For manufacturers, embracing mobile technology is a critical step towards full digital transformation. Using apps on phones, tablets and other mobile devices enables your firm to become much more efficient and to use real-time data to make better decisions faster.

Smart factories are using revolutionary technologies to increase productivity and drive revenue. These include cloud and hybrid computing, artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, augmented reality, and the industrial Internet of Things (IoT).

Mobile devices are at the heart of these technologies as they can enable your managers and workers to access them with ease, and at scale, to create an agile, responsive and collaborative organisation.

A key aspect of this revolution is improvements in connectivity in the form of next generation 5G internet and low power wide area networks (LPWAN).

In conjunction with technologies such as the IoT and AI, this connectivity will become an essential competitive tool for your manufacturing firm as it joins together and integrates all your resources, whatever your location, to provide powerful data and insights and enable rapid decision making.

But the move to mobile technology also brings challenges, such as:

  • How to choose the right hardware and apps from the huge range available
  • How to integrate hardware and apps seamlessly with other technology in your business
  • How to go fully mobile with disrupting production.

Read this article for answers on these three points and advice to help you assess how mobile technology can improve processes at your manufacturing firm.

Why manufacturers should use mobile technology

A survey by the Economist Intelligence Unit found that manufacturing leaders think cloud and mobile will contribute the most value to their organisations out of all technologies.

The results revealed that 41% of leaders said they see cloud and mobile technology as contributing the most, compared to 31% for the rest of the sample. Leaders also think IoT (39%) and big data (39%) will be important value creators.

Mobile technology gives you and your team access to real-time data and insights to make decisions on the factory floor, when meeting customers, while travelling, or when working from home.

In manufacturing, productivity is measured in seconds, so your workers need to analyse information in real time and solve critical challenges immediately.

Furthermore, your plant managers need visibility into every aspect of the manufacturing process, from supply chain logistics to order fulfilment.

Mobile technology brings this transparency, leading to more streamlined operations and increased productivity as workers can identify problems and resolve them much more quickly.

Such technology can enable them to make faster decisions about repairs, replacements, troubleshooting, supplies, sales, improvements, innovations and much more.

Richard Hagan, managing director at Crystal Doors, says: “My mobile phone is the most important tool for work, meetings and leisure.

“When I wake up in the morning, everything is at my fingertips, including dashboards for the overnight shift’s activities; monies arrived and sent with my banking app; and sales from our customer relationship management (CRM) application.

“I am relaxed because I know I can be up to speed and efficient from the moment I walk into work.”

Benefits of mobile technology

The potential benefits of mobile technology for your manufacturing firm are extremely varied and wide ranging.

To give just a few examples, continuously tracking quality of manufactured items via mobile technology reduces manual effort and waste. Mobile apps enable your finance team to send quotes to customers immediately and fulfil orders more quickly.

And mobile devices and augmented reality are revolutionising training, boosting the skills of workers. For example, augmented reality can analyse and map out machine parts, to create a real time, visual instruction manual.

Hagan says having real-time information on his mobile phone enables him to make better decisions and underpins his firm’s dependability in an uncertain world.

“My mobile apps have evolved to be critical for real-time data access,” he says. “While on the phone, talking to a supplier or customer, I need information in seconds to decide my outcome. With one hand, I have easy access to get the information I need.”

The demand for rapid data, calculated and presented anywhere at any time means that the relevance of quarterly targets, monthly figures and even daily spreadsheets are fading into history, adds Hagan.

“Desktops and laptops are not multi-functional enough,” he says. “Near field communication [NFC], quick response [QR] codes, and picture and text recognition are required in one mobile piece of equipment.

“QR codes save time looking up websites. NFC allows data to be presented and captured from a single tap on a tag. Screen mirroring my phone to a larger monitor allows me to present for any client, pulling information from the cloud.

“Clients expect me to have all the answers in a moment. Mobile technology allows my company to stay informed and make smarter decisions more quickly and with more certainty.”

Steps towards adopting mobile technology

The first step to choosing mobile technologies is to make sure they fit your current and future needs as closely as possible.

In the past few years, many apps have been designed specifically for the needs of manufacturers, equipped, for example, with dimensioning and thermal imaging cameras and integrated barcode scanners.

Purpose-built, rugged mobile devices are also now available meaning manufacturers can use the technology anywhere.

This tailoring can help your company increase efficiency, maximise output and sharpen your competitive edge in areas such as predictive maintenance, inventory management, quality control, and operational efficiency.

Another key factor when adopting mobile technology is to make sure your provider is a well-known, trusted partner and that it can support a wide variety of applications.

Security is also key.

Every mobile device is a security perimeter, regardless of its location globally. Forward-thinking manufacturers are therefore treating every sensor, monitoring device, and mobile device as a threat surface, and applying a zero-trust approach to security.

This approach will give your workers the confidence to use the devices to their full potential and enable access to trusted customers and distributors. Having 24/7 support for these devices is also essential for seamless operations.

Look at which processes mobile technology can improve

To maximise the benefits of mobile technology, your manufacturing leaders need to look carefully at their workflows and invest strategically in innovative mobile applications.

The way you apply the technology depends entirely on the needs of your company. From inventory management and shipment to delivery, logistics and workforce tracking, almost anything can be controlled using mobile apps.

Your workers can also use them to coordinate supply chains, track and balance production timelines, quickly send quotes to customers, and check delivery and order fulfilment.

Choose the right apps

There are a huge range of manufacturing apps to choose from, so again it depends completely on your needs and preferences.

Hagan says: “My first top app was linked to trackers in all the vans that give me and my customers accurate information on their movements.

“Money movement is also crucial for small and medium-sized organisations, and my app that shows who has paid us, as well as sales and payment pipelines, helps keep me sane during a busy schedule.”

Use apps across the company to avoid silos

Hagan says digital manufacturing keeps production in his company as efficient as possible but it must be done in an integrated fashion.

From his phone, he can manage suppliers, customers and the factory production needs for each division.

“Anything outside set parameters flags my managers’ attention, and further preferences allow me to keep informed about any changes,” he says. “But to do this efficiently, it needs a single platform that displays an overview of real-time activities seamlessly.

“Manufacturing leaders who have departments, silos of information, and separate platforms for data collection and manipulation are holding their company back.

“The cost of turning off all our phones would be insane to contemplate. But the cost of not having a single access point from the cloud today is also as limiting, especially if your competition has adopted technology.”

Use modern business management software that connects with mobile technology

Mobile technology must also be able to integrate with your company’s other software. For example, to maximise efficiencies, manufacturers must use modern business management software that works with a wide range of mobile devices and apps.

It should also be easy to customise your business software to your mobile needs.

As Hagan says: “Margins for manufacturing are smaller than ever before. The ability to plan in new sales from a client, and do it cost-effectively, depends on my accountancy platform.

“My accounting app along with other critical apps lets me glide through information updates, messages and actions immediately.”

Conclusion on saving time and money

The mobile technologies already available can save your manufacturing firm huge amounts of time and money. But they are just the beginning of what you can achieve as the technology and connectivity evolves.

For example, AI will soon be a fully integrated part of the manufacturing process. AI-powered robots will take care of many aspects of the process as well as appointments and administrative tasks while also keeping your workers and managers better informed than ever before and ensuring maximum efficiencies.

As Hagan adds: “The technology for Industry 4.0 has begun. As AI, machine learning and bots become mainstream, mobile phones and apps as work tools will be as important as the employees themselves.

“Each holds value and neither can work effectively without the other. With my phone, I hold the knowledge, power and control.”

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