Taking Advantage of Mobile in Manufacturing

mobile in manufacturing

It is hard to imagine our world without mobile devices – smartphones, tablets, laptops, even smart watches. According to a report published July 17 of this year, by the Consumer Electronic Association, total revenue in the consumer space is projected to hit $211.3 billion by the end of 2014.

Mobility is no longer confined to the realm of the consumer. Leading manufacturers are implementing mobile devices and applications as part of their overall strategy in order to drive both top- and bottom-line results. The truth is mobile in manufacturing is growing.

As lean staffing and manufacturing complexity drive the need for smarter use of resources, mobile applications and mobile devices are poised to allow for more rapid, informed decisions.

IndustryWeek encapsulated the trend neatly: “Mobility is a core lean enabler allowing manufacturers to extend mobile voice and data right to the point of activity — inside and outside the four walls.”

While ideal in theory, how is mobile truly being leveraged in a manufacturing environment? Let’s take a deeper look at the methods and their benefits.

Ecommerce: Reach Customers Effectively

Firms adopting a B2B mobile commerce strategies are able to effectively reach industrial customers and suppliers. Ensure order accuracy and a rich customer experience with streamlined access to ordering, product, account information and inventory levels, all on a mobile or tablet device. Software makes it possible to format your current e-commerce site into a responsive mobile site.

Critical Data, KPIs and Alerts: Make Better, Faster Decisions

Enable better, faster decisions by providing access to critical data, at the point of decision, through mobile applications. Mobile users of ERP applications, for instance, are able to track and view open service activity, check the status of a requisition, track information on an order from a lead all the way to payment received.

Managers may be asked to make critical business decisions, on short notice, while on the road. Mobile access to key ERP data, for example, allows them to monitor and respond quickly. The immediacy and accuracy improves richness of data and employees’ trust and use of that data.

Remote Access and Connectivity: Improve Efficiency With Mobile Manufacturing

Introducing mobile and wireless applications into day-to-day operations improves efficiency. A recent Motorola survey, cited by a July 2012 ThomasNet article,  found manufacturers who incorporating mobile apps saved an average of 42 minutes per employee.

For instance, workers running a machine can stop and start it with a mobile app. Or safety workers can use the camera feature and geo-tracking feature to report and monitor health and environmental incidents. Access to back-end data links smart phones with the infrastructure of the plant or shop floor.

Connected Devices: Improve Management of Key Costs

The shop floor isn’t the only place where tablets and mobile devices can improve efficiency. Front office employees can check inventory numbers. This in turn can help reduce supply chain burdens and inventory costs.

As mobile devices are connected to real-time tracking, on-the-floor updates can be regularly accessed by supervisors. These updates are available to the shop floor employees and managers who then monitor efficiency and productivity.

Mobile CRM: Shorten Sales Cycles, Improve Customer Service

Tablets and mobile devices are transforming the way sales reps interact with existing and potential customers. Access to real-time customer data from either CRM or ERP systems allows sales reps to make informed, accurate customized quotes or sales presentations. In addition, with fewer steps involved to place an order, the cycle time and accuracy of sales orders can be dramatically improved.

On the customer service side, technicians are able to receive electronic work orders, service history, SLAs, work orders, purchasing, stock transfer and more. And with a better-informed field service team, many visits may be shortened or even prevented.

Challenges of Implementing Mobile

Of course, unlocking the benefits of mobile depends on proper strategy, planning, implementation and adoption. In addition, it’s important to plan for the risks and hurdles this new technology represents.

Challenge 1: Design and Development

Manufacturers must determine which mobile devices and applications will best support their business goals. The approach may be to try a pilot program with a “low-hanging fruit” opportunity, or develop a layered, phased approach to tackling the top opportunities. These choices depend on company performance goals, skill level of its workforce, existing internal systems, and potentially other internal and external factors.

Once these projects are chosen, the development and implementation of the mobile and supporting assets may require new skill sets and tools. As mentioned in a July 2013 IDC report, methods of development that have proven successful in the manufacturing space include rapid prototyping and agile development. These methods allow for selected apps to have greater adoption by end-users, which is another common challenge.

Challenge 2: Organizational Compliance, Security

According to the same IDC report, nearly 80% of manufacturers are developing mobile applications. This creates a challenge of applying proper organization and supplying access to mobile apps. Manufacturers are adopting the concept of a corporate app store to meet their governance and security standards.

Challenge 3: End-User Adoption

Manufacturers may struggle with end-user adoption without careful planning and internal communication from the start of a mobile implementation project. Once implemented, users must be properly trained on best practices to understand and fully use the new features of the system or application.

Mobile Solutions that Work

Properly implemented mobile solutions hold the promise of enhanced efficiency, more nimble decision making and better resource management. With the right strategy that accounts for the challenges and risks, manufacturers can realize these benefits and add value to their firm.

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