Manufacturing AUTOMATION

How the connected factory delivers real business benefits

February 13, 2019
By Jennifer Rideout

Photo: metamorworks/iStock/Getty Images Plus

February 13, 2019 – When you hear the words “connected mobility,” chances are the first thing that comes to mind is Wi-Fi technology that connects mobile devices like smartphones, laptops and tablets. In fact, wireless technology is what enables mobility – and mobility drives data, voice, video and location applications.

For years, manufacturers have used wireless technology on the factory floor to power equipment such as machine sensors and computers. But mobile manufacturing “networks” are key to driving business benefits that come with the connected factory – in particular, higher margins, reduced cycle times and improved equipment productivity.

Building a mobile manufacturing network is not without challenges. The wireless capabilities must be built on a solid foundation with robust security and a common network infrastructure. With this groundwork in place, the mobile environment must then be configured for foundational use cases – data, communication, video and location capabilities.

Data drives valuable manufacturing applications
Operational data is at the core of any manufacturing network, and sensors enable access to that data. For example, some of the most common wireless IoT sensors measure vibration, current, particle, temperature and humidity. The sensors then communicate with secure wireless networks with embedded edge computers that move and reduce the valuable data, and discard the perishable data.


There are countless applications for manufacturing data. These are some of the most common:

  • Wireless tools such as screwdrivers, torque wrenches and scanners
  • Operational metrics such as OEE, MTTR and cycle time
  • Predictive maintenance instead of reactive maintenance (fix it when it breaks) and preventive maintenance (fix after a measured period)
  • Real-time alerts
  • Proactive event management/workflow
  • Optimized material consumption

Communications enhance productivity
Communication is the most tangible and relatable mobility use case. Many manufacturers provide workers with mobile devices such as tablets and smartphones. The productivity benefits are clear – mobile communications enable workers to do their jobs with greater flexibility and manoeuvrability.

Wi-Fi–enabled voice makes it possible to replace licensed use of handheld paid spectrum and cellular fees. With Wi-Fi mobile communicators, everyone on the factory floor gains immediate access to one another, and the ability to receive real-time notifications, pages and safety alert messages.

Video takes communication to the next level
Wireless video has become part of our daily lives for both recreational and business purposes. On the shop floor or in a warehouse, video capabilities – whether on a smartphone or tablet – takes communication to the next level by removing the ambiguity of what may be happening, or has just happened.

Video provides manufacturers with some clear benefits:

  • Dashboards and digital signs operate in real-time, eliminating the need to print and post the latest production metrics
  • Faster response time avoids the need to fly in experts
  • Digital work instructions improve training and quality processes
  • Physical security is enhanced with monitoring for theft, loss and shrinkage

Real-time location provides unique benefits
The ability to automatically identify and track the location of objects or people in real time is considered by many to be the ultimate wireless capability. The availability of real-time location data about assets, tooling and workers provides manufacturers with real business benefits:

  • Improved asset use due to reduced need for “back-ups,” resulting in lower capital costs
  • Optimized physical workflow by visualizing real-time bottleneck locations
  • Eliminating hunting events thanks to knowledge of the location of every asset
  • Enhanced worker safety with the ability to quickly send help to distressed workers

Some location use cases are very simple to implement on a data-capable network. For example, in a worker safety scenario such as “man down,” the push of a button on a worker’s RFID tag or mobile phone triggers a “panic alert.” The panic alert pinpoints the worker’s position so help can be dispatched immediately.

All these benefits of connected mobility are focused on one place – the bottom line. Factory mobility solutions enable essential business benefits like reduced downtime, fewer line stoppages, improved worker efficiency, increased cycle time and higher OEE, all of which contribute to productivity, availability and quality.

Since every dollar spent in manufacturing is tied to return on investment, it’s crucial to map mobility capabilities to those important business needs and benefits.

Jennifer Rideout is the manufacturing marketing manager for Cisco Canada. She is responsible for developing go-to-market strategies for the manufacturing sector in Canada, including channel alignment and content development.

This article originally appeared in the January/February 2019 issue of Manufacturing AUTOMATION. Read the digital edition here.

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