Manufacturing AUTOMATION

Make mobile apps work for your manufacturing operation

October 22, 2018
By Kristina Urquhart

October 22, 2018 – Industry 4.0 and the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) was, unsurprisingly, the topic of conversation at last month’s International Manufacturing Technology Show (IMTS) in Chicago. We’ve been writing about this monumental shift in the industry for years now, but connected manufacturing is really only starting to trickle down to the SMEs that make up much of Canada’s output. The reason why it’s been a slow start is obvious: cost. So maybe the better question to ask is, why now?

At IMTS, Will Healy III, marketing management director for Balluff Inc., answered the million-dollar question in his presentation called “An Introduction to Smart Manufacturing, IIoT and Industry 4.0 & Why You Should Care.”

“Why are we investing in automation? It is to improve productivity,” he said. He noted that modernization is long overdue, citing sobering stats from ARC Advisory Group that $65 billion in automation systems are reaching end-of-life, with four in 10 manufacturers having little to zero visibility into the real-time status of their operations. And 50 per cent of manufacturers become aware of a problem only after a breakdown happens.

Data and devices are what help move a manufacturer from mere maintenance or even preventative maintenance – which has an 82 per cent random failure pattern – to predictive maintenance, or anticipating problems before they happen for improved uptime. Those devices may be RFID readers that track parts, sensors that push data through I-O Link or tablets that run monitoring or workflow apps. Healy says that at this point, manufacturers need to be using tablets in their operations “or you will fall behind.” Our writer Treena Hein explores some of the ways tablets and apps are advancing the industry in our feature “It’s All About Apps.” 


But before you go out and buy up a bunch of tablets, you need to figure out how they are going to fit into your organization. Determining your company’s objectives is fundamental to navigating the IIoT world, says Healy. Some of the common goals he mentioned are reduction of manufacturing costs, higher machine availability, traceability, reducing downtime and improving product quality, but there may be others.

He recommends several steps to incorporate mobile devices into your business. The first is to build a team composed of a variety of people in your organization, from plant managers to engineers to operators to maintenance to IT, to determine who needs what data. Establishing what you do and don’t need to know is key, because, as Healy says, “If you have too much data, you have zero data.”

Then you need to investigate that data and ascertain a strategy before you attempt to get buy-in and a budget from the powers that be. After you obtain the go-ahead, data is “about action. Make small changes every day,” Healy advises. The goal should always be to optimize the data to work for you.

Have you successfully incorporated mobile devices into your manufacturing business? Tell us about it at

This editorial originally appeared in the October 2018 issue of Manufacturing AUTOMATION

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