Mobility in manufacturing fights an uphill battle

The challenges of adopting mobility in manufacturing are unique, compared with other industries. Outdated machinery makes it difficult to connect to new technology, for instance.

There is still a lot of room to grow for mobility in manufacturing because of the industry's reliance on older machines and legacy business processes.

Manufacturers' traditional business processes are paper-based, time-consuming and require more manpower than mobile processes, but many manufacturers are reluctant to change. Why? Unique budgetary constraints, security concerns over new technologies and difficulty swaying higher-ups, according to VDC Research Group Inc.

About 40% of manufacturing companies do not use any mobile tools for business processes, the research firm said.

'It more than pays for itself'

The IT staff at Ongweoweh Corp., a pallet and packing management company in Ithaca, N.Y., wanted to incorporate mobile technology into the company's pallet manufacturing division, but had a hard time getting it approved.

"No one saw the benefits to it to begin with," said Jim Davies, director of IT at Ongweoweh. "Getting people to buy in was the biggest part."

The company uses 20-year-old machines that build and stack pallets into bundles before a forklift driver transports them. Until recently, workers monitored a graphical display attached to the machines to inform them when the bundles were ready, and then those workers would inform the forklift driver.

Getting people to buy in was the biggest part.
Jim Daviesdirector of IT, Ongweoweh Corp.

Six months ago, however, Ongweoweh implemented a custom mobile app that notifies the driver on a mobile device -- cutting a step out of the process and allowing workers to be more productive.

"We can do a lot more with a lot less," Davies said. "We didn't let anybody go, but we didn't need to hire as many people. There was an initial expense, but it more than pays for itself."

Budget restrictions can be a bigger barrier to mobility in manufacturing than other industries because mobilizing a manufacturer requires an understanding of how these companies' machines and equipment operate, according to the VDC report, "Mobile's Place in the Connected Factory." It's a challenge for vendors and systems integrators to connect their new technology with the legacy hardware and software used along with those machines, and that creates an added cost.

"We didn't want to spend hundreds of thousands for new equipment, because the old equipment worked," Davies said.

Manufacturers set in their security ways

Security is another concern among manufacturers, who may not be as familiar with the latest attack vulnerabilities and fear newer technologies could ultimately affect their businesses' productivity, said David Krebs, executive vice president at VDC in Natick, Mass.

"For manufacturers, the greatest fear -- next to industrial or state-led espionage -- is the risk of disruption to one's operations," Krebs said. "It's important to create an organization that is sufficiently agile to be able to stay ahead of threats and to efficiently respond to any breaches."

To secure their business apps and mobile devices, Carlisle Construction Materials, which manufactures and installs roofing materials in Carlisle, Pa., uses identity and enterprise mobility management platform Okta. The company also implemented a custom mobile app that allows workers to take pictures of roofing materials with their Apple iPads, fill out digital inspection forms and submit them over the Box enterprise file-sharing app.

But it can be challenging for manufacturers to get executives to sign off on new processes, often because these companies are more set in their ways and resistant to change. This means getting higher-ups to understand the long-term benefits of mobility after making a large initial investment. But, it's difficult to accurately determine the ROI of implementing mobile business processes.

The IT department at Carlisle Construction Materials knew they had to get everything done right, or they wouldn't get the proper backing to continue their migration to mobile and cloud technologies, said Jeff Janovich, a cloud solutions architect at the company.

"Being mobile and innovative is a big part of who we are and what the world is becoming," he said. "You have to stay ahead of the curve."

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