Smartphones and tablets in manufacturing

Manufacturing environments are seeing wisdom in adopting smartphones, tablets, and wearable devices, offering faster access to critical information and problem-solving applications. This is a major subtopic of discussion within Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and Industry 4.0 circles.

By Daymon Thompson October 8, 2015

People love mobile devices. Crowded public places show many individuals intently focused on glowing screens in their hands. Smartphones, tablets, and even wearable devices such as smartwatches have become ubiquitous as consumers have become accustomed to a much higher level of connectivity and access to information.

With the widespread adoption of these devices in the consumer market, the natural progression is for industrial applications to explore the possibility of adopting smartphones, tablets, and wearable devices in manufacturing environments. This is a major subtopic of discussion within Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and Industry 4.0 circles. 

Convergence, diagnostics

Manufacturers have begun to step into the realm of mobile technologies for industry, part of a larger convergence of automation technology (AT) and information technologies (IT). PC-based control technologies serve as the strongest bridge between these two schools of thought, partly due to the inherent Web server capabilities in every PC control system. 

Integrated Web servers

These built-in Web servers can easily be configured to host human-machine interface (HMI) data, production statistics, or maintenance diagnostics information. Network or fieldbus diagnostics data could be easily accessed from a tablet without having to interrupt the production machine HMI or plug in with a laptop. We have seen the controller’s Web server used to enable setup personnel working on large equipment to change parameters with a tablet from various places on the machine where access to the HMI is not directly possible.

PC-based automation systems can use standard HTML5 JavaScript languages, which enables cross-platform functionality, such as the ability to use all standard mobile devices whether the operating system (OS) is Google Android, Apple iOS, Microsoft Windows, or another standard OS. As long as the device has a modern Web browser, these types of functions can be integrated easily. This makes PC-based control an ideal platform to enable use of underlying connectivity necessary to incorporate mobile technologies in plant settings.

More actionable information

Using mobile devices in manufacturing provides a wealth of features and benefits for operations. An exciting feature helping to drive this trend of integration is the ability to push machine system notifications and status information from a cloud server down to the mobile or wearable device used by the operator.

This type of mobile HMI or wearable HMI enables an extraordinary level of flexibility by providing actionable information to all the right people, wherever they are in the world. Additionally, by leveraging an Internet-connected control system, users can participate in "bring your own device" (BYOD), reducing the learning curve through the use of familiar devices. 

Cloud-based apps

As mobile technology integration grows in manufacturing, developers are finding new and exciting ways to capitalize on the technology convergence. Smart factories will continue to leverage cloud technologies, such as machine learning, to monitor and detect trends in machine operation. If an anomaly is found, this notification could be sent to the appropriate personnel’s mobile device, and depending on the severity of the condition change, push notifications would be far timelier than a traditional e-mail. Technology that allows push notifications of machine events sent to a mobile device directly from a programmable logic controller (PLC) function block enables greater utilization of mobile devices in industrial settings.

Industry 4.0 and the realization of the smart factory is certainly within reach for many enterprises, and further integration of wearables and other mobile devices increases accessibility and helps make big steps toward making these concepts reality.

– Daymon Thompson is TwinCAT product specialist at Beckhoff Automation. Edited by Mark T. Hoske, content manager, CFE Media, Control Engineering,

Key concepts

  • Mobility, use of smartphones and tablets, in manufacturing is expanding with widespread consumer acceptance.
  • Mobility benefits include near real-time access to diagnostics, notifications, dashboards, and other cloud-based apps.
  • Mobility offers greater connectedness between plant processes.

Consider this

Would the worst news about your plant be less "worse" if you found out in advance, rather than hours later? 

ONLINE extra 

These capabilities also were shown at the Beckhoff Automation booth at Pack Expo 2015, in Las Vegas.

See related articles linked below. 

Author Bio: Daymon Thompson, automation product manager – North America, Beckhoff Automation.