Cut the Leash to Achieve Operational and Production Excellence

  • October 16, 2011
  • Feature

Abstract The accelerated adoption of mobile devices and applications in the consumer world is finally gaining critical mass within automated manufacturing and process environments.  As a result, there is a here and now challenge and an opportunity for organizations to leverage this new paradigm to transform their complete Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) strategy to be more nimble and competitively positioned to address and reap the benefits of this new connected world.

This article will highlight and illustrate how organizations are cutting the wire and deploying collaboration, security, cloud and sensor wireless and mobility technologies to achieve operational and production excellence throughout their entire corporate value chain. Letting the PC Roam Some speak of the demise of the PC while I tend to think of the PC era as evolutionary rather than absolute. The PC is not dead - it’s morphing into a different form - and we are now directly in the middle of the mobile computing era. This transition is ironically evolving into a more personal and configurable experience for the user.  The contrast between the PC and mobile computing eras can be characterized by the direction of market adoption. The mobile computing era is being driven by consumer adoption of technologies, products and applications, which is driving demand for those same deployments in the enterprise. The consumer and enterprise markets have become increasingly mobile and always switched “on”. They are demanding 24/7 information access, which eliminates being tethered to a desktop, office, plant floor or home.  In today’s business environment, with the proliferation of smarter handheld devices (smart phones, tablets, etc.), wireless technological advances and globalization, mobility has now become inevitable for adoption in the manufacturing enterprises. Manufacturing Challenges The primary challenge of the manufacturing industry was highlighted a few weeks ago with the abrupt and highly publicized closure of Solyndra, the solar panel start-up based in California. Solyndra’s challenges were rooted in managing the long and complex supply value-chain while simultaneously developing the ability to adapt rapidly to volatile business conditions and customer demand for products and services.  In addition, recent economic turmoil and market instability has resulted in increased pressure on industry’s wafer-thin margins leading to closure of high-cost manufacturing facilities, bankruptcies, frequent workforce downsizings, and increased product recalls. This has inevitably led manufacturing enterprises to find alternative approaches to reduce their cost while remaining competitive in a highly volatile environment. To address these industry challenges, manufacturing enterprises are looking at their entire PLM and manufacturing operation infrastructures for opportunities to achieve cost optimization and increased efficiency.  In addition, there is a growing trend to design and deploy more flexible and modular automation systems on the plant floor to support multiple product families that serve different market segments and different regional requirements. The key imperatives for mobility in the manufacturing enterprise are driven by the mobile workforce and operations, demanding customers and technology innovations. Mobile Workforce and Operations The pressure from an aging and shrinking workforce is contributing to the challenge of managing a global infrastructure. These challenges are requiring companies to develop and enable an “on-the-move” workforce in order to reduce costs and product the following business imperatives:

  • Improve efficiency with enhanced collaboration throughout the entire value chain
  • Improve collaboration with customers, partners, and employees throughout the world
  • Speed time to market and increase the design and quality for new products
  • Improve event response, compliance and safety
  • Real-time business decision/approvals for managers

Customers and Partners Collaboration

  • Manufacturing Collaboration Solutions help manufacturers meet increasing customer expectations while managing costs and partner relationships throughout the entire PLM value chain. Better communication with employees leads to higher-quality products and improved efficiency, resulting in:
  • Improved response time and quality
  • Improved customer satisfaction, retention and brand loyalty
  • Shorter sales process cycle time
  • Shorter fulfillment process cycle time

