Mobility apps should provide self-direction, portability, freedom

Mobile app design tips: Don’t replicate industrial human-machine interface (HMI) screens in mobile apps, advised Rockwell Automation. Enable, simplify, and do things you couldn’t do before when creating mobile app screens, according to presenters at RSTechED USA. See three pillars of user enablement for mobile apps and related video.

By Mark T. Hoske June 23, 2014

In the connected manufacturing enterprise or process facility, mobility apps should provide self-direction, portability, and freedom, without replicating human-machine interface (HMI) screens, according to advice from Rockwell Automation at RSTechED USA, on June 17. Mobile industrial apps should enable, simplify, and do things that weren’t previously possible or practical, said Kyle Reissner, industrial automation mobility platform leader, Rockwell Automation, during a connected enterprise discussion about mobility. See related video.

Industrial mobility applications can take people out of their comfort zones, but, like commercially available apps, they should:

  • Give users self-direction, portability, and freedom
  • Simplify the experience, navigating to the needed location or function within a few touches of the screen
  • Transform the way users interact with the device, information, and process. 

3 pillars of user enablement

Reissner said the three pillars of user enablement for mobile apps are:

  1. Provide role-based, user-focused, contextualized experiences; the application should recognize what needs to be seen and adapt appropriately
  2. Be easy to use, install, and maintain, which is hard to do
  3. Enable productivity that couldn’t be done in past for the engineer, maintenance person, and operator.

This doesn’t have to be complicated, Reissner said, providing hypothetical examples of mobile app productivity and efficiency. 

Examples, hypothetical

Mobile apps might:

  • Be given to soon-to-retire experts, allowing them to narrate what they know in a plant, linking valuable knowledge, descriptions, and scenarios to photos, videos, and geographic locations.
  • Allow a maintenance electrician to create a mash-up report on a tablet on the floor, based on an emerging issue, whereas previously a downtime report may have taken three months to create. The report is tweaked and shared from the desktop with the team, a parameter fixed after a call from a coworker, and it’s shared with higher levels and across multiple devices, lines, and locations, rapidly addressing and resolving an issue.
  • Provide a role-based alert to an engineer off-site at a coffee shop. After a few clicks, the app displays related alarms based on the context of the situation and past issues, offering three suggestions for why the alert may have happened. The engineer recalls a prior video note from a now-retired coworker about spurious issues with valve 42, and attaches a voice memo to check it out, after setting up a new rule.
  • A manager, confronted with a possible product quality issue that could result in a recall, drills into related tags, sees a possible issue, sets up a conference call with managers of similar machines at six other sites, learns about a prior suspected but undocumented auger issue, and shares the information across all shifts at six locations, preventing a recall.

These changes don’t require pounds of system documentation, Reissner said. No one in these examples was trained for each specific instance. Actions taken were intuitive, enabled by the mobility software app.

Reissner cited a 2012 Control Engineering article where Owens Corning’s Jim Beilstein explained how enterprise mobility is a priority, along with security and compliance. "We are taking a very deliberate approach to ensure we have a community that will use the tools that are out there."

Industrial mobile apps might encounter slow adoption in manufacturing because of concerns about security, device hardening, or price, Reissner said, but if new apps deliver new value, the rest will be solved.

– Edited by Mark T. Hoske, content manager, CFE Media, Control Engineering,


This article, in the Control Engineering online archives for July, includes a short video demonstration and links to related mobile engineering app articles. It’s also on the video page.

ONLINE extra

-In this article, see video demonstration of FactoryTalk VantagePoint Mobile application on an Apple iPad.

In links below, also see

– Mobile app for reporting, analytics, and metrics

– Rockwell Automation reworks production systems globally

– Industrial mobility: Information where needed 

Author Bio: Mark Hoske has been Control Engineering editor/content manager since 1994 and in a leadership role since 1999, covering all major areas: control systems, networking and information systems, control equipment and energy, and system integration, everything that comprises or facilitates the control loop. He has been writing about technology since 1987, writing professionally since 1982, and has a Bachelor of Science in Journalism degree from UW-Madison.