Mobile Devices Invade Factory Floor as BYOD Trend Spreads

January 21, 2014. The bring-your-own-device (BYOD) phenomenon reshaping information technology (IT) in business offices is now spreading to the manufacturing sector, with employee-owned smartphones and tablets playing an increasingly important role in manufacturing settings for 2014 and even beyond.

Rising numbers of manufacturing workers are utilizing their own smartphones and tablets to monitor and control industrial equipment, according to a new white paper from IHS Technology. Such smartphones and tablets can allow users to manage equipment remotely, observing processes while employees are on the move or while they are working in another part of the factory.

The BYOD trend now is being driven by individuals, but companies in the future are likely to accommodate this phenomenon by provisioning employees with ruggedized devices tailored to the rigors of the factory floor. In many cases, such devices are augmenting the functions of industrial PCs. The global industrial PC market is expected to generate shipments of 4.1 million units in 2016, up from 2.5 million in 2012.

“The use of BYOD devices in manufacturing is predicted to rise at a rapid rate in the coming years. But because the movement is being driven by individuals and not at the corporate level, gauging the number of BYOD devices being used or to forecast the growth of the market is difficult,” said Mark Watson, associate director for industrial automation at IHS. “Just the same, anecdotal research conducted by IHS indicates the BYOD trend is expanding in the manufacturing realm.”

Into the Ether

The increasing networking of industrial automation equipment is enabling the rise of BYOD, Watson noted. A small percentage of such equipment employs standard wireless networking technologies, which lend themselves to use with consumer mobile devices.

And while the penetration of wireless technology in industrial automation equipment remains low, the area holds big growth potential in the coming years.

Bring on the Apps

In some cases, tablets are being mounted on the sides of machines to provide visualization and control of the manufacturing process.

To support the use of mobile devices in manufacturing, leading industrial automation vendors are starting to show apps that work on iOS and Android devices. Many such apps were released in 2013, and more are expected in 2014.

One example of a company working in this area is Opto 22’s groov, which offers a system for building human-machine interfaces (HMI) to monitor and control manufacturing automation systems. These HMIs can be accessed in a wide variety of devices, including tablets and smartphones.

Manufacturing Troubles

Despite its usefulness in manufacturing, BYOD presents a range of challenges.

“Unlike industrial PCs, consumer mobile devices are not designed to endure the stresses commonly encountered in manufacturing, such as vibration, heat, and water,” Watson observed. As a result, manufacturing companies in the future may provide workers with tablets and smartphones rated for such environments.

There also are safety and security considerations related to BYOD in manufacturing. If a production line goes down because of a problem with a consumer mobile device, there could be huge implications in lost productivity and time.

Even so, with the great usefulness and increased utilization of BYOD in the manufacturing realm, companies will be compelled to deal with these issues in 2014 and for the years to come.

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