Integrating Manufacturing Mobile Technology

May 7, 2013

How leveraging mobile devices can optimize plant floor operations

Mobile technology can allow for more flexible and cost-effective ways of accessing manufacturing systems and their associated manufacturing data. Smartphones and tablets can provide a convenient method for accessing a variety of information and resources to a variety of consumers, including:

  • Senior Management (Cost Metrics, Manufacturing Performance, Supply Chain Effectiveness)
  • Plant Management (Operational Efficiency, KPIs, Equipment Utilization)
  • Quality (Field Test Applications, Genealogy, Reporting)
  • Operations Personnel (Human Machine Interfaces [HMIs], Business System/Workflow Software)
  • Maintenance Personnel (Debugging/Commissioning tools, Maintenance/PM Task Management)

Using remote desktop services to leverage mobile devices for anyone, anywhere

One of the most cost-effective and efficient ways of leveraging mobile devices is through IT-centric tools such as Remote Desktop Services (formerly Terminal Services). Microsoft’s Remote Desktop Services and the Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) have been enabling greater accessibility and flexibility of IT systems for over fifteen years. Remote Desktop Services are a major facilitator of the thin-client architecture: allowing dedicated servers to do processor-intensive or high-reliability tasks which can then be managed remotely from various clients on the network. As mobile devices become more tightly integrated within manufacturing IT environments, we have a unique opportunity to leverage our existing technologies to realize new control, data management, and visualization strategies.

Manufacturing computing infrastructure

Remote Desktop Services can already be found in a variety of manufacturing applications today. In their Virtualized PlantPAx System adds Process Flexibility presentation at Automation Fair 2012, Rockwell Automation presented a thin-client solution that uses RDP to make HMI clients available to multiple terminals.

Wireless networking technologies are becoming more prevalent as well. Many manufacturers have already invested heavily in wireless technologies in support of material handling, ASRS, and other wireless devices. These wireless infrastructures can be leveraged to bring new features, applications, and devices to the plant floor.

Deployment of mobile technology in manufacturing

There are many real-world situations where traditional, static HMI terminals are not ideal solutions. While an HMI may be in a convenient location for typical operations, it could be very inconvenient or difficult to access during other activities such as sanitation, maintenance, manual interaction, troubleshooting, or special operational scenarios.

By leveraging wireless (local 802.11a/b/g/n) networks, Remote Desktop Services (RDP), and mobile devices (such as an Apple iPad or Android tablet), the manufacturer can easily create a low cost, mobile HMI without having to develop any custom application software. Typically, the device is protected using a military specification enclosure (MIL-STD-810F) to ensure survivability in a manufacturing environment. This particular military specification means that the device has been tested under the following conditions:

  • Sand/Dust: 3 hours at up to 59 ft/sec
  • Shock/Drop: Concrete floor from 6 feet
  • Wind/Rain: 1 hour at 7.8 inches/hour
  • Vibration: 18 hours at 20-2000 Hz

In this example, the tablet device would use a Remote Desktop Services Client to connect to an existing distributed HMI server application. The application would be available just as it would be on a fixed terminal with the added mobility and convenience of a smartphone or tablet. These mobile devices often come at a lower price point than traditional HMI terminals and require minimal configuration to connect to Remote Desktop Services, making them a cost-effective solution with readily available and easily deploy-able spares.

How to get started with manufacturing mobile technology to optimize your plant floor

The first step to getting started with mobile technologies in your manufacturing environment is to identify features of your existing computing and automation infrastructure that can be leveraged. If you haven’t already, we highly recommend you download our free Operational Excellence Blueprint to gauge your general manufacturing IT preparedness.

Here are few things to consider to determine your facility’s ability to incorporate mobile devices into your existing infrastructure include:

1. Do I have any existing network and server infrastructure that can be leveraged?

a. Have I implemented wireless networking technologies?

2. Do I have existing manufacturing reporting software that would be useful to access on a mobile device?

a. Are the systems browser- or plugin-dependent (for example, do they require Adobe Flash or Microsoft Silverlight)?

b. Are these reports built for touch-based controls?

3. Would I benefit from having my business applications accessible from mobile devices?

a. Do these applications have mobile-friendly variations?

b. Do these applications support Remote Desktop Services?

4. Do I have any HMI/ SCADA systems in house?

a. Do these systems support or include distributed architectures that use Remote Desktop Services?

b. Do I have an existing thin-client architecture that could be expanded to include mobile devices?

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