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Phablets for the Shop Floor


Typically, consumer products manufacturers have been conservative in the adoption of mobile technology on the shop floor. Some of the key factors in have been the high price of industrial handheld scanners and barcode readers that can cope with the environment and not be attractive enough to “walk home” from the plant with the employees.

I want to challenge this status quo now that the price and capability of consumer electronics has hit an inflection point where it just makes good sense to consider other options. Today Apple iPods, Amazon Kindle Fire, Google Nexus 7 and the new range of Phablets (mobile phone the size of a small tablet) are only a couple of hundred dollars each as opposed to the thousands charged for a single scanner. They have built in cameras, are Wi-Fi enabled, have plenty of available scanning apps for barcode and QR codes and even when you buy a good case to protect them they still are a fraction of the price of the industrial options.

As for the “walking home” issue, today you can remotely track location of devices outside the factory so where the asset goes, the owner will follow.

Also, we are seeing more mobile device-to-device capability emerging, so rather than having to link back to a server you can communicate locally. Using Bluetooth, these devices can exchange data with smart sensors and capture information that can be uploaded to the server at a later time. It’s like how today we have moved away from music docking stations at home to Bluetooth speakers that can communicate with multiple devices ( just bought one—very, very cool!!)

My premonition is the manufacturers of industrial scanners will eventually become software application providers to the cheaper consumer electronics, the same way satellite navigation companies have adapted to smartphone competition by providing their applications to the mass market of devices.

So what do you think? Is our industry ready to change the status quo? Are you one of the companies leading the charge or do you think it will be fool’s gold trying to change. I would appreciate your thoughts.

Barry Lynch

About Barry Lynch

Barry, Global Marketing Director – Automation Hardware at GE Intelligent Platforms, passionately believes that connected machines, mobile data analytics and workforce enablement don’t have to be hurdles in business today. He leads the strategic direction of the company’s automation and information systems programs to help customers apply the power of the Industrial Internet to their businesses. By connecting machines, data, insights, and people, our technology solutions deliver critical insight for greater operational efficiency, effectiveness and optimization. Learn more about how Barry works at GE on LinkedIn or follow him on Twitter at @BarryLynchGE.

Comments (3)

  1. Very true! I met a senior manufacturing executive in a small fastener manufacturing company in India who was very frustrated with changing print-outs of production and quality dashboards for internal audits every week. He simply asked a local software developer to develop an Android app that could present these dashboards on a sub-$100 tablet that he planned to install in place of the paper-based one. A pretty cheap and effective solution!

  2. I think the opportunity and issues are even bigger than the article suggests. Tablets, phones, scanners… there is a mass democratization of the technologies available to present and interact with data. But, it’s grown beyond the hardware layer to software as well. The ability to create applications that can present manufacturing data has exploded as well. PHP, Perl, Java, JQuery, VB, C#, ASP… the list goes on, but the gist is that a manufacturer can create an application on their own with remarkable ease.
    So, how should GE respond? I think a good first step is to start with a hard look at democratizing the client model. Cimplicity, for example, has CimView,, ThinView, GlobalView, and Terminal Server view client options. Each are priced differently, deployed differently and have varying support for tablet devices. The product (like iFIX) is priced and deployed as if we are still in the 1990’s with dedicated servers and the web is a novelty (and the only browser is IE). I think there is a tremendous opportunity to make products web/thin client enabled from the start, or, as Milesh points out – manufacturers will just create their own.

  3. I enjoyed the article and it stopped and made me think of the constant challenges in meeting customer expectation while balancing that by choosing the right directions in meeting those expectations as the market in mobile data collection evolves.

    An example of the speed of change would be what Garmin experienced:

    “Change is constant…the pace of change is remarkable. Case in point, mobile GPS device manufacturer Garmin staked their claim to this arena and were truly the market leader. They flooded the market with new models almost every month to meet a storm surge of demand from consumers. Their share price went up and sales went through the roof – every car had a device on its dash. Then GPS enabled smart phones along loaded with Google Maps appeared and consumers were swept up in another frenzy leaving Garmin wondering what the heck happened. Change happened!”

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