February 1, 2016 / best practices, continuous improvement, industry news, productivity, quality, Safety, strategic planning, workflow process
There is no question that mobile technology has transformed the consumer and corporate worlds. Having instant access to people and information has enabled conveniences and efficiencies we have all come to expect. However, the constant barrage of information typically brings some distraction along with it—a fact that has some manufacturers questioning whether or not mobile technology belongs on the shop floor.
Of course, some of this concern is founded. While distraction can certainly cause delays in productivity, it also presents some serious safety concerns, especially for machine operators. In fact, one machine shop, featured here in Modern Machine Shop magazine, banned cell phone use in their facility to avoid a hike in their insurance premiums. The machine shop said the ban has also increased productivity and even helped it win a new customer.
However, that’s not to say that there isn’t room for any mobile technology on the floor. Quite the opposite is true. A growing number of manufacturers are finding that technology has plenty of applications, especially when it comes to streamlining work processes and eliminating paperwork. For example, a customer survey conducted by software provider Canvas found that companies are using mobile apps for the following tasks, most of which used to be paper-based:
- Inspections (46%)
- Work Orders (31%)
- Checklists (28%)
- Surveys (19%)
- Invoices (15%)
- Inventories (8%)
- Other (34%)
An article from Forbes states that mobile technology is not only becoming more prevalent in manufacturing, it is revolutionizing the industry. “CEOs prioritizing the strategic importance of mobile technologies are driving a revolution in manufacturing today,” the Forbes article says. “Designing mobility into new production strategies, processes and procedures is bringing greater accuracy and speed to production centers. Augmenting existing processes with mobility is delivering solid efficiency gains. The net result is greater communication, collaboration and responsiveness to customer-driven deadlines and delivery dates than has been possible before.”
From quality audits and checklists to electronic work instructions (EWI) and real-time alerts, leading companies are finding a host of ways to use mobile technologies in their manufacturing environments. But before you go investing in a boxful of tablets and software apps, there are some considerations. An article from American Machinist offers seven tips for managers who want to bring mobility into their operation. Below are five of the tips (you can read the full seven here):
- Evaluate readily available solutions. Instead of assuming you have to start from scratch, inquire about the mobile offerings from manufacturing operations’ management, quality management, maintenance management, environment, health, and safety, and other solutions providers with hosted or on-premise solutions already deployed in your manufacturing environment.
- Avoid extra hardware investment. For a reasonable ROI, it’s important to prioritize investments that do not require specialized hardware beyond the mobile device, where possible. This could include work-issued mobile devices like tablets or smart phones, or you may want to consider instituting a bring-your-own-device (BYOD) policy.
- Prioritize user-interface (UI) simplicity. During the selection process, focus on strength of the user interface, user experience, and general intuitiveness of the solution. Generally, people demand the usability of products like the iPhone, where they can start making use of it with little time or direction.
- Remember that success leads to success. Mobile solutions for all aspects of manufacturing are emerging fairly quickly, which increases the pressure to choosing the right solution. Actual case studies and ROI analyses (when possible) should be required during the solution selection process.
- Take advantage of native functionality. With advances in smartphone functionality happening every year, solutions should be evaluated with the understanding of what the host device is capable of doing. For example, if a corrective action app cannot incorporate pictures as attachments to support root-cause analyses, there probably is another, similarly priced solution that can do it.
In the end, there is a lot to consider before choosing the right mobile technologies for your shop, but most manufacturers are finding it is worth “going mobile” on some level. In fact, according to PwC’s 18th Annual Global CEO Survey, mobility is the top technology priority among industrial manufacturing CEOs.
If mobility isn’t on your radar yet, you may want to seriously reconsider. Slowly but surely, industrial manufacturers are finding that there is indeed “an app for that,” which means your metal-cutting operation may be missing out on some prime opportunities for efficiency gains and cost savings.