Wireless Infrastructure Strengthens Manufacturing

  • June 16, 2014
  • Feature

Functions of Future Solutions: Capture, Transform and Mobilize

By Bill Lydon, Editor

Communication technology has taken a role in strengthening U.S. manufacturing. I recently spoke with Tom Bianculli, Motorola Solutions’ Senior Director of Emerging Business, about the type of technological advances that will improve operations on the manufacturing floor. Bianculli is responsible for the exploration and development of new business opportunities and product solutions. Motorola Solutions provides a range of products and services built upon wireless and computer technologies. Bianculli explained how manufacturing is going through a technology transformation driven in part by rapidly evolving wireless infrastructure, as well as mobility devices, applications and solutions. Bianculli believes manufacturers can achieve frictionless workflows and greater production efficiencies by applying communication technology.

Bianculli has been ramping up a team to incubate new ideas and concepts that are adjacent to their existing business. This is a multidiscipline group of technical, engineering, business, and business development people to co-create solutions with customers. The group solves industry problems with Motorola technologies and emerging technologies in new, more effective ways. Bianculli explained that the last decade was about mobilizing workers and giving them connectivity. The next decade is about driving visibility to the devices people use. Visibility will make manufacturers more intelligent about how they run their operations. A lot of this will require instrumenting the edge and capturing data.

Users have told Motorola that they need technology and systems to unlock real-time data and automation to deliver more value to their customers. Bianculli framed the functions of future solutions in three words: capture, transform, and mobilize. Capture real-time data at the edge of the network, transform it into information, and provide better visibility in the moment. He emphasized the importance of providing visibility in the moment before it is too late to take action that can prevent unwanted outcomes. For example, without real-time information in the moment, lost efficiency is either never identified or is known after the fact. It is crucial to understand the real-time state of things in the context of its physical location of everything and everyone in real-time. Then you can transform that data into useable information and ultimately mobilize it for the right person at the right moment to take the correct action. This approach empowers people to make informed decisions and immediately take action to improve operations.

Bianculli‘s group works with customers to identify issues and possible applications of technology to create new solutions. He explained how the start of this process is exploring with customers. Biancilli said, “They put aside our [Motorola] product portfolio and simply get down to the ‘what ifs.’ If you could do 'X,' how would that change the game for you? What are the things that keep you up at night?” As new solutions are identified, the process proceeds with pilot projects. As appropriate, some grow to become mainstream product offerings. The group focuses on IT, operations, warehousing, manufacturing, transportation logistics, and the entire supply chain.

Bianculli described an application at Troy Design & Manufacturing (TDM), a Ford Motor Company metal stamping subsidiary. The project subsequently expanded into the vehicle conversion business with a new Chicago Modification Center. The plant’s goal is to covert more than 150 base-model Ford vehicles into police interceptors each day. The requirement was to track, monitor, and guide each step of the vehicle conversions at the new Chicago Modification Center. Simply implementing a manual, paper-based tracking system, barcoding, and fixed terminal entry would not be sufficient to meet production goals. They needed a highly automated, computerized infrastructure that would more efficiently track, guide and report every step of vehicle conversion.

Lowry Solutions, a Motorola partner, helped them implement a vehicle tracking and guiding system integrated with Lowry’s Work-In-Process software. Automated workflow tracked with RFID led to more precise visibility, data collection and consistency and improved facility efficiency. TDM has found numerous advantages with RFID automation. Operators became more focused on performing their tasks with less paper-based documentation and tracking duties. Vehicle visibility and conversion progress data have prevented downtime, and the consistency and reliability of RFID data capture has provided further insight into the facility’s capabilities. The system generates RFID tags with complex work instructions, bill of materials, and tracking numbers tied to the vehicle’s VIN number as it enters the facility. With this information, operators can direct vehicles through production cells with real-time guidance solely from automated RFID scans and reads.

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