Manufacturing AUTOMATION

Why mobile apps are increasingly important for the industry

June 9, 2017
By Paulo Jorge de Almeida ecom

Jun. 9, 2017 – The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) gathers pace by connecting people, machines, plants, logistics, products as well as processes and systems.

Smartphones, tablets, sensors and smart HMI systems form the cornerstones of this new technological age in the industry. However, the real advantage and added value of digital and mobile solutions emerge from the integration of a wide range of professional applications. Paulo Jorge de Almeida, system engineer at ecom, explains why applications and software solutions – in addition to innovative hardware – are becoming increasingly important in industries with hazardous areas. They streamline not only a production step, but a whole value-added chain.
Next step: Collaborative working
Many industrial companies with extensive terrain or explosive areas today continue to use outdated technologies to plan, execute, manage and control their business processes. Employees are not well integrated in the flow of information and due to a lack of alternatives, certifications or purely out of habit (“we’ve always done it this way”), many tasks are still being performed with clipboard and paper. These archaic methods bring increased risk and inflexibility to the business, being error‐prone and inefficient. This also leads to mobile workers carrying more than they should when walking around the site, creating a potential safety issue and affecting the wellbeing of their workforce.
With industry-leading, intrinsically safe 4G/LTE Android smartphones and tablets – certified up to Division 1 and Zone 1/21 – employees, experts, teams, and project groups can now use professional industry applications in hazardous areas to work and live faster and more agile, while profiting from a step change in flexibility and future-proofing. Collaborative work on mobile devices goes even further than simply calling a colleague for assistance – it enables the mobile worker to fulfill their work efficiently and safely — at any location, at any time, and with any mission or business-critical information at hand in real time.
Video conferencing applications are one of the best example of how mobile wireless solutions in hazardous areas open up new ways of communication for documentation, remote diagnostics and maintenance purposes. At the point of inspection or while maintenance work is executed, the mobile worker simply streams videos directly from the hazardous area to experts or the responsible members at the control centre or any other place. This allows a remote diagnosis in real time and to initiate appropriate measures or repairs immediately without losing valuable time and the need of a specialist to visit the facility or offshore platform in person. Furthermore, with push-to-talk applications, smartphones or tablets can also be interconnected with existing radio infrastructure such as LMR, Tetra or DMR. This makes it possible to share and receive – e.g. via group calls – real-time information on assets – thus, expensive breakdown and repair times can be significantly reduced.
Make better decisions and increase productivity
Competitive, productivity and profitability advantages of the IIoT can only be exploited with a high level of information density along the entire decision-making and process chain. An important element of the decision-making process is, for example, the mobile dashboard. Executives have data and knowledge provided live by employees responsible for the production and operation of plants, comprehensive and manageable at their fingertips, thereby enabling them to act proactively rather than reactively — to identify trends, and to make data-driven predictions. In short, executives make better decisions.
As a result, employees can concentrate fully on their respective tasks on site by using digital workflows and orders. Planning apps integrated into ERP systems serve to visualize the assignments, personnel, resources, live monitoring, execution and much more. The specific procedures and measures can be individually assigned to the technicians and mechanics. The mobile worker is shown the assignment on their smartphone or tablet display. Once the job is done, he or she can record on the mobile device which process steps and tasks were completed, how much time was needed and if so, what materials were used. A suitable application automatically transmits this information to the ERP system. In the absence of an Internet connection, the data can also be read in offline and is immediately updated in the documentation when the company network is accessed again. This helps to improve workflows, enabling mobile workers to cut down on time spent on administrative tasks at the end of each day, while significantly increasing wrench-time.
Data capture redefined
Professional data capture applications in combination with the right intrinsically safe mobile devices provide several advantages for businesses operating in hazardous areas. The most obvious advantage is the cost effectiveness, as no additional hardware for scanning assets is needed. Using specialized software packages also helps to prevent unwanted outages. Since the app is designed to integrate with other applications and backend systems, its use has a direct impact on work process effectiveness and visibility, reacting faster to anomalies, streamlining decision-making and ultimately reducing costs.
Besides, as many engineering managers will know only too well, descriptions of equipment and assets can vary widely depending on the engineer reporting the problem. These variations often cause confusion and waste time since identical assets and equipment cannot be differentiated when being transferred to backend systems. By scanning and entering data directly into input fields of various applications and minimizing the use of free-hand text, mobile workers begin to record more consistent data. This enables easier manual or even automated analysis and reduces the risk of human error. Thus, incorrect input and poorly transcribed records can be avoided entirely.
Mobile communication of the future
Mobile apps have not only changed our daily life, but also our way of working. From minor applications, such as a barcode scanner, to major integrated software solutions developed specifically for individual customers, all these applications provide greater efficiency and productivity, not only in industries with hazardous areas. Ex-certified smartphones, tablets and peripherals form the technological basis for networked applications, which will be the decisive factor for corporate success in the upcoming years.
Paulo Jorge de Almeida is a specialist in application engineering consulting. ecom is a global provider of integrated solutions and mobile computing and communication devices for use in potentially hazardous areas as found in the chemical, petrochemical, pharmaceutical, oil and gas, mining, power generation, and food and beverage industries.

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