Leveraging manufacturing enterprise mobility solutions presents an unparalleled opportunity to bring more agility into the entire value stream and gain a competitive advantage. Migration of “Mobile” into the Plant The accelerated adoption of mobile devices and applications in the consumer world is finally gaining critical mass within automated manufacturing and process environments. Mission critical applications are moving from alpha and beta deployments to production environments.  Mobility solutions are enabling anytime, anywhere, any device, real time information access across converged enterprises and plant floor networks. Gartner reports that nearly 250 million smart phones were sold in 2010, and tablet sales are expected to reach 54.8 million this year. Smart phones and tablets have reached the stage of disruptive innovation. Today, these devices have become persuasive, having high speed connectivity with a 3G or 4G network, full HD video recorder, 10+MP camera, GPS, accelerometers, gyroscope, ways to access pervasive internet, and instant access to thousands of downloadable apps from stores.  These kind of specification profiles and innovations make any latest device capable of performing complex functions through running rich native as well as web browser based applications, thus significantly reducing the gap between personal computers and mobile devices. A recent study carried out by Frost and Sullivan predicts that Smart phone shipments will bypass PC shipments by 2011. It shows why mobile has become ubiquitous, and opened up numerous unexplored avenues for manufacturing enterprise business. There is also a mounting requirement to support the various software platforms for these mobile clients. A recent survey in Automation World concluded that 80 percent of polled plant floor managers will deploy applications on tablets and other mobile devices running various OS platforms (Apple, Android, Blackberry, Microsoft) this trend requires enterprises to develop and deploy a flexible and robust architecture that supports Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) clients. Letting Intelligence Loose in the Plant - The Wireless Plant Today’s manufacturing and process industries have increasingly come to rely on information gained from wireless networks of sensors installed at key points throughout the factory or field site.  Measurement of air pressure, electrical current, weight load, fuel levels, temperature, corrosion, pipe flow, seismic activity – such readings are critical to effective and efficient safe plant operation. The evolution of wireless sensor technologies and networks has enabled managers and administrators to gain more insight into their complex processes and reduce capital and operating expenses. Industry managers are familiar with the complexities of wired sensor networks. They are at times expensive to install and maintain, requiring special signal wiring, cabling into automation systems, and tracking of multiple sensor readings using multiple software systems. Furthermore, changes to or reconfigurations of the physical environment can require major reworking of sensor systems, at a high cost and with significant impact on the entire site. Wireless networking represents a major reduction in capital expenditure, in some cases costing one tenth of wired sensor networks. Wireless sensor systems use self-organizing mesh technology that is tried and tested in the field, and the basis for the WirelessHART and ISA100 standards.  Each wireless device in a self-organizing network can act as a router for other nearby devices, passing messages along until they reach their destination. Another advantage of self-organizing networks is that they are dynamic. As new obstacles are encountered in a plant, such as scaffolding, new equipment, or moving vehicles - the networks can reorganize around them. All of this happens automatically without any intervention by the user. By being able to install more sensors more easily, enterprises gain a richer understanding of their own processes, as well as additional coverage when primary sensors fail. Based on better information, diagnostics are more reliable and result in more process improvements. Wireless sensors can be temporarily placed and monitored as needed, to assist in troubleshooting or when field operatives need to test or experiment with equipment. “Say Cheese” – Video and Mobility the Killer App Video presents manufacturing companies with the opportunity to effectively scale and access expertise across functional, geographical, company and partner boundaries. With reliable, flexible communication channels, manufacturers can overcome the constraints associated with limited resources in globalized operations. The adoption of mobile video for business applications, as well as its integration with other applications and collaboration tools, has created a new wave of capabilities that are changing the way employees interact and work.  Manufacturers may now extend video collaboration to a variety of new uses to transform the entire PLM value chain from engineering prototype and plant floor operations to customer service. Mobile video collaboration can be combined with the ability to quickly locate available experts; communicate across multiple locations, devices, and companies; and quickly pull multiple parties into a collaborative session to share expertise and resolve problems, all while reducing costs and improving productivity. Such a capability allows manufacturers to improve event response and more efficiently resolve production problems—including issues with equipment or component parts. It also enhances best-practice sharing and can be used to help train operators and technicians on new products and processes. MMVC solutions allow plant floor personnel to record and post videos, which can be used to monitor processes, review equipment as part of a maintenance program, or monitor product quality concerns. The end result is reduced downtime, increased efficiency, and improved product quality. Tying it all Back Together – Freedom Has Boundaries and Rules Integrating consumer mobile clients, wireless sensor networks and mobile video applications provide tremendous cost and efficiency benefits to overall PLM and Operation infrastructures. In order to achieve these benefits, the enterprise and plant floor network managers must achieve regulatory compliance; provide end users with freedom and mobility; while ensuring the integrity of corporate information systems. Manufacturing enterprises require an industrial wireless network that provides a business-ready, standards-based architecture that includes:

  • Consistent, reliable, and secure mobile networking
  • Mitigates sophisticated passive and active WLAN attacks
  • Wireless-device host intrusion prevention and an integrated authentication framework
  • Interoperability with a wide range of client devices
  • Reliable, scalable, centralized security management
  • Support for Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA) and WPA2 security standards for robust authentication and data encryption

It’s Not Too Late to Cut the Leash Mobility and wireless solutions will transform the manufacturing enterprise across the entire PLM value chain. Manufacturers will become more nimble and adept in managing the dynamic fluctuations of customer driven markets, and deliver the right products, to the right customers at the right time. Time is of the essence and opportunity cost is close to a real-time proposition in this market. Manufacturers must quickly formulate their enterprise mobility strategy, and make the most from the mobility revolution. Author Biography - Kevin Davenport, Industry Manager, Cisco Systems Inc. Kevin Davenport brings over seventeen years of industrial automation and manufacturing leadership to his role as Cisco’s Global Solutions Manager for Industrial Intelligence. He is responsible for creating, driving and delivering Cisco’s integrated and scalable whole offer market and industry strategies for our manufacturing and industrial automation customers. As a young kid Kevin’s fascination with Lincoln Logs, Legos and Erector sets created a passion to pursue a career in the manufacturing and automation industry. He has worked at Pacific Gas and Electric, Applied Materials, Omron Electronics and Beckhoff Automation where he has engineered, and created marketing and sales strategies for a diverse set of manufacturing and automated applications ranging from discrete machine control to tightly integrated process control systems. Kevin is looking forward to having open and collaborative dialogue with fellow blog readers who share an interest and passion for creating disruptive technology and applications that will transform the way people connect and build. For more information on Cisco’s mobility and wireless solutions, please visit:  

Learn More

Did you enjoy this great article?

Check out our free e-newsletters to read more great articles..