Architecture, apps, and tips on wireless mobility

A recent Control Engineering webcast on wireless mobility covered infrastructure, hardware, software, and applications. The highlights follow.


Top benefits of mobility technologies include data access, productivity increases, time savings, cost savings, and ease of use. Effective maintenance and better asset management were mention next. Courtesy: Control Engineering 2013 Mobility, Ethernet, and Wireless Study

Wireless mobility requires basic infrastructures along with specific hardware and software, explained Harry Forbes, senior analyst at the ARC Advisory Group, in a Control Engineering webcast April 29. Wireless mobility does offer productivity advantages to end-users, but wireless mobility is not without challenges. It requires networking hardware and software, devices to connect to the infrastructure, applications to run on the devices, and processes and procedures to work effectively, safely, and securely.

In addition, Mark T. Hoske, content manager and editor of Control Engineering, detailed mobility trends based on Control Engineering research and discussed the types of mobile engineering applications available on the market during the webcast.

Key findings on engineers and mobility, according to Control Engineering 2013 research on mobility, Ethernet, and wireless:

  • More than half of the 200 survey respondents (said they use mobile devices for monitoring, controls, or instrumentation. More than one third of survey respondents said they use mobile devices for alarms, configuration, training, and control systems. 
  • The top benefits of mobility technologies are data access, increased productivity, time savings, cost savings, and ease of use.
  • Challenges in the way of wide use and adoption include a lack of knowledge, lack of training, and concerns regarding security.
  • Spending on mobility products and services and the outlook for productivity are strongly correlated.

Top benefits of mobility technologies include data access, productivity increases, time savings, cost savings, and ease of use. Effective maintenance and better asset management were mention next. Courtesy: Control Engineering 2013 Mobility, Ethernet, andIn a separate analysis of 225 of mobile engineering applications, Control Engineering reported the major mobile application types relate to reference needs, calculation, and utilities, which totaled more than half of the 225 mobile applications analyzed.

  • Two-thirds of the apps are free, with the average price of a paid app at $5. In general, app prices varied widely and could cost up to $150.

Wireless mobility as machine window

"Mobile devices are becoming a window to our machines," Forbes said during his portion of the webcast. "And there are many more applications beyond HMI [human-machine interface]." Forbes likened the smartphone to a Swiss army knife because it can perform a variety of tasks, such as interact with control systems, provide real-time manufacturing information, provide instant data visualization, and customize graphical executive dashboards. As a result, manufacturing plants are rapidly changing traditional computing models to more cloud-based computing models, according to Forbes. Cloud computing is now a multi-billion-dollar-a-year industry that is penetrating industrial automation, as many tasks and services can now exist within the cloud network.

Forbes outlined the three types of infrastructures needed to implement a wireless network to facilitate a cloud-based network:

  • A wireless sensor network, which monitors physical and environmental conditions
  • A backhaul, which transports wireless traffic from remote locations
  • Mobility, which serves as both an application and an infrastructure.

Meeting wireless and mobility challenges

As more companies integrate a more cloud-based model in their daily operations and tasks, a data gap, or stranded data, has developed. Stranded data is information that is not easily available or shared (paper checklists, calibration sheets, control charts etc.). Being able to take action when mobile and in the field is important, and unstructured electronic data is becoming more useful than structured paper data, according to Forbes. Some of the most common applications of mobility are maintenance, inventory management, asset/personal tracking, problem solving, collaboration, EHS (environmental health and safety: reporting incidents, video monitoring), and operations (schedule/routing changes).

The increased use of mobile technology has led many organizations to implement a BYOD policy. BYOD stands for bring your own [mobile] device. A new class of systems-management applications has emerged as a result of this trend. 

Mobile device management (MDM) is software technology that enables enterprises to manage employees' mobile devices. Mobile MDM provides functionality for software, such as distribution, policy management, and inventory management. Looking across all types of industries, mobility is becoming more important, and so is managing the devices, according to Forbes.

- Jessica DuBois-Maahs is associate content manager, Control Engineering, CFE Media,

View the full, on-demand hour-long Webcast and extended Q&A in early May by going to and click the "Webcasts tab."

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