in the field. The video can be streamed to a central locale, where a veteran technician provides advice and supervises activities remotely. This helps the new technician learn the “tribal knowledge” and speeds resolutions.
  6. Faster Resolution Rates.Whether field service technicians are dispatched to customer sites or in-plant to perform maintenance or service, the timely access to asset details — like service history, inventory of replacement parts, the status of warranties or service agreements, and previous resolutions—will help technicians make well-informed decisions about repair versus replace.
  7. Upsell and Replacement Opportunities.Field technicians with access to account information and inventory details will be able to make in-field recommendations to customers and sell replacement or up-sell equipment on the spot — when the purchase decision is critical. Technicians, seen as trusted advisors, tend to have very high close-rates for on-site sales.
  8. Tracking and Monitoring Personnel.Some plants can be massive, covering many buildings, yards, and warehouses. Assets can range from pipelines and rail lines to rooftop exhaust scrubbers and barges for hauling raw resources. That said, personnel can be scattered over a wide vicinity. Some locations may also pose dangers. Wearables, like vests equipped with GPS tracking, can be used to help monitor the location of employees, supporting safety and security, as well as encouraging productivity.
  9. Speed Pick-and-Pack in the Warehouse. Warehouse functions are some of the most relevant and valuable applications of wearable devices. Wrist-mounted, glasses-view, or dashboard-displayed screens help forklift drivers to find and fulfill orders quickly. The loading and unloading trucks also appreciate the ability to confirm order numbers verbally rather than trying to type long series of digits accurately.


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