Integrating Manufacturing Field Workers with Certified Technologies

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Manufacturing operations rely on highly coordinated processes involving multiple teams, equipment sets and locations. Communication and data-sharing among these groups is important for each step of each process to be carried out quickly and accurately so that the finished product is produced with optimal efficiency and quality.

When manufacturing field workers – inspectors, repairmen, technicians, consultants and other mobile personnel – are able to communicate and access data in real time, they can better perform their jobs, and manufacturing operations can run more smoothly. Additionally, connecting field workers with mobile technologies can help to break down data silos between segments of manufacturing operations, integrating information technology (IT) in company management with operations technology (OT) on the manufacturing floor, for improved productivity throughout a manufacturing organization.

Equipping Field Workers for Manufacturing Integration

Although a recent by CDW revealed that 80% of all employees bring a smartphone to work and most use at least one app to improve productivity and performance, manufacturing has generally been slow to adopt mobility for field workers. Still, advanced digital applications are making data capture and sharing easier than ever in manufacturing operations. Manufacturing environments that involve potentially combustible materials pose a greater challenge to real-time communications because mobile devices must be certified as safe for use in those environments. Intrinsically safe tablets are a means of bringing industrial and business applications into hazardous manufacturing operations to enable field workers to perform their jobs more quickly and accurately.

Advantages of Mobility in Manufacturing Operations Management (MOM)

Incorporating mobile applications into Manufacturing Operations Management (MOM) strategies can help turn real-time manufacturing data into actionable information. Connecting manufacturing field workers with mobile devices makes them more efficient by enabling them to capture in-field insights and analytics.

Intrinsically safe tablets offer advantages for manufacturing field workers by providing:
- Portable activities: Field workers can use mobile apps to receive and share information, consult checklists, fulfill orders, conduct inspections, be alerted or alert about problems, and provide updates on job orders or asset integrity. They can also use tablets to access customer information and other documentation, manage scheduling and communicate with team members in real time without having to leave the field.

- Familiar UI: Tablets are user-friendly and offer a similar interface that field workers are accustomed to with personal devices. Intrinsically safe Windows tablets allow workers to use the same basic applications they already know, including Microsoft Teams, Outlook, etc., to chat, send emails, take photos/video and other business-related task in the field. They can typically use the same industry-specific apps on their tablets that they would use in an office setting, making fieldwork simple and efficient.

- Real-time Action and Prediction: Field workers with mobile solutions can be alerted of errors or faults in operations and act to fix them immediately. Tablets that display operations data in real time help to increase situational awareness and enable technicians to assess and address issues in the field and improve their ability to get ahead of future potential problems.

- HSE and Lone Worker Alerts: Incorporating wearables and health monitoring apps into manufacturing workers’ mobile technology repertoire can help to ensure they are not only healthy and safe but are also staying within approved geographically defined areas to prevent accidents.

- Location-based Monitoring and Asset Tracking: Knowing exactly where people and parts are located at any given moment in the manufacturing process makes operations more predictable and safer. Certified tablets with NFC, barcode, RFID or other tracking software can identify asset tags for improved inventory and can also track the movement of those assets from concept to distribution.

- ROI: Tablets are a cost-efficient means of connecting dispersed manufacturing workers across a facility or among multiple locations. Providing workers with the ability to complete tasks on-the-go saves time, which, in turn, makes for a positive return on investment. Additionally, tablets and the software they run can be easily upgraded over time.

Distributing Data for Increased Integration Across Manufacturing

Manufacturing has followed the trend of functional integration of IT and OT, integrating an entire business for improved production. IT/OT convergence gives every person, machine, sensor, and device accurate information at the right time to improve operational efficiencies and lower production costs.

Manufacturing could be made more efficient and accurate with data from various divisions, including engineering, logistics, supply chain, sales and marketing and quality assurance, for optimal operation. But those data sets are often tied up in “data silos” of information that are not shared among departments. This disconnect can result in loss of efficiency and quality.

Intrinsically safe tablets can bridge the divide between data silos by easily sharing information among connected field workers. By providing all personnel access to all information surrounding a manufacturing operation, tablets enable teams to carry out interconnected processes more intelligently and seamlessly.

In addition to tablets that connect people to data, IIoT sensors and automation are helping connect all parts of a “smart manufacturing” business to function holistically by sharing data. Some manufacturers are even beginning to sell predictive maintenance or other software-as-a-service to integrate with hardware for complete solutions that can be used throughout an operation, from office to field. Integrating field operations with the rest of the organization’s activities helps to form Industry 4.0 systems that enable entire operations to perform more efficiently and boost productivity.

Talk to Aegex Technologies to learn how integrating your field technicians with intrinsically safe tablets can help improve efficiency in your manufacturing operations